On Thursday morning, Franklin County Property Appraiser Rhonda Skipper set out on foot, with her nephew and grandson in tow, to survey the damage done to waterfront properties.
They walked from west of the Crooked River Lighthouse all the way east to the St. James Bay golf course.
By Saturday morning, with the roads cleared and the Apalachicola Regional Airport bustling with activity, their job was easier, as they took to the skies to survey the damage.
But the findings were much the same.
“It’s bad,” she said. “We’re going to see a huge drop in the tax rolls.”
Bills for property taxes for 2018, which go out in two weeks, won’t be affected, since those valuations were as of Jan. 1, 2018.
But Skipper expects that many property owners will see their taxes plummet right along with the valuations of their homes and property.
“Some of them could go all the way down to an unbuildable lot,” she said.
From the vantage point of the back seat of a Sirrus SR 22, donated for the job by Tallahassee attorney John Lockwood and piloted by Gary Settle, Skipper sized up the situation from the air.
On Alligator Point all the way to Bald Point on the southern tip, lots of beach erosion could be seen, as well as several homes with the roofs torn off. The surge cut through the peninsula in several places, submerging platted lots.
“They had a beach view,” she said. “Now they have a beachfront lot.”
The former Pelican Inn on remote Dog Island, closed for several years, was now entirely washed away. In the water on the eastern end of the island, three miles off the Carrabelle coast, floated building debris.
Skipper confirmed from longtime Dog island residents Terri and Randy Cannon that four east end homes had been entirely demolished by the storm, while on the west end of the island, one had its roof blown off, another was leaning on its side and another presented a panoramic view of the Gulf looking directly through the center of it.
The situation on St. George Island and Alligator Point was brighter, but not for older homes built not on pilings, but directly on the ground, and not pilings. Ground crews for the property appraiser’s office said three on Alligator Point were demolished, and two others had three feet of water reflected in their walls.
The same fate for ground level homes could be found in Lanark Village, a community that sprouted mainly in the 1950s, after the Army closed down Camp Gordon Johnston that trained troops for beach landings in the Pacific during World War II.
Hurricane Michael’s amphibious assaults had taken down several homes in Lanark. “Some of them were totally leveled down to the ground,” Skipper said. “Most of the gulf-front homes, even if they are standing, the back side was blown out by water.
But for those gulf-front homes standing several feet above the ground, the loss was limited to portions on the ground designed to break away in the event of high winds and storm surge.
Several of the trailers parked in the RV parks along the Franklin County coast were decimated by the hurricane, leaving year-round residents like Ray Bastian homeless.
Originally from Chattahoochee, Bastian and his family relocated to the coast after he retired, mainly to fish. “Mother Nature is stronger than any of us,” he said. “We have to adapt, or get broke.”
Just down US 98 in Eastpoint, near where Bastian lived, several of the few remaining seafood houses along the waterfront, which have concrete floors, were damaged but salvageable, while the restaurants along the coastline, mainly wooden buildings, were destroyed.
“I don’t think they’ll be repairable,” Skipper said.
In downtown Apalachicola, restaranteur Danny Itzkovitz, drawing on donated food from area grocery stores, led the creation of a makeshift food kitchen, offering free meals to all in need, from sunup to sunset, when a nightly curfew takes effect.
“He’s feeding the community is what he’s doing,” said City Manager Ron Nalley. “It’s fantastic.”
Governor Scott paid a visit to the food kitchen, right after stopping in Eastpoint at a site where Florida National Guardsmen were busy distributing meals ready to eat and bottled water, while they set up a building supplying washstands and showers.
In Carrabelle, which power restored by Duke Energy Saturday, the power company massed its recovery operation at the airport, just as the company had at Apalachicola airport, which was one of the only available airports between Pensacola and Tallahassee in the immediate aftermath of the storm.
By Sunday morning, the crews headed west, to Apalachicola and then on to the massive effort being staged in Port. St. Joe.
On the beach about a mile east of Carrabelle, the recently completed Island View Park, a two-acre stretch with almost 900 feet fronting St. George Sound, was broken, the concrete sidewalks buckled,
The new park was one of the first NERDA (Natural Environmental Resource Damage Assessment) projects to be completed, funded by recreational dollars stemming from the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
West of Carrabelle, the consolidated Franklin County High School was largely spared, but the road into the school, U.S. 98, was washed out in several parts. Superintendent Traci Moses said she did not expect the schools to open for at least a week.
Centric Aviation, the fixed base operator in Apalachicola, managed to get 11,000 gallons of jet fuel in as of Saturday, with the fixed base operator busy handling military search and rescue flights, from the Coast Guard and Department of Homeland Security, beginning Wednesday night.
Since that time, said manager Tara Maugham, the work has transitioned to relief operations, with the arrival of Chinook C-47 helicopters bringing in supplies, as well as private sector pilots who have flown in in an effort launched by World Hope out of Gainesville.
“We’re expecting anywhere between 50 and 100 in smaller twin-engine planes to bring in supplies,” said Maugham.
At a briefing Wednesday afternoon by Duke Energy at the Franklin County emergency operations center, several law enforcement personnel reported that their vehicles had experienced several tire punctures, as they rode through rough ground littered with debris.
“There are so many boards with nails sticking up,” said Skipper. “You get close enough and there’s big sheets of metal in the road.”
In addition, due to the many septic tanks that dot the landscape, the odor is in some parts unmistakable. “We’ve been walking through raw sewage everywhere,” Skipper said.