CRESTVIEW — An Oct. 31 tour of Hurricane Michael’s destruction through hard-hit communities emphasized to Crestview officials how fortunate their community was when the storm veered east.
As a result of the tour, the City Council agreed at its Nov. 5 meeting to begin evaluating the storm readiness of Crestview municipal buildings. The city will have a structural engineer evaluate the buildings and proceed from there, according to a statement by Mayor David Cadle.
Police Chief Jamie Grant, Cadle, council members Joe Blocker and Bill Cox, and Fire Marshal Rodney Lancaster visited devastated neighborhoods in Parker, Springfield, Calloway and Lynn Haven. Residential streets were lined with cut-up downed trees, limbs, and debris from smashed homes. Houses were covered in blue tarps.
From its windows, Bay Medical Sacred Heart Hospital in Lynn Haven dripped giant, multi-colored ducts that pumped cool air from portable air conditioners into the facility, but what struck the officials most was the amount of damage to metal public buildings including firehouses, police stations, churches, stores and community centers.
Many of Crestview’s public buildings employ the same inexpensive but storm-vulnerable construction, including the Whitehurst Municipal Building that houses the police department.
During Michael’s sideswipe, gusts that reached 50 miles per hour made the Whitehurst Building’s metal panels shudder in the wind and its vehicle bay door flexed and rattled, often alarmingly.
A stronger strike on the building could’ve not only injured or killed first responders sheltering inside, but could also have confounded upcoming, ongoing and previous court cases had police evidence and records been compromised, damaged or blown away.
“It’s secure protection for communications, evidence, records and a place to shelter police officers and firefighters if a storm approaches” that is needed, Grant said as the inspection tour stopped in Springfield. There, the town’s firefighters sought shelter in equipment lockers aboard a new firetruck as the hurricane peeled parts off their new fire station.
The week after the storm, during the CPD’s first delivery of needed supplies for affected law enforcement agencies, Grant saw how perilous Crestview’s situation could’ve been.
Meeting with Parker Police Chief Dennes Hutto, the officials heard harrowing stories of trying to re-establish basic services and communications in a community that was so devastated that some streets were unrecognizable even to police officers who routinely patrolled them. Since the storm, the Parker police officials set up a command center in the town's firehouse, which had recently been storm strengthened through a federal grant.
Even with the reinforcement, “when the wind blew, the walls of that building were bowing out like bellows,” Chief Hutto said.
Blocker, whose professional career had been in construction supervision, understands the structural and engineering challenges the devastated communities face, and their lesson to address the storm-readiness of Crestview’s public infrastructure.
“I can only imagine if it (the storm) had hit us,” he said. “We were sure blessed. From what I saw, we need to start looking at our own buildings. Not later but now.”