CUTHBERT, Ga. (WTVM) - A year after Florida’s panhandle was struck by Hurricane Michael, the devastating damage it brought to heavily visited beach communities is still obvious.
The storm was considered a category 4 when it made landfall October 10 in Mexico Beach. It was later determined to actually be a category 5 -- making it the only hurricane that strong to ever hit the area.
The storm caused severe flooding along its entire path. It killed 16 people -- seven in Florida, five in Virginia, three in North Carolina, and one in Georgia. The total damage bill from Michael is estimated at $25 billion.
In the Chattahoochee Valley, Randolph County and the city of Cuthbert were hit the hardest by Hurricane Michael.
It’s been one year since Hurricane Michael tore through the city of Cuthbert, tearing down trees and leaving remnants all across the city. Even though much progress has been made in the year, residents said there is still some work left to do.
Driving through Cuthbert, Georgia, you see people sitting on benches in the town square and walking along the sidewalks. One year ago was a different story.
“Oh it was horrible," Manoj Sharma said. "I mean, everywhere no lights, power was out for a week, and businesses were shut down. All of my things were messed up, it was bad. We had never seen anything like that, never.”
“It was very intimidating that first day," Mayor Steve Whatley said. "The streets were not even passable, the lights, the wires were down, nobody had electricity. My major concern was for the welfare of our citizens. As I said earlier, thank the Lord for no injuries and no deaths.”
Cuthbert, one of the hardest-hit areas of the Chattahoochee Valley, seems almost back to normal one year after Michael.
“There’s still some debris and some trees, downed trees and everything. But I think we’re getting there. The town looks a whole lot better and so I think in a year’s time, we have progressed,” Minnie Lewis said.
Residents remember the day well, describing what they witnessed as frightening.
“I was just praying that God would take care of us,” Lindbergh Graddy said.
Some people mentioned how the town came together after the storm, cleaning up, and preparing to move forward.
“I think the people here in Randolph County worked together," Lewis said. "Put together, we had a lot of outside help. People came down to help us and we certainly appreciate it.”
“There’s nothing like it," Sharma said. "Everybody got together and we worked it out.”
Even though residents said they hope a storm as strong as Michael never comes back their way, the biggest lesson they learned is to prepare for the worst or evacuate.
“We don’t want it to come back. That’s for sure,” Sharma said.
Although residents said it was hard to go a few days without electricity and little water, they said the community made itself stronger.
Whatley said most importantly, now they know how to prepare in case a storm like this should ever come through again. They’ve installed a weather warning system and applied for grants which would fund new generators.
He said he is proud of how the small town grew in the midst of adversity.