Hurricane Michael Devastates Fla. Panhandle's LGBT Community

Members of the Florida Panhandle's LGBT community are trying to pick up the pieces from Hurricane Michael that devastated the region earlier this month.

The LGBTQ Center of Bay County, which board secretary Cherie Crim described to the Washington Blade on Monday during a telephone interview as Bay County's "first safe space" for LGBT youth, rented a room at an Episcopal church in Panama City.

Michael destroyed a portion of the church's roof. Pictures that Crim sent to the Blade also show several large trees fell into the side of the church during the hurricane.

"Our center really took a hit," she said.

Crim told the Blade she and her colleagues have "salvaged everything that we could" from the church. She also said one of the LGBTQ Center of Bay County's leaders held a youth group meeting at their home on Monday.

"We want to get the center up as fast as we can," said Crim. "We want to be able to get things back up to the way they were, but it will take time."

Drag queen, partner, friends evacuated to Ala.

Michael had winds of 155 mph when it made landfall in Mexico Beach, which is roughly 20 miles southeast of Panama City, on Oct. 10.

The hurricane caused widespread destruction in Florida's Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Liberty and Jackson Counties. Michael also devastated portions of southern Georgia as it moved inland.

Hurricane Michael caused widespread damage in Panama City, Fla., when it made landfall in the Florida Panhandle on Oct. 10, 2018. (Photo by Melanin Manreaux)

Damage was less widespread in Panama City Beach, a popular tourist destination that is roughly 10 miles west of Panama City. Michael caused some tidal flooding in Destin and in Pensacola Beach, but reports indicate damage was minor.

China Moon is a drag queen who performs at Splash Bar Florida, a gay bar in Panama City Beach.

She, her partner and two of their her best friends who live in the same mobile home park in Panama City's St. Andrews neighborhood evacuated to Alabama before Michael.

Moon told the Blade last week during a Facebook Live interview that she, her partner and one of their best friends returned to Panama City on Oct. 11, the day after the hurricane made landfall. Moon said one of their mobile homes "was a total loss" and they could not reach hers because there were "too many trees down" on the street.

"The third was accessible," she said. "So, we as a group have all moved in there."

Moon said Michael damaged Splash Bar Florida's ceiling and roof. A 10 p.m. – 6:30 a.m. curfew remains in effect in Panama City Beach.

Hurricane Michael damaged mobile homes in the St. Andrews neighborhood of Panama City, Fla., where China Moon, a local drag queen, lives with her partner and two friends. (Photo courtesy of China Moon)

Michael damage is 'insane'

Melanin Manreaux is another drag queen who has performed at Splash Bar Florida.

She lives in Abbeville, Ala., which is two hours from Panama City, with her husband and daughter. Manreaux's parents' home is in the Panama City suburb of Lynn Haven.

Manreaux told the Blade on Oct. 19 during a Facebook Messenger interview that her parents boarded up the windows of their Panama City home and "prepared" for Michael, but chose not to evacuate. Manreaux said her parents were "okay" after Michael, even though it "destroyed" their home.

"The entire second level of their house is completely gone," she said. "My childhood room is completely gone."

Manreaux on Monday told the Blade her parents and other relatives had been living in what she described as "FEMA-sponsored suites" in a high-rise condominium building in Panama City Beach.

Manreaux said they are now living in a hotel room because the condo's board "kicked my parents and a bunch of my family members and others out." A local television station reported an eviction notice was issued on Oct. 16 because of "recently discovered water damage throughout the building."

Manreaux saw her parents' home on Monday for the first time since Michael made landfall.

"I'm having a hard time keeping it together," said Manreaux. "I'm glad my daughter is at school and doesn't have to see this."


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