Pinellas County sends help to Panhandle

This screenshot from a video taken the night of Oct. 10 shows Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office rolling out on the way to assist as needed with the hurricane recovery efforts in the Florida Panhandle.

Areas of Florida’s Panhandle were devastated when Category 4 Hurricane Michael made landfall Oct. 10 on Mexico Beach packing winds of 155 mph. Since that time, emergency responders, law enforcement, power crews and others have been working to do what they can to help those in need.

Pinellas County is among those rushing to lend a hand. Even before Michael came ashore, the County joined the effort with a five-member team from Emergency Management sent to Bay County the evening of Oct. 9.

That team is assisting Bay County’s Emergency Management staff in Southport and providing support at that County’s Emergency Operations Center.

Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office sent 20 agency members to the Panhandle the night Michael hit. They took specialized equipment, including vehicles used for high-water rescue, refrigeration trailer, Humvees, all-terrain vehicles and a portable communications tower.

Twelve members of the Clearwater Police Department, along with needed equipment, headed to Gadsden County the next day to assist in relief efforts there. Largo police sent help to Jacksonville, taking with them a mobile command vehicle, two cruisers and a pick-up truck. Members of Largo PD’s Special Incident Response Team headed to Jackson County and plan to send officers every five-six days for a month.

Crews from Sunstar and two ambulance buses are part of a regional Urban Search and Rescue Task Force staging in Tallahassee.

Crews from Pinellas County Utilities and Public Works left for Marianna the afternoon of Oct. 12. Thirty employees offered their assistance. They also took necessary equipment, including eight generators, a loader and three track hoes. Four repair crews and one tree crew will be helping to clear roadways and make repairs to infrastructure.

Pinellas County Emergency Medical Services is on standby to send an Engine Strike Team, including a light rescue component, as well as rescue and ambulance strike teams.

Statewide response

Six counties were under curfews Oct. 12 – Bay, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Jackson and Liberty, as search and rescue efforts, and damage assessment continued. Recovery work has begun. Officials stress that conditions are difficult. Downed trees and power lines are hampering the work. Communication is limited. Work is ongoing to clear and open roadways.

As of Friday afternoon, 30 shelters were open throughout the area providing a place to stay for just under 2,800 people.

Hurricane Michael left behind massive devastation. So far, four people in the state have died due to the hurricane. Response to the hardest hit areas is coming from all over, not just Pinellas. And those responding have a myriad of problems to address.

Law enforcement escorts are helping with food and water resources. In hardest hit areas, food and water are being airdropped. About 3 million ready to eat meals are being distributed, as well as about 2 million gallons of water and 2 million pounds of ice.

Thus far, no widespread fuel shortages have been reported.

As of noon Oct. 12, 343,684 were without power. Work was ongoing to remove trees and other debris to allow access to power crews. About 200 generators have been sent to help counties with traffic signals. In addition, about 2,000 workers are trying to restore cell service and communications.

The National Guard has been activated. Other law enforcement agencies as well as the ones from Pinellas County have responded. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation officers are out doing search and rescue operations, welfare checks, reconnaissance and public safety missions. State troopers are providing security escorts for utility crews and are patrolling damaged areas.

Healthcare facilities are being contacted to make sure they have needed resources. The United States Health and Human Services has declared a health emergency. Nurses and ambulance crews have been activated and more are standing by.

The Salvation Army and American Red Cross have responded. The Salvation Army has mobile kitchens in locations throughout Panama City and Tallahassee. Salvation Army crews also are assisting with damage assessments and cleanups. Red Cross has 429 disaster relief workers in the area and another 218 had been activated.

How to help

Crisis Cleanup is coordinating recovery efforts among statewide volunteer organization. The hotline is 1-800-451-1954. Volunteer Florida has activated the Florida Disaster Fund, which supports response and recovery activities. Visit volunteerflorida.org.

Residents and businesses all around Pinellas are collecting donations and money to buy needed supplies. Better Business Bureau says it is safest to give to individuals you personally know or participate in an organized event.

News Channel 8, WFLA-TV, is partnering with the Red Cross to host an on-air Hurricane Michael Relief telethon Monday, Oct. 15, 6 a.m-6 p.m.

Suzette Porter is TBN's Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.