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Ole Miss Alumni Battle Hurricane Michael Aftermath

By Victoria Hosey

When the northern eyewall of Hurricane Michael passed over his house in Lynn Haven, a suburb of Panama City, UM alumnus Jeff Rish said the wind was so loud that you could not even hear the 100-foot trees in his yard snapping in half.

Rish said he heard a thump when a pine hit a neighbor’s home, and a bump when a tree hit the home of another neighbor. Other than that, all he could hear was the howling of the wind.

The most damage—a woodland of fallen pines behind his house—happened in the last 10 minutes of the storm. It was the only time, Rish said, he was actually scared.

“We’re doing good,” said Rish, who rode out Michael with his wife Patti and their two dogs, Dutch and Ginger, in the brick home where they’ve lived since 1990. “We were fortunate.”

“I really don’t worry too much about things,” he explained of the nonstop work it’s been in a house that just received air-conditioning yesterday. “It’s not how you feel about things, it’s what you do about things.”

Rish, 63, who teaches engineering at a satellite campus of Florida State University in Panama City, is originally from Pontotoc, Mississippi.

For him, the storm has been a series of days spent in the humidity with a chainsaw in hand, attempting to get to his car in the driveway and to find the grass in his backyard again. The eyewall passed near his home at the end of what was once a cul-de-sac of tall pines, now reduced to snapped twigs.

Dealing with it

Rich captured much of the destruction around his home on his cell phone, along with radar images of the storm, which he said he will revisit for years.

“To get air-conditioning back, that’s like dying and going to heaven,” said Rish.

He said that in all his years living in the Panama City area no hurricane has ever compared to the devastation brought on by Michael.

“If we had known it was going to land as a category four, we probably would have left,” said Rish.

However, neither Rish or his wife Patti realized the extent of the storm’s danger until it was too late and too difficult to evacuate.

“You just batten down the hatches and, and do the best you can because it did change so quickly,” Rish said.

In the wake of the storm, the couple was left without access to cellular service for days, and only managed to send a few text messages letting family members know they were OK.

“It’s something you deal with,” he said. “You realize you don’t have communications. You realize you can’t reach first responders. Any situation that arises, you’re going to have to deal with it.”

Dealing with the aftermath of a storm is about learning to adapt, whether it be having a massive neighborhood fish fry to avoid a freezer full of spoiled snapper, or changes in your work schedule. “It’s day-to-day,” he said.

Reporting live from the parking lot

Another Ole Miss graduate had to adapt to the day-to-day in a different way.

Peyton LoCicero, who graduated in 2016, said her life in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael has also been a day-to-day struggle.

LoCicero was stationed as a news reporter with Panama City news outlet WNBB in Destin and Okaloosa County, Florida at the time of the storm.

Michael ripped part of the roof off of WNBB news station, and the news team was forced to broadcast from the parking lot of the station for days afterward. LoCicero said she has been working nonstop for 10 days after the storm.

The damage left by Michael was especially devastating for LoCicero, who is native to the Florida panhandle.

“When I came over the first day and saw it, I had to pull over because I was crying so bad. I was sobbing,” LeCicero said.

“I was so upset because I couldn’t find where I was going, and I had interviewed all these people before. I knew the lady who had the little thrift shop… and seeing those places being completely gone and unrecognizable — it’s devastating,” she said.

LoCicero expressed her pride in how WMBB and the Panama City community pulled together in such a difficult situation.

“Even though so many of our anchors, crew members, reporters have lost everything, it’s really powerful knowing that we’re getting to reach these people in their desperate times.”

Follow HottyToddy.com for more coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Michael

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