Panama City evacuees return to devastation

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PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WTOK) - The stories coming out of the Panama City area are that of survival turned into disbelief.

As people return home, they are finding an unfamiliar landscape. There is a lot of damage. Many of the homes are unlivable.

"We were praying a lot. I told the girls to just pray," Kristen Sears says.

Some of those who were hoping to avoid the brunt of Michael headed in the wrong direction.

Vicki Mayhall evacuated from Panama City Beach to Parker, which is east of Panama City - an area hit very hard. She found herself in the eye of the hurricane.

"It got quiet. it stopped raining. It was calm, but in the back it was very dark," she recounts. It was probably 15 minutes and then it was bam. We were staggering. It was hurricane force winds immediately."

Now, all she has is what she has with her. Others had a similar experience with a different outcome.

"We really didn't get much. We got a bunch of water. We're blessed. We're blessed," Charles Britt says.

Even at WTOK's sister station, WJHG, things got intense. Communications knocked out, including cell phones. There is no running water. They are back on the air now, but in a very limiting way.

Power companies are coming into the area, but for now everything is dark.. The military is there and a mandatory curfew in effect. Senator Bill Nelson was on the ground Thursday looking at the damage.

"I am here and Sen. Rubio is on the way to join me. We are going to make sure FEMA is getting the assistance it needs to here in what is in a terrible, terrible storm," he says.

Recovery efforts are underway, but communication is almost non-existent. 88 percent of the area is in the dark and officials say it could be two months before some of it's restored.