Pensacola, Florida
Sunday June 17th 2018


Outtakes—Stories of the Storm

There are dozens of stories that come out of every disaster. Each reporter has to choose the ones on which he wants to focus. I tend to focus on people.

Commissioner Lumon May has run non-stop since April 30. The flooding issues alone would have kept him busy, but the jail explosion compounded the demands on his time. Families showed up at his house at 3 a.m. the morning of the blast asking for help. He has not stopped since helping families find their loved ones.

The city of Gulf Breeze had its stormwater system overwhelmed by the rain. The central core of the city flooded. Residents have slept to sounds of pumps sucking water from streets that rarely ever flood. Tom Coady, my son-in-law, got a phone call from his college buddies. They had loaded up a flatbed trailer with generators, tools and supplies and were headed to Gulf Breeze to help his mother who had almost lost her home.

I had a quick five-minute interview with Governor Rick Scott outside of Hopjacks Pizza Kitchen & Taproom that also was flooded. Scott was touring downtown Pensacola with Sheriff David Morgan and Mayor Ashton Hayward.

You could sense how deeply what he had seen in the Piedmont and Forest Creek areas had impacted him. He talked about the families he’d seen and how the state was committed to helping with the recovery. Scott was genuine and sincere. In the following days, he appealed to the White House for federal disaster relief for Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.

The families with loved ones caught in the jail explosion also stand out. For hours, many prayed for any news if they had survived the blast and where they were being housed.

Through tears and sobs, Sheila Travis told us about her accused Escambia County son, 24-year-old Kelvin Johnson, who had called her before the explosion to say he smelled gas all day and was feeling light headed but jail officials refused to move him and others who complained. County officials have disputed stories about the gas leak, but we have heard the same from dozens of other families.

On Thursday evening, Escambia County released the names of the two inmates that died in the blast. Families gradually began to hear from their sons, daughters, husbands and wives.

As we recover and rebuild, some of these stories will continue to unfold and others will come forth. The Independent News will be there to share them with you.