State leaders weigh in on storm recovery six months after Hurricane Michael

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Tallahassee By Katie Kaplan | WCTV Eyewitness News
April 11, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- On the six-month anniversary of Hurricane Michael, people in Tallahassee made it known that the residents impacted by the storm would never be forgotten.

Many state leaders sported a symbol that acknowledged work still needs to be done toward recovery. Many residents who were impacted by the storm's wrath said they need more funding. Lawmakers and local residents vowed to make that happen.

"I can't describe to you what we saw without you being there," Alex Workman told WCTV reporter Katie Kaplan.

In the days after the storm, Workman, his wife and a small group of professional friends formed the 'Never Forgotten Coast' campaign.

"Right now, our goal is just to help the story keep going," he said. "We want these stories to never be forgotten."

The group documented the stories of 18 business owners in Mexico Beach. The campaign's emblem has been printed on t-shirts and hats and made into pins, which were worn by some Florida legislators on Wednesday.

"We want to make sure our colleagues know, today is six months out and we are waiting for action," said Loranne Ausley, the state representative for District 9.

Ausley said she understood that people need help now.

"We need to focus on school enrollment, revenue replacement for local governments and we need a significant infusion for resources for affordable local housing," she said.

Another immediate concern involved the thousands of trees knocked down in the storm. Florida Commissioner of Agriculture, Nikki Fried, said on Wednesday that 72-million tons of timber remained on the ground. She said she is worried about the fire hazard it will create and pushed the urgency of the situation.

"The time is now. The time is not six months from now. The time to negotiate these packages is over," she said. "We need to get these resources to these areas today."

The state's Chief Financial Officer, Jimmy Patronis, is from Panama City, which was one of the hardest-hit areas. He became emotional talking about the recovery on Wednesday.

"Six months later, you've got a community that is still struggling, but they're not complaining," he said, as his expression became anguished.

Patronis said the next two to three years would likely be challenging economically for Florida districts that were affected the storm. He said he expects better days beyond that.

Lawmakers said they are hoping to hash out recovery and funding plans soon. Meanwhile, good Samaritans, like Workman and his colleagues, are taking it upon themselves to do what they can.

"We know if we can bring people back to work, we will see recovery time greatly decrease," Workman said.

The Never Forgotten Coast Campaign has also been raising funds for micro grants for businesses. Workman said they had already given out $30,000 to business owners in Mexico Beach who are struggling to rebuild.

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