As the fifth anniversary of the devastating landfall of Hurricane Michael approaches, we're taking a look back at that consequential day and moving forward to a bright and exciting future as the recovery continues in Panama City and the Florida Panhandle.
Shannon Odom, Ben Lee, Brenda Parker
On the afternoon of Tuesday, October 9, 2018, Brenda Parker, Manager of the Hancock Whitney Highway 77 Financial Center in Panama City, and her team of bank associates were preparing to close the location early. Hurricane Michael was churning in the Gulf of Mexico, but forecasters had predicted that the storm would continue its northerly track and likely make landfall on the Florida Panhandle. Parker said goodbye to her staff, and told them the financial center would probably only be closed a day at the most.
In the hours leading to landfall, Michael stunned forecasters by rapidly strengthening from a Category 2 to a catastrophic Category 5. Michael’s track then took a sharp northeast turn and slammed into the Tyndall AFB-Mexico Beach area a few miles east of Panama City at around 1:00 pm Wednesday, October 10. The storm’s sudden intensification into a major hurricane caught many by surprise.
The next day, Financial Center Supervisor Shannon Odom was able to survey the damage the storm had wrought on her hometown, including the almost total destruction of the Highway 77 Financial Center. “I’ve lived in Panama City my whole life, and I’ve never evacuated for a hurricane. But I’ve never seen anything like this devastation. The storm was much worse than anyone anticipated,” she says.
Rapid response, teamwork and commitment to service
Within 48 hours of the storm’s landfall, Hancock Whitney deployed a mobile banking unit at the Highway 77 location and opened for business. Bank associates from other markets in Hancock Whitney’s then five-state service area descended on Panama City, bringing supplies, cooking meals, providing shelter and pitching in to work at the mobile unit.
As Parker puts it, “It was important for us to provide needed services as quickly as possible to our clients and anyone else who needed our help. I can’t say enough about how Hancock Whitney supported its associates. The company took care of us so we could take care of the community.”
A few months later, Hancock Whitney reaffirmed its commitment to Panama City by hosting an “all hands in” ceremony to break ground for a new building in the same location. We invited the entire community to participate in the groundbreaking so they would know that Hancock Whitney was committed to standing with them throughout the rebuilding process, and into the future.
“People turned to Hancock Whitney for assistance when they couldn’t access their own banks. They were ready to get back to business, and we were happy that we were able to help so many people, regardless of whether or not they were clients,” said Parker.
A little over two years after the storm hit, on November 2, 2020, Hancock Whitney opened its new, state-of-the-art Highway 77 Financial Center, a powerful symbol of the resilience and perseverance of the people of the Panama City area.
A community rebuilds and looks toward the future
Reflecting on the five years since Hurricane Michael, Parker says what stands out the most to her is the admiration and pride she feels for the associates of the Highway 77 Financial Center. “Our team members rallied around the community and were here for them, even though all of them had personally been impacted by the storm,” says Parker, who added that this experience brought the staff closer together.
As Parker puts it, “We strive to live by our company’s core values, and we’ll do whatever we can to help our community. We were there then, we’re here now, and we’ll be here tomorrow – whatever the future brings. We’re proud to be a part of Panama City.”
The people of Panama City, Mexico Beach and all the communities impacted by Hurricane Michael have shown the grit and determination that’s characteristic of the people of the Gulf South, and they’re coming back better and stronger than ever. Hancock Whitney remains committed to helping this community recover, and we’re excited about the bright and prosperous future we’re building together.