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What Hurricane Michael's new Category 5 status means for those affected

AccuWeather logo AccuWeather 4/23/2019 john.roach
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A new threshold has been established for Florida residents who were in the path of Hurricane Michael's destruction.

"The conversation now is, ‘Did you guys do OK in the storm?'" Valerie Sale, who lives in Bay County, perhaps the hardest hit area, told AccuWeather. "And my response is, ‘Well, we had $50,000 worth of damage to our house, so we're great.'

"We were able to live in our house and that's kind of the bar that everyone is measuring things by. It's really challenging... But I still count myself as a very lucky person compared to a lot of people here."

Friday's announcement by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that Hurricane Michael had been upgraded from Category 4 to Category 5 when it made landfall last October brought attention to the communities affected by the storm in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and parts of South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.

The new Category 5 designation came slightly earlier than anticipated, Bay County Emergency Services Chief Mark Bowen said in a press release.

"NOAA typically collects data from thousands of sources and officially categorizes these storms in May," Bowen said. "This categorization came a little early but is based on facts and science, not politics or public expectations. Hopefully the release of this designation will help our local, state and federal elected officials in their quest to get support for funding legislation needed at the federal level for us to recover."

Six months after the devastating storm struck on Oct. 10, 2018, housing and insurance issues are the most pressing problems for hard-hit areas. Michael is just the fourth Category 5 hurricane to strike the mainland U.S. in recorded history behind Andrew (1992), Camille (1969) and the Labor Day storm of 1935.

"There are abandoned houses everywhere and there's almost nowhere that people aren't doing work," Bay County Commission Vice Chairman Robert Carroll noted in the press release. "We've got families doubled and tripled up... We need some help here."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said it has spent $1.1 billion on Hurricane Michael-related response and recovery efforts in Florida, and has approved $141 million in individual assistance to 31,000 households, numbers similar to disaster relief provided to North Carolina after Hurricane Florence, according to The Washington Post.

The new designation does not guarantee additional state or federal aid or help with insurance resolution.

However, having Hurricane Michael acknowledged as a Category 5 hurricane brings much-needed attention to communities still struggling 190-plus days later. The Florida state legislature is currently in session working on House Bill 1610, which could appropriate up to $300 million in aid.

"Beyond [funding], our hope," Sale told AccuWeather, "is that it will work to draw further attention to our plight here." 

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