Author: Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D.

By Austin L. Miller Ocala Star-Banner

OCALA, Fla. — A week after deadly Hurricane Michael ripped through the Florida Panhandle, local first responders continue to assist residents who survived the storm.

Within hours after the hurricane’s passage, law enforcement officials, firefighters, utility workers and others have journeyed to the areas affected by the storm to hand out much-needed accessories and provide comfort and care to people.

And Sonny’s BBQ recently fed more than 500 people in Port St. Joe, where Marion County Sheriff’s deputies are stationed, Sheriff’s Office officials said Tuesday.

At Port St. Joe and other locations, sheriff’s officials said, more than a dozen deputies are operating checkpoints, patrolling and providing escorts for supply routes and electric companies.

More than two dozen members of Taskforce 8, consisting of Ocala, Marion and Gainesville Fire Rescue firefighters, have within the past several days finished an air deployable search and rescue mission to Cape San Blas.

Marion County Fire Rescue spokesman James Lucas the area is not accessible by roads, so some rescuers used CH-47 Chinook helicopters to get there.

Once on the island, team members searched the island, marking each damaged residential or commercial structure and sending that information to a command center.

Although the team is assigned to Gulf County, they’re assisting with search and rescue missions in Bay County, and have worked with other task force personnel.

Lucas said team members are expected to return home in the next several days.

Ocala Police officers are removing debris, providing security details and delivering water, food, hygiene products and other supplies door to door in Blountstown in Calhoun County.

OPD Public Information Officer Meghan Shay said the agency has also received supplies from Ocala residents and local businesses, and some of those supplies were transported to the area by Chief Greg Graham, who flew to the area.

Shay said OPD personnel have, in turn, been the recipient of good deeds from people in Calhoun County. Shay said officers’ vehicles have been filled with gas and restaurants have given them lunch and dinner. One business donated a birthday cake to one of their officers, Charles Hunt, over the weekend.

“The men and women are working very hard and their help is greatly appreciated by the OPD, the Blountstown Police Department and the citizens of Calhoun County,” said Lt. Sandra Duryea, head of the OPD team.

On Wednesday morning, a second team of OPD officers, made up of a lieutenant, two sergeants, 12 officers and a non-sworn employee, are expected to leave for the area to replace their colleagues.

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