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What Cities On Florida's Eastern Coast Can Do To Prepare For Hurricane Dorian

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Hurricane Dorian is heading towards the eastern coast of Florida. Cities on the Peninsula are bracing for landfall next week with heavy rainfall and winds that could reach 140 miles per hour. Now, Florida is no stranger to hurricanes, of course. Last October, Hurricane Michael devastated Panama City. According to the city manager, 90% of that town's buildings and homes were damaged.

Greg Brudnicki is the mayor of Panama City. We gave him a call to ask how a coastal town should be preparing for a big storm.

Welcome.

GREG BRUDNICKI: Hey, how are you?

CHANG: So as Dorian is becoming a bigger and bigger storm now, what should cities in Florida be doing to get ready?

BRUDNICKI: Well, last year, I was standing on the marina telling people the night before the storm that you need to leave. People need to go. And 20% of the people left. And I guarantee you this time, if we tell them to leave, there's going to be traffic jams. You know, most of the storms that we've had in the last 20 years have been Category 1s or less. A lot of times, it was oh, they're crying wolf. You know, they shouldn't have even closed the schools, da, da, da. And so we get complacent. I was complacent. I had no intention of leaving. I kept my family here, but I'll never do that again.

CHANG: When Hurricane Michael hit Panama City, tell us some of the most important lessons you learned about how to get ready for a massive storm.

BRUDNICKI: Well, you still have to run your city. We had 175 employees out of our 450 that didn't have a home after the storm, and we still expected them to come to work. If you have a devastating storm, you still want to have the experienced people that you've got, so we were able to get those people housed temporarily to make sure that they did have a place to go at the end of the day and their family could so they could come to work because without having the employees, we could not operate - or the city couldn't remain a going concern on its own.

The other thing we learned is there's one emergency management center here in Bay County, and there's a couple of bridges you have to go across to get to it. Well, it would take us two hours to get there because of the amount of devastation, so we're going to be putting in our own emergency management center that's going to house our people from our police department and fire department so that we can have a command center that's right in the city itself. So you learn every storm is different.

CHANG: Were you satisfied with the level of help you got from the federal government last year after Hurricane Michael?

BRUDNICKI: Well, when you say that, the level of help that we got from the federal government - we have a promise from the federal government. We haven't gotten any money from them yet. I mean, we've got very, very little. People don't realize how long it takes. I've got a $153 million debris bill just for the city of Panama City in emergency management expenses. I've only gotten $15 million.

CHANG: Wow. So do you - does that give you concerns about the federal government's ability to help after Hurricane Dorian?

BRUDNICKI: They have it. It's just the process is too doggone slow. Irma hasn't gotten their money yet. Harvey's only gotten maybe 20% of their money. Their storms were years before us. So they've made the promises, but the - and the people are good. It's the process. It's too...

CHANG: Yeah.

BRUDNICKI: ...Doggone slow.

CHANG: Yeah.

BRUDNICKI: It needs to be expedited.

CHANG: That's Panama City mayor Greg Brudnicki.

Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us today.

BRUDNICKI: OK, dear. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.