Spring Break 2019 - Panama City - Report
April 16, 2019
The trip was a huge success, in so many ways, but from the start, it seemed obvious the devil didn’t want us to go.
Judy wrote this report for the MOSES board, several of whom were with us on the trip. I have modified it just a bit for general consumption, knowing that there are others who would be interested. My added notes are in italics. Panama City is on the Gulf of Mexico in the Florida panhandle ... pete
Well, we're back. That's not news to some who were with us, but you're all getting the same message. I'm using Pete's desk top, since my laptop is currently inoperable. It's going to see Bryan tomorrow. So, bear with me. That's a story in itself. See paragraph 3 below. Ultimately, the laptop dried out and powered up normally, after more than a week.
The trip was a huge success, in so many ways, but from the start, it seemed obvious the devil didn't want us to go. First, Jeff got sick and couldn't bring the message at our send-off service. His wife, Margo, covered this nicely. Then, the day we were to leave, Jeff'sdaughter, Allie, who was supposed to come with us and serve as a Team Shepherd, got very sick and was hospitalized. If Jeff didn't come, we would be short a driver and the two girls from Cedar Springs, friends of Allie's, may have backed out as well. This would have meant that Pete and I couldn't take our pickup, which we really wanted for work sites. Jeff opted to come. The original hope had been to see if Allie would be out of the hospital the next day and we would fly her down. That never happened, as she ended up hospitalized for four days.
We had an engine problem just a few hours after we left. Turns out there was a coolant leak. They put in three gallons of antifreeze, then filled the empty jugs with water. Apparently the leak was slow and the engine didn't overheat again. We did add water from time to time. One of these bottles must have not have been tightened up and water found its way into my computer case (under the back seat of the van) - something I didn't learn until we got to Panama City. But we lost an hour on the extra stop.
The next morning, one of our new drivers drove over a curb with the trailer tire and we had a blowout a few miles down the road. The rim was also shot. We had a spare, but the change was awkward and time-consuming.
Gary and Sue (preceding us at the church) had asked us not to arrive before 1:00 PM, because there was an AA group meeting in the church. This got to be a joke, because, with all the extra stops, we didn't arrive until 4:00. We made a wrong turn in Alabama (my fault), which cost us considerable time on a very slow route. One kid got a bit sick to his stomach and we had to make another unscheduled stop at a little Podunk gas station. He took so long that eventually everyone got out and you know what happens then...
We finally arrived and were warmly welcomed by Pete and Esther, Barb and Steve, who had driven separately. Gary and Sue were there, as were two others Clint and Jim, up from Bushnell, where we served last year.
The First Church of the Nazarene building was large and we had plenty of space. Until Sunday, we shared it with a group of adult volunteers from Clearwater, but we got along fine. The kitchen was one of the largest we've ever had, so Barb and Sue were happy. And they had recently installed five showers, to accommodate volunteers!
Saturday, we had five groups out to different work sites. Our jobs throughout the week included fence repair, lawn clean-up, painting, one major deck/ramp/steps project and one major demo and roof job. A video is in the making. We have tons of pictures.
The congregation was very welcoming and pretty laid back. They pulled in several of our group on Sunday to join the worship team with instruments and vocals. And our very own Pastor Jerome brought the message.Sunday lunch was a potluck with the folks from the church. Then we took a trip to the beach, but it was being cool, windy and rainy, so our time there was cut short.
On Sunday evening, we hosted Beverly and Lonnie. They are the pastor's in-laws, who live a few miles from them. When Pastor Scott decided to evacuate for the hurricane, they drove to the in-laws' house. They had been expecting a Category 2 hurricane and what they got was a 4 Plus! By the time they realized this, it was too late to evacuate any farther, Scott and Tracy brought their kids, five chickens in cages, a rabbit, a bird and two rambunctious black labs. Together they rode out the storm for six hours.
After the first half hour, the power was shut off, as a safety precaution, due to the heavy rains, flooding, high sustained winds for six hours (145 mph, with gusts up to 185 mph), etc. Part of the roof was blown off and Scott punctured holes in a ceiling in an attempt to save the drywall. The windows shook violently. The internet went down and there was no cell service. The plumbing stopped working. They had filled the bathtub with water and had some drinking water stored. They all expected to die.
After the storm, residents found they couldn't get anywhere, due to the downed trees and utility poles. All the poles were in the streets. All street signs were down or mangled. There were no gas stations, grocery stores or restaurants surviving, even if one could get there. There was no way to get in contact with loved ones to let them know they were alive.
Understandably, the chaos continued for some time and, in many ways, Panama City, as it once was, will never be the same. The first responders came in, such as the Red Cross, and other groups, bringing food and supplies. There were a number of deaths, but none from the Nazarene church. 40% of the city's population relocated, due to loss of homes, employment or both. A sense of heaviness and depression has settled on many who remain. This can be a form of PTSD. "Some days are OK; other days you just cry." Residents rejoice whenever they see a NOW OPEN sign on a business.
Schools were closed and now that some have re-opened, they have had to accommodate doubling up the use of their facilities. Two funeral homes were damaged, and a number of funerals have been held at the Nazarene church. They also allowed four other churches to share their facilities while they have been restoring theirs.
There are huge piles of debris everywhere. Most of it is a mixture of branches, ruined building materials, carpet, appliances, car parts, boat parts, you name it. The city has told them the tree stuff needs to be cleared and hauled away by April 15, but many have no way to haul it or no place to take it. The city has been picking up tree debris that had been taken to the curb, but indicated they would continue only until April 15. They're a long way from being finished.
For many who have stayed, most are fighting with insurance companies, who don't want to pay out. Crooked contractors have taken advantage of some. Price gouging is common. Some materials are in short supply or unavailable. Lowe's and The Home Depot are mad houses with customers lining up at the check-outs.
We did some good work, but it seems like a mere drop in the bucket. We were very much appreciated and, in some cases, gave inspiration for home owners to keep trying to fix their places. Often, just giving a listening ear was an encouragement.
While in PC, we bought an additional trailer tire and rim and got the leak fixed in the coolant line. We also made two trips to the ER - one with Genie Reeves (our oldest adult leader), who had a bad case of flu and bronchitis - and the other with our granddaughter Lidia who slammed her head into the wall while "diving" into her bed. Both seem to be on the mend. My trip with Lidia on the last night was easier, as I knew my way to the hospital. But it was on our last night, when I wanted some good sleep in preparation for the 1,000-mile drive home. The hospital trip took from 10:30 pm until 3:30 am. There were other emergencies just ahead of us. Short night for sleeping.
On our last afternoon, we took a 25-mile trip east to the resort town of Mexico Beach, in many ways more devastated by Hurricane Michael than Panama City. Besides the winds, a 8-10-ft wall of water caused amazing damage, On the drive we saw mile after mile of pine trees blown over, snapped off ten feet above the ground. Smaller trees mostly survived, being more flexible.
Our teens were mostly young with many first-timers. Three of our Adult Leaders were first-timers. This alone brought some challenges. But, everyone worked hard and participated well.
Our trip home was much smoother than our trip down. Just some back-ups, due to accidents and heavy north-bound traffic.
All in all, it was a very good trip. It is always a relief to bring everyone back home safely. I always choke up when all the participants climb out of the vans, back at the original departure point. With the three vehicles, we safely traveled a total of over 7,000 miles. God is good!
Sorry for the length of this report, but hope you made it all the way. Thanks for the prayers of those who couldn't join us.
Judy (and Pete)