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Michael's devastation endures as many remain homeless

Alex Harris, Miami Herald on

Published in Weather News

PANAMA CITY, Fla. -- When Noel Santiago came to save the kids from Hurricane Michael, they were frozen.

"They were in shock," he said. "If you didn't grab 'em by the arm and yank they wouldn't've moved. Then who knows where they'd be."

Santiago, 53, dragged his friend, 34-year-old Rosa Perez, and her two children, down to the first story of Macedonia Garden Apartments in Panama City as the howling winds of Hurricane Michael ripped the roof off their second-story apartment.

A week later, many of the residents of the public housing complex are still here. They're camping out in the moldering remains of their shredded apartments and cars, cooking over fires in common areas and lighting their mildewing spaces with candles when night falls.

Like the tens of thousands displaced by the storm, many of these people don't have places to go -- or a way to get there if they did.

Residents huddle in hallways, smoking cigarettes and anxiously discussing their next moves. Perez has been making the rounds, telling other residents that management can't make them leave.

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"Legal services came and told us," she said. "They can't do that. They want FEMA to put us in a hotel and not take the rental voucher. Everybody is scared by that.

Perez and her family lost everything in the storm. They're living with a friend until Perez gets her FEMA voucher for two months' rent. She doesn't have a bank account, so she's been waiting a week for the mail to be delivered with her voucher.

For many in the community, the world has narrowed to what's within walking distance.

The nearest aid station its just over 2 miles away at a Baptist church. Without a vehicle or a shopping cart to carry the goods home in the scorching heat, it's out of reach.

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