A shingled-roof, white gazebo sits in the square in downtown Bainbridge. Roslyn Palmer has spent a lot of time there.
She’s been on the city council for more than 30 years, close to half her life. About a month after Hurricane Michael tore through the southwest, Palmer surveyed the damage it had done to the small town.
“It’s the worst I’ve ever seen,” Palmer said. “I hope I don’t see another one like this in my lifetime.”
Palmer has lived in Bainbridge for all but four years when she left for college. In 1985 when Hurricane Kate lashed the city with heavy rains and flooding, she was there.
That was also the last major storm in the area. Palmer said leading up to Michael, the city was doing everything it could to get ready.
“But you can't prepare for this,” she explained. “You can't prepare for a Category 3, inland storm. You don't expect that. You think it's going to hit the coast and that the land is going to break it up.”
She compared the storm to “The Big One.” The massive earthquake some say the west coast is destined to get hit by.
“San Francisco can have drills and prepare for an earthquake but when it's the big one they're not prepared,” she said. “And that's kind of what I equate this to. This was the big one.”
There was no mandatory evacuation put into place leading up to Michael hitting the area, though some residents decided to leave. Others made the decision to board up their homes or businesses, but not Mary Hayes.
She owns Polka Dots Gift Shop and Bainbridge Engraving, two business that share the same space just a couple hundred feet away from the gazebo in Bainbridge’s downtown.
“Thank the good Lord we didn't have damage,” Hayes said, relieved that was one challenge she wouldn’t have to deal with.
She said the decision to not board up did leave her concerned during the storm.
“You know, I could just see those glass windows shattered. But, we did bring in our rocking chairs and our pots of greenery.”
Hayes sat behind a table in the back of her store on a cloud day, waiting to greet customers as they walked in. But few did. Since Michael, she says business just hasn’t been there.
“We've been very slow because people are not buying what we sale right now,” she said. “They're buying food and water and they’re worried about getting their homes repaired.”
Three weeks after the storm, some people were still without power. Tina Owens, who lives in a camper a few miles north of downtown Bainbridge, was one of them. She said In the first 14 days after Michael, she had only been able to take three showers.
“It's devastation,” Owens said, exhausted as she sat outside waiting to be able to turn her lights on again. “It's heartbreak. It's just miserable. You can't take a bath, you can't wash clothes, you can't wash dishes, and you can't get anywhere.”
Owens said the day after the storm, she just sat and cried. Then, she spent the next few days picking up limbs and debris around her home.
MORE ON HURRICANE MICHAEL: After the storm
Without power, she said her camper was too hot to stay in so made a makeshift tent with some tarps and other materials to sleep outside. As far as cooking, that was all done on the grill.
Owens sat at a table in her front yard petting a few dogs and talking to Robert Johnson, a friend she made in the aftermath of Michael.
After dealing with her emotions, she put her faith in God and the community as the keys to helping her start over.
“He lost his house and I told him he could come here,” Owens said, as Johnson nodded thankfully behind her. “I've gotten to know my neighbors that I didn't even know I had. We've banded together to help each other.”
That’s not just in cleaning up. Hayes said she’s also counting on the community to help revitalize her business.
“We have a lot of Christmas gifts,” she said looking around her store. “So we're praying that things will come back. It just may take it a little while.”
As Palmer finished walking around the square, she returned to the gazebo. A block away from city hall and looking toward Haye’s gift shop. She said she has faith in the people of Bainbridge that they’ll be able to rebuild.
“We've been a community that works together,” Palmer said resiliently. “We're still working together and don't quit now. Don't let a downturn stop the progress that we're making both as individuals and as a community.”
Palmer said spending her life in Bainbridge has taught her the key to rebound: grit.