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Recovery begins the day after disaster

Johnny Cochran After Michael
Georgia cotton farmer Johnny Cochran found this the morning after Michael hit.
Hurricane Michael leaves Georgia ag in shattered state

The day after a weather disaster brings a feeling of dread. As journalists, we begin calling sources, sending emails, checking social media and start piecing together some patchwork quilt of a narrative to give readers a glimpse of the damage.

First on my mind this morning was the well-being of my colleague — and friend — Brad Haire. His home was in the direct path of Hurricane Michael. He moved his family to a less vulnerable location, but still too near the storm for comfort.

Several hours passed before he let us know he was safe and that his home sustained nothing more than minor damage. I breathed a sigh of relief.

Not all in the path of the most powerful storm ever to hit this region were as lucky. Farmers awoke this morning to the realization that a season’s hard work, a year’s investment and hope for a bumper crop were all blown away within a few hours. Early reports, which are little more than snapshots of what will not begin to merge into a large picture for weeks, indicate that crop loss will be heavy. Structure losses will be significant. In some communities, homes suffered severe damage. Many are left without power this morning, uncertain when the lights will come back on and even less sure when their lives will get back to some semblance of normality.

I talked to one cotton grower this morning who wonders how he will continue. This will be the third year in a row that a hurricane has damaged a promising crop. Michael was by far the worst of the three. He celebrated the fact that his family survived.

A crop consultant rejoiced that his family is safe this morning. But he holds little hope that much of the cropland he oversees for clients will make anything near an average crop.

Sparse reports from other sources — Extension, the Georgia Department of Agriculture, some industry contacts — support the premise that damage will be enormous.

A disaster declaration has already been made, paving the way for federal aid to assist the long process of putting communities back together.

Most, but not all, farmers will have crop insurance, but coverage will not begin to make up the losses. Even if it could, the trauma of watching a year’s work blow away in a few hours cannot be offset with mere money. In 40 years of covering the greatest of all industries, chronicling boom and bust, pride and pain, I know that the delight of farming resides in harvest — gathering the results of the year’s efforts. To lose a crop just days before harvest is a cruel cut.

Sadly, some farmers, despite government assistance and insurance coverage, will not survive this disaster. Others will struggle but begin again. To all affected, we say, God be with you.

TAGS: Cotton Weather
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