PC-Singing the Blue Tarp Blues

Disaster Survival: What’s Needed and What’s Lacking

Diane Nilan
6 min readFeb 8, 2020


Blue Tarp and Blue Skies in Panama City, FL Photo Diane Nilan

Being hit by 150+ mph winds and pelting rain will knock you down — person or community. Hurricane Michael demonstrated his power back in October 2018 in a swath of Florida’s beleaguered Panhandle and into south Georgia’s poverty-stricken pecan land.

Panama City and surrounding areas hit by Hurricane Michael. Apple Map

I’ve just ventured through this windswept area and as I look in my rearview mirrors I’ve got a few thoughts….

Hurricanes are common disasters, but not the only ones. Some of what I’m offering might apply to other disaster-stricken areas. Nothing I can say will convey either the sense of futility or hope in people I met. This is just a well-intentioned me, having spent a week in Panama City (aka PC), shining a light on what seems to be a forgotten crisis.

Walls and roof ripped off as they huddled, the story of a family I interviewed and many others whose stories are untold. Photo Diane Nilan

#1 Debilitating Factor: Stress

Some spoke of the impact of stress but recently, on the eve of a storm that was predicted to pack powerful wind and copious rain, that stress was palpable. The families and women at the shelter where I was parked were almost immobilized. School was cancelled for the next day leaving parents to figure out arrangements and kids to be relieved that they could be with their families, despite the physical fragility of their housing. PTSD is real.

#1 Rehabilitating Factor: Stability

Leadership in a crisis is invaluable. From what I’ve heard and seen, hands-down, Bay County Superintendent of Schools Bill Husfelt gets a prize! His efforts to get a grip on the district’s ravaged situation and guide the “sinking ship” to safe port for repairs is admirable. He realizes that strong schools are the backbone of this community, and restoring what’s left so education can do its thing in PC is a major part of his job.

He writes a column for the local paper. This week he offered this bit of wisdom:



Diane Nilan

Founder/pres. HEAR US Inc., gives voice & visibility to homeless families & youth, ran shelters, advocate, filmmaker, author, 18 yrs. on US backroads. hearus.us