Fla. jails still recovering after Hurricane Michael
One jail faced obstacles including plumbing issues, water leaks, and gas line troubles
By Katie Landeck
The News Herald
PANAMA CITY, Fla. — In the hallway, a broken pipe dripped into a yellow mop bucket — one of the last reminders of the toll Hurricane Michael had taken on the Bay County Jail.
"We'll fix that next week," said Maj. Rick Anglin, who runs the jail. "It's not a priority."
The jail — with its reinforced concrete walls, and backup supplies of water and power — was one of the safest places to shelter from Michael's 155 mph winds with many staff bringing their families there for safety, but even it didn't come through unscathed. The News Herald asked for a full access tour of the jail due to complaints on Facebook and Sheriff Tommy Ford and Maj. Rick Angling agreed.
Industrial air conditioning units were knocked off the roof during the storm, scraping the rubber seal that keeps water out and opening the duct work to the torrents of rain. The combination caused some water to leak into the building, soaking and collapsing the tiles in some office ceilings.
And the jail wasn't spared from the countywide issues of downed trees in the nearby woods, collapsed buildings, flipped trailers, loss of power, loss of communication and loss of county water, Anglin said. But the jail was better equipped to deal with those issues than most, with recently purchased chainsaws at the ready to cut their way out, generators on hand to power the essential systems, and a well to supply water.
Still, it wasn't perfect.
There was water in the jail, but not with enough pressure initially to flush toilets, meaning staff members — who were essentially living at the jail following the storm, Anglin said — had to provide the inmates trash barrels of water with buckets to flush toilets. Drinking water also was being provided through 5-gallon coolers.
There also was damage to the gas lines, which made it impossible to cook hot meals immediately after the storm.
Anglin said inmates in one of the high-security units took issue with the food situation and caused what he classified as a "disturbance" in the days after the storm, ripping televisions off the wall and damaging property when they were served one more "cold waffle and sausage" than they could stand. Chemical agents were used to stop the destruction, and the dorm has been quiet since the instigators were removed, Anglin said. Hot food — which already was in the works — was restored to the entire jail later that day.
The two systems that have proved the most difficult to fix after the storm are air conditioning and communication.
Sunday was the first day visitation — which takes place via computer connection within the jail — was restored, giving people a chance to see their loved ones for the first time after the hurricane. The phone systems have not been restored.
While the systems were down, the staff was relaying short messages to inmates about the status of their loved ones. Inmate Joshua Foster, who helped with the water runs after the storm, said jail staff told him that he lost his home, but that his family was safe.
Air conditioning also continued to be a problem Sunday, but Anglin ordered accommodations that normally wouldn't be allowed, such as fans with extension cords and letting the inmates wear just their undershirts.
"We've made a lot of provisions we would never allow under normal circumstances," Anglin said.
The jail housed about 1,150 inmates during the storm and now is down to 900. Medical needs were met throughout the storm, Anglin said.