Four Gulfport Police officers have been deployed to Panama City in the state’s panhandle for one week as part of a statewide cooperative support effort that occurs during natural disasters, said Commander Mary Farrand.
Panama City is located just northwest of Mexico Beach, which is near where Hurricane Michael made landfall on October 10, 2018 at about 2 p.m. as a category 4 storm with sustained winds blowing at 155 mph. That is just 2 mph short of being classified at a category 5, the highest intensity designation on the Saffir-Simpson scale.
Photographs and videos taken by the officers illustrate the storm’s power, capturing the detail of blown-out windows, metal street sign poles bent horizontal to the ground, wooden power poles snapped in half, power lines and trees blocking roads, roofs partially or totally peeled off, and entire walls of buildings missing down to and even past the studs.
“There are a lot of areas that are destroyed,” said Farrand. “Some roads are still impassible because of downed power lines and trees.”
Officials from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) coordinate the formal interagency agreement, said Farrand.
An FDLE representative contacted Farrand at 5:38 p.m. on Thursday, October 18. “By 1 p.m. the next day, I had the guys all packed and ready to roll out of here,” she said.
The mission for the Gulfport officers is to relieve local law enforcement staff with routine patrols, site security and traffic control, said Farrand.
Deployed are officers Zack Mills, Eric Clague, Santo Nicita and Timothy Carter, who is serving as the group leader for the effort, said Farrand. They left in the early afternoon on Friday, October 19 and will return on Friday, October 26.
Each officer has their own high-profile vehicle so they can drive over ground hazards, if needed, said Farrand. The vehicles include one pick up, two Ford Explorers and one Ford Expedition.
“The officers in Panama City have been working non-stop since the storm hit,” said Farrand. “Our guys are giving them an opportunity to take care of their own homes and to get a breather from work.”
On Monday, October 22, Carter provided details for some of the calls they have been handling in Panama City, which is currently under a citywide curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.:
•Curfew violation – Two subjects were stopped for violating the citywide curfew. Upon investigation, officers determined the subjects were out committing burglaries and they were arrested.
•Curfew violation – A female was stopped for violating the curfew and it was determined she had a warrant for probation violation. The female was taken into custody was found to also be in possession of narcotics.
• Attempted homicide – Gulfport officers assisted local law enforcement with an investigation relating to an attempted homicide. They were called to the scene and assisted by circling the perimeter.
“Conditions are not great,” said Farrand on Monday, October 22. “I was excited when they told me they were going to take showers yesterday [Sunday].”
In addition to dealing with the physical damage in the area and people who are exhausted from surviving the storm, the officers frequently answer calls involving a person who is armed, said Farrand.
Some of the looters are armed and arrests have been made, she said.