MARIANNA, Fla. — Dwight Cloud was still, little by little, clearing debris from his yard, more than two weeks after Hurricane Michael struck his town of Marianna on Oct. 10.
Though his 100-year-old house somehow weathered the storm, he lost many large trees, some precariously perched, making it unsafe for him and his wife to continue with their cleanup.
The hurricane was one of the strongest to strike the contiguous U.S. in decades. Most of the damage is wind-related, with significant tree damage. Many trunks at least a foot in diameter are snapped along the coast south and west of Marianna. In some places, power could be out for a month or more.
The debris-clearing pace picked up immensely when a Mennonite Disaster Service Early Response Team arrived, with equipment and expertise, to help remove the largest toppled trees from Cloud’s yard. The teams primarily muck out homes, remove trees and limbs with chain saws, tarp roofs and make temporary repairs.
Cloud is in a new emotional place: After volunteering twice on an MDS crew in the 1990s — both times in North Carolina after river flooding — he now finds himself on the receiving end.
“I never thought I’d be the one needing the help,” he said, “but I can’t do it myself this time.”
A semi-retired construction contractor, Cloud now works alongside the MDS team as they use chain saws, a Bobcat skid steer and their work-glove-clad hands, making rapid progress cleaning up the yard.
After this, Cloud said, he will go on to help others in the community, a place he loves.
“I am just so sorry for everybody,” he said, glancing up the street at neighbors’ homes that fared worse than his own.
He and his wife, Beth, evacuated during Hurricane Michael. They returned a few days later, though they had trouble accessing their neighborhood road because of wreckage blocking the roads.
Going on 17 days without power, the Clouds were nonetheless grateful for what they still had.
“We are really blessed,” he said. “A lot of people here are really hurting.”
Beth Cloud returned home from Rivertown Community Church, where she was helping organize relief for hurricane survivors. She, too, felt blessed that Hurricane Michael spared her home.
“I’m a canner,” she said. “I’ve been putting up food for a long, long time. When we evacuated from the storm, and we watched how bad it was going to be, I thought, ‘Well, that’s all gone.’ ”
Somehow, despite trees falling all around, the house — and her jars — were unscathed.
The Clouds took it as a sign that they needed to help others.
For so many people, the very fabric of the town of Marianna, nothing will ever be the same, Beth Cloud said.
“I believe right now it comes down to neighbor helping neighbor,” she said. “Everyone I have talked to who stayed through the storm has been traumatized. They heard the trees cracking around them.”
At Rivertown Community Church, she watched teams from MDS, along with other faith-based and community-based organizations, fan out to help survivors. While the massive relief response gave her hope, she acknowledged the geographical spread of the damage.
Maps posted by the press don’t tell the story of people’s pain.
“I see people come to the church who have four kids in the car and no place to live, and they feel helpless and frustrated,” she said. “Sometimes I ask: Can all this go away? Can we go back to pre-Michael?”