When Hurricane Michael made landfall, Port St. Joe water plant staff watched the wind hurl fifty-gallon steel drums from the yard into the tree line.
"This is probably the safest building in the county," said Larry McClamma, the Port St. Joe water plant manager. "I sat there and watched the storm throw barrels into the trees."
The hurricane interrupted water and wastewater service to the city, but assistance from the Florida Rural Water Association helped keep the water flowing and the sewers from backing up.
High wind damaged the water plant's storage facilities, creating chemical spills that had to be secured before any other work could be done. It also filled the canal that acts as the plant's water source with debris and prevented the plant from taking in raw water.
"Downed trees blocked 17 miles of the canal," McClamma said.
Workers from FRWA and Tallahassee utilities helped clear the canal and restore service.
Port St. Joe's wastewater system required more assistance to maintain service.
"We lost the ability to pump effluent," explained Kevin Pettis, the Port St. Joe wastewater plant manager. "We lost both of our backup generators."
The storm knocked out power to the city's wastewater lift stations, preven
ting the sewage from flowing normally and risking overflows. FRWA provided emergency power generators and bypass pumps to operate the wastewater plant and keep the lift stations functioning.
"We're busted up and haphazard but we're functional," Pettis said.
Generators and bypass pumps have 70% of the wastewater system operating at normal. It is an accomplishment that would not be possible without assistance from Rural Water.
"When you look at the scope of the damage and the small number of hands available, it would have been overwhelming without Rural Water," Pettis said.