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A Week Later: Families Displaced by Hurricane Michael Don't Know What's Next


More than a week has passed since Hurricane Michael tore a path of destruction through coastal and inland communities. Tens of thousands of people are still without power. Curfews are still in effect in lots of places. And many of the people who call Florida's Panhandle home can't get home. Several hundred of them are living in schools serving as emergency shelters. And that is where NPR's Hansi Lo Wang has been spending some time. Here's his report.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Rows and rows of cots topped with blankets and pillows are spread out in a gymnasium at Deane Bozeman School.

AMANDA CULLISON: This is really our people's bedroom. So we want to be very considerate.

WANG: Amanda Cullison of the American Red Cross leads me on a tour of this shelter in northern Bay County. It's one of 10 around Florida's Panhandle. More than 200 people from a few months old to almost 90 years old are bunkering in this shelter. Bottled water, diapers and canned food are piled by the entrance next to trailers equipped with showers.

CULLISON: Something we're adding today - this is going to be our laundry trailer. So our clients are going to get to come - actually get to wash their clothes.

WANG: Many here didn't pack much to wear when they fled their homes, including Heather Lemastus and her 13-year-old daughter, Alexis.

HEATHER LEMASTUS: I only brought two pairs of clothes and three work uniforms because I didn't anticipate not being able to work and being here this long.

ALEXIS LEMASTUS: Or it being a Category 4 hurricane either. I thought something would be left.

WANG: Heather and Alexis live in Mexico Beach. That's where Hurricane Michael hit hardest. They don't know when they'll be allowed to see what's left of their house.

LEMASTUS: We're tied up with FEMA stuff all day and, you know, having to wait in line for a good amount of hours for that.

WANG: People whose houses are unlivable can apply for vouchers from FEMA to pay for temporary stays in hotel rooms and condos. But before applicants find out if they qualify, an inspector has to go out and see the damage to their homes. It may take a while before FEMA can reach every house. Donna Hayes, though, needs not just a new roof over her head but also a reliable source of electricity for her oxygen machine.

DONNA HAYES: People have been helping me when I get over the bumps and humps. It may not look like much, but to me it is quite heavy.

WANG: Hayes is staying at another shelter at Breakfast Point Academy in Panama City Beach. She's been using her oxygen machine since her second open-heart surgery a few months ago.

HAYES: This is my fourth shelter. First shelter, I was turned away. Went to the next one. They didn't have backup electricity, so they had to pack us up and move us to Rutherford High School. The generator failed, so they bused us over here.

WANG: For Tayequan Massey, the journey to the shelter at Bozeman High School started with a helicopter. He and his family were rescued after the roof caved in at the house where they had gathered for the storm. After they were checked out at a hospital, they were bused over to the shelter.

TAYEQUAN MASSEY: I'm with my family, with my mom and my auntie and my cousins and brothers and all that.

WANG: How many altogether?

MASSEY: Nine, nine.

WANG: Massey is 18 and the oldest of his siblings and cousins.

MASSEY: I know what my role is. I just have to be strong for them.

WANG: After more than a week of sleeping in a school gym, the kids have been asking when they can be in their own home.

MASSEY: You know, you don't know yourself, so you can't really tell them anything but that you're working on it and that you're trying to get your own house, you know, all that stuff. It's just, you know - I don't know. I don't know. I guess you just tell them, you know, they're working on it and then just tell them to pray.

WANG: Massey's grandfather is planning to pick them up soon from this shelter so they can stay with him in Orlando. And Massey says he isn't sure when or if they will be back. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, Bay County, Fla.


KELLY: And that story was produced by NPR's Evie Stone.


Hansi Lo Wang (he/him) is a national correspondent for NPR reporting on the people, power and money behind the U.S. census.
Evie Stone is the Supervising Editor at Weekend Edition. She collaborates with show staff and newsroom colleagues to ensure that Weekend Edition covers essential news, tells human stories and occasionally makes the audience bark with laughter.