AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Hurricane Michael has been downgraded to a tropical storm but not before wreaking havoc all across the Florida Panhandle. Michael's ferocious winds ripped off roofs, obliterated homes and trees, tore down power lines and flooded communities all along the state's Gulf Coast. One hard-hit town is Port St. Joe. It was right in Michael's path. Port St. Joe. Mayor Bo Patterson has been going around the town, surveying the damage. We reached him on his cellphone earlier today, and he told us what he's been seeing.
BO PATTERSON: There's just so much destruction all over town not just in the city of Port St. Joe but the areas right around us. Everything got destroyed. Several businesses got totally destroyed. Flooding - even that in my house, which never flooded before.
PATTERSON: Of course the flood's all receding - some of the water, but now we just got a massive, massive cleanup.
CHANG: How difficult has it been to even just drive through the area?
PATTERSON: It was pretty bad yesterday afternoon and early this morning. But the city crews and county crews - they all been out today. And the main thing they've been doing right now is clearing (inaudible) debris off the roads. And they're looking pretty good where I'm sitting now in front of my house, and there's not a whole lot of debris on the road right now.
CHANG: Now, I know that Port St. Joe has somewhere between 3,000 to 4,000 residents. Did most of them evacuate?
PATTERSON: I would say less than half.
CHANG: Less than half, OK. Where did they evacuate to - that portion of...
PATTERSON: To Georgia, Alabama - got as far away as they could get where they didn't think the storm would affect them that much.
PATTERSON: Probably in Alabama.
CHANG: So for the residents who stayed, I mean, where are they mostly now? Are some sheltering at schools? Are there other facilities where they're hunkering down?
PATTERSON: Yes. We're filling them up pretty fast, though.
CHANG: Now, this storm - it picked up strength so quickly. It was not forecast originally as a Category 4 hurricane. So did you feel that residents were prepared enough in advance of this storm?
PATTERSON: As prepared as they could be. Like you say, it happened quickly. You know, Tuesday, we were looking at a 2. And the next thing we knew, Wednesday, we were looking at a 4.
PATTERSON: So we had a little bit of time. And I think if people had realized it was going to be a 4 longer time, they would have - probably more people left. So we've never had to deal with something like this. So as I say, it's be a long recovery, but we'll get it done. We've got a lot of volunteers. And this is a close-knit community, and I'm sure the community people will do everything they can to help each other out.
CHANG: That's Bo Patterson, the mayor of Port St. Joe on the Florida Panhandle. Thank you very much, Mayor.
PATTERSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.