PANACEA, Florida (Reuters) - Panacea, on the Florida Panhandle, takes its cure-all name from the area’s natural springs. The tiny beachside town known for its oysters and crabs will need some of that mystique as it recovers from Hurricane Michael.
Jasmine McMillan, 42, went back to her family-owned holiday campground in Ochlockonee Bay to find it covered in two feet (0.6 meters) of debris and seaweed. The dock had been washed away.
October is usually a busy time since it is typically after the hurricane season, she explained.
“We were completely full right before the storm. We had 40 rigs pull out on Tuesday,” McMillan said.
Michael charged ashore on the Florida Panhandle as one of the most powerful storms in U.S. history, making landfall on Wednesday afternoon near Mexico Beach, another modest beachside community about 60 miles (96 km) west of Panacea.
McMillan doesn’t have flood insurance for the campgrounds that has been with her husband’s family for over 40 years, because of how expensive it is. “Flood insurance is ridiculous for commercial” enterprises, she said.
The town of around 1,000 residents was named after the Panacea Mineral Springs and “was world renowned in the early nineteenth century for its healing waters” its official website proclaims.
“Maintaining its ‘Old Florida’ flavor, you can take a step back to life in the slow lane.” It boasts annual oyster and blue crab festivals.
When the order came to evacuate as Michael loomed with 155 mile per hour (250 kph) winds, many of the folks living at the modest Lighthouse Motel in Panacea were forced to stay put.
“We couldn’t leave cuz we had no vehicle to leave and nowhere to go,” said Mary Grasberger, 50.
Lighthouse residents, some of them disabled and receiving public assistance such as food stamps, spent Tuesday night listening to Michael’s howling winds and watching with growing alarm as the storm surge swamped the motel.
“It was rough. We were surrounded by water and we could see road signs floating by,” Grasberger said. “It was crazy. Thank God the rooms didn’t flood.”
A restaurant was among the buildings destroyed in this town, its patio blown into the Lighthouse parking area, motel resident Mary Milano said.
As of Thursday, authorities still had not made their way to the Lighthouse to check on folks living there, she said. Search and rescue officials say power and cell phone outages have greatly complicated search and rescue efforts. [L2N1WS091]
“This place is for disabled people. They can’t walk that far,” Milano said.
With no power, she and her daughter hosed themselves down in their bathing suits on Thursday.
“It’s pitch black at night. It’s so scary,” Milano said.
“Somebody told us a month, somebody told us three days,” for the power to come back.
Milano, who already has two cats and a dog, brought in two stray kittens before the storm.
“I feel bad, you know.”
Reporting by Devika Krishna Kumar; writing by Bill Tarrant; editing by Bill Berkrot