Florida panhandle ready for visitors as Hurricane Michael cleanup continues

Part 1: Florida panhandle ready for visitors as Hurricane Michael cleanup continues

PANAMA CITY, FL (WSFA) - Four months later, the effects of Hurricane Michael still linger along the Florida panhandle.

The category 4 storm killed at least 36 people and caused billions of dollars in damage when it made landfall in October. On the drive to the beaches, the scars stretch for miles but near the water, there are few signs that a storm ever hit.

“Thankfully, the beach was mostly missed,” Public Relations Manager for Visit Panama City Beach Catie Feney said.

Feney says despite the remaining cleanup in neighborhoods and other areas, the beaches are back in business.

"Families planning to visit this spring and summer will see the same beaches they've seen year after year,” Feney said. "Businesses are open and our shops are ready to welcome visitors."

Popular tourist destinations like Pier Park along with restaurants are open and anticipating big crowds this spring and summer. But while the beaches look great, just miles away some families still can’t live in their homes. They are being forced to stay along the beach, in RVs and some have even moved away.

Part 3: Florida Panhandle ready for visitors as Hurricane Michael cleanup continues

Donald Bruner, a Panama City resident, says his hometown no longer looks like home.

“Everything is different. Sometimes I find it hard to get back to the house because everything looks so different.” Bruner said. “Never seen anything like it.”

Bruner grew up here, he now owns three homes in one of the damaged neighborhoods. Each one was damaged in the storm.

While Bruner is still able to live in his home, his neighbor, Ernestine Nettles, is one of those who has been staying in a hotel. Nettles says her house is a shell of what it once was.

"I don't have anything but the frame of my house." Nettles said.

Part of the holdup with rebuilding is the contractors. Residents say there aren't enough to handle the workload.

"I had two contractors who said they'd come back to me and they didn't. They just lied." Nettles added.

Desperate to move back in, Nettles is relying on the kindness of neighbors like Bruner to get her home back in livable condition. Bruner and his family have repaired Nettle’s bedroom, the one room that she is able to live in.

"I've been blessed by this storm. I've got good neighbors." Nettles added.

Because families are being forced to stay out of their homes, hotel occupancy may be affected. Feney says visitors should be prepared to book trips early.

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