A powerful tornado with strong winds that hit early Tuesday, Jan. 9, left Washington County and surrounding areas reeling.
Though some residents had their power restored after the storm passed through, others did not. Some people were also still without internet service the day after.
Emergency and power utility crews were working to clear roadways and restore electricity in the aftermath. Fallen tree branches were visible in some areas, including the Florida Panhandle Technical College campus in Chipley.
The scene in parts of Chipley after the storm passed was a veritable ghost town as people were urged to stay off the roads so first responders could clear the area. The Walmart in Chipley reopened shortly after the storm on Tuesday.
Chipley City Hall and the Washington County Public Library branch in Chipley both reopened Wednesday, though phone lines were down at the library. The library, however, had internet service.
Terry Mullen, manager of marketing and communications for West Florida Electric Cooperative, said they were pretty steady working to restore power to customers after the storm.
As of Wednesday morning, a little over 3,000 West Florida customers were still without power. West Florida aims to restore power to everyone by Wednesday.
Trees were “mangled” in power lines, he said.
“You can imagine the trees and everything we have to deal with with the winds,” Mullen said.
Mullen called the recovery a “slow process in a very remote area” and said erecting a pole can take three to four hours.
“Downed power lines are dangerous,” Mullen said. “Please move over when you see our crews out.”
With the cold weather as well, Mullen urged people to check on elderly neighbors and relatives.
School District Superintendent Joe Taylor said there was minimal damage to schools, which reopened Wednesday.
The School District lost one roof on a warehouse, he said.
“We withstood well,” Taylor said. “Schools are up and running.”
In a prepared statement sent Wednesday, Florida Power & Light said they worked through the night and into this morning to restore service to customers impacted.
“As of noon, FPL has restored to more than 60,000 customers in the region. We will continue working safely and quickly today to restore service to the remaining customers, and we expect to complete work by the end of the day,” FPL’s statement said. “We urge customers to keep safety top of mind and stay far away from downed power lines or other damaged electrical equipment and immediately call 911 or FPL at 1-800-4OUTAGE (1-800-468-8243). For up-to-date information regarding outages, customers can visit FPL.com or download the FPL Mobile App.”
Mental health issues may arise in children after the storm. Early Learning Coalition of Northwest Florida Executive Director Suzan Gage said they want to get the message out early that it’s okay to not feel okay after Tuesday’s storm and that kids will pick up on feelings adults are expressing.
Therapist Denise Folsom, who has been working the Early Learning Coalition since Hurricane Michael, said children’s perceptions of an event can create trauma.
“They have such little control over their environment,” Folsom said. “Children aren’t able to say what about this bothers them. They’re very concrete thinkers.”
Instead, kids may say they miss things that had to do with routines which are no longer there for one reason or another.
Kids can also be impacted by things they don’t remember, Folsom said.
Children can also be impacted differently than adults since adults may not give children the full information on a natural disaster.
“Let them tell what happened,” Folsom said. “Let them tell their perception of what happened.”
Adults should also consider what might trigger a child who has been through a devastating storm, such as Halloween music since it can sound like loud wind.
“It’s okay to talk about tornadoes and that it hit areas near us,” Folsom said.
If children aren’t allowed to do so, they may express their feelings in other ways that adults can seen as negative behavior, such as acting out.
People should also notice changes in behavior, such as a loss of appetite, not sleeping, or bathroom accidents in kids who have been potty-trained.
Mental health resources for families are available at nctsn.org, thelegacyhousepc.org, and elcnwf.org.
A second round of extreme weather is expected in the area Friday, according to the National Weather Service in Tallahassee.
Mullen said they are concerned about the coming conditions.
“Hopefully, it’s not to the extent (of Tuesday),” Mullen said.
This is a developing story. More information could be added as it comes in.