Panhandle communities hit by Michael give hint to insurance timeline for Lee County

Reporter: Gail Levy Writer: Matthew Seaver
Published: Updated:

Lee County is the epicenter of Hurricane Ian‘s insurance problems. No county has more.

Healing costs a lot of money, and many of you are waiting for insurance to pay up. WINK News went to the panhandle where Hurricane Michael hit more than four years ago to get a better snapshot of how long it might take.

We are moving at a fast pace toward recovery when compared to the panhandle. Bay County and many other affected counties have come a long way, but they had a different storm than us.

They had wind that ripped down trees all the way north to where Florida borders Georgia and Alabama.

We had many boats parked in the middle of roads that didn’t stray too far from the water, but more than four years post-Hurricane Michael, there are still areas in the panhandle begging for recovery.

To lose your home and watch as your walls blow away around you is a pain that too many people here in Southwest Florida know. It’s a pain that also strikes a chord with the people of the panhandle.

“It was horrible. Like I said, if it hadn’t been for Hope and Megan being here, my daughter and granddaughter, John and I, would have probably went up through the ceiling,” said Eleanor Lang, who survived Hurricane Michael.

Michael ravaged Lang’s home and much of the panhandle nearly five years ago. During the three hours of that category five storm, Lang hid with her family as her home turned into a broken shell of the house she moved into in 1976.

Now, everything is new and shiny, but Lang and her children fought tooth and nail with insurance companies to get there. “It really was a real big battle.”

It certainly wasn’t fast, and it certainly wasn’t easy. Lang and her son John lived in a trailer outside her Springfield home for two years.

For the past two years, they’ve lived worry-free under their roof.

Nearly five years after Hurricane Michael, Liane Harding is still dealing with insurance claims on her home. “I trusted that my agent would make sure that I had everything that I needed. And that was a mistake. You have to be your own proponent.”

Her home was a total loss. “They took it down to the bare studs, and we rebuilt it. You know, the pain of it was pretty bad. But now we’re back in our house, and it’s all in the rearview mirror.”

It’s not too far out of sight, though. It wasn’t until about three months ago that she finally finished the last project.

“It left me pretty broken. I’ve always been pretty resilient. And I think most of the people that have here will say the same thing. It was so overwhelming,” said Harding.

Some of the people of the panhandle will tell you they’re just now getting help.

Robert Carroll is one of the Bay County commissioners. His home was spared, but his mother was not so fortunate.

“So she has an RV in the front yard. She’s moving in today, will be spending her first night in there while her house gets redone. Floors are still messed up, walls are cracked, and siding is still messed up,” said Carroll.

Insurance took a long time, and it would only cover so much. That’s why you can still see blue tarps, trailers, and scars that will take years to heal when you drive around.

In the end, it will make the community more resilient in the future.

“There’s a yin and yang to everything in life, and the bad stuff will go away, and they’ll rebuild, and they’ll be happy again,” said Harding.

Harding is also a business owner. She owns Main Street Antiques in downtown Panama City. At the same time as she was working to rebuild her home, she was doing the same thing for her business. It sustained about $100,000 worth of damage. Despite everything, Harding still has a smile on her face.

Copyright ©2024 Fort Myers Broadcasting. All rights reserved.

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written consent.