Florida Panhandle dealerships take a significant hit from Hurricane Michael

At least six storm-related deaths in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina have been confirmed. Photo credit: BLOOMBERG

Hurricane Michael battered auto dealerships along Florida’s Panhandle with maximum sustained winds of 155 mpg, but it was too early on Thursday to assess the overall devastation suffered by the retailers because of widespread power outages.

The Category 4 storm traveled through the Panhandle, a corner of Alabama and southwest Georgia overnight, leaving hundreds of thousands of residents without power. On Thursday, one day after Michael hit, communities within the area were faced with significant flooding and debris. At least six storm-related deaths in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina have been confirmed, according to The Weather Channel.

Ted Smith, president of the Florida Automobile Dealers Association, on Thursday said he did not yet know the scope of the dealership devastation, blaming his limited access to Panhandle stores on the widespread power outages and extensive tree damage. Smith, who evacuated three days before the storm hit, said he was unable to evaluate his office in Tallahassee on Thursday because Interstate 10 was closed, as well as other major highways, because of the storm’s destructive winds and flooding.

“The biggest challenges right now are survival, limited contact with dealerships, lack of road access and ensuring the safety for dealership employees,” said Smith. “To my understanding, there is extensive tree damage from Fort Walton Beach to Pensacola. With hurricanes in Florida, you have to worry about the tornadoes that follow after the hurricane hits because that’s when a lot of the strong wind damages occur.”

Additionally, Smith advised that dealerships contact him through his cell phone number, 850-224-2580, as he is readily available to help. He plans to find office facilities, generators and other resources to provide to assistance to affected dealerships so that they can quickly open business operations.

Chris Cramer of Bill Cramer Chevrolet-Buick-GMC said everyone he’s spoken with in Panama City told him the area looks like “scorched earth.” He and his family evacuated Tuesday night, when it was becoming clear that the storm was strengthening into a Category 4 hurricane.

A number of the store’s 130 employees stayed in the area, and some of them have lost everything, Cramer said. Some are still awaiting word from loved ones in the path of the storm.

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