Utter devastation.

That’s how most people who drive through the streets of Panama City and surrounding areas describe the scene that deadly Hurricane Michael left in its wake.

Trees snapped, twisted and heaped in knotted masses everywhere, shrouding power lines and poles that could not bear their added burden against Michael’s Cat. 4 winds.

As I escorted a Panama City New Herald photographer through the mess in Lynn Haven, she described it best: “A tangled nightmare.”

Devastation caused by Hurricane Michael

Pieces of roofs, an RV crushed like a soda can, shingles and insulation and splinters of structures too damaged to identify litter the landscape. Power lines and toppled power poles lace through the carnage along every street in the Panama City area. Glass. So much shattered glass and that lone child’s bicycle crushed by a toppled light pole.

Yet, Gulf Power’s teams were working the main arteries in the early morning hours after Michael spun out of Florida, unweaving the damaged lines and equipment and removing them from the road. The work paved the way for convoys of trucks bearing new power poles, transformers and lines to roll in.Downed lines in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael

On other streets, vegetation management crews, like one from Blackwater River State Forestry Service in Milton, chain-sawed a web of splintered trees from other downed power lines. At the same time, substations, and transmission lines and towers were inspected, and plans hammered out to get them repaired and up and running.

People compare the damage to the likes of killer storms: Hurricanes Andrew, Katrina and Ivan.

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Living on the Gulf Coast of Texas and Florida my entire life and spending 28 years as a journalist covering at least 15 hurricanes and countless Tropical Storms through my career, I’ve learned, each hurricane has its own fingerprint.

This is true of Hurricane Michael’s, whose imprint resembled a bulldozer and buzz-saw indiscriminately pushing from the Gulf of Mexico through a large swath of Northwest Florida.

Underscoring, the two faces of a hurricane, Panama City Beach to the west of Michael appeared to get a glancing blow while everything from Hathaway Bridge east took a brutal beating from the hurricanes strongest side.

Then there’s the faces of the people. Stunned. Woeful. Disoriented by the unrecognizable streets mostly stripped of the landmarks that defined their communities.

Frustration prevails. Most cell phone service is down or spotty. News is mostly devoured by tuning into their vehicles’ radios.

And residents wander around in vehicles battered by Michael or hike on foot asking for water, food, diapers, chainsaws, generators, pet food.

Their number one question, though: “When will I get my power back on?”

It’s clear their hope floats when they see the utility bucket trucks lined up for blocks with crews working day and night stringing lines and replacing poles in their neighborhoods or favorite shopping areas.

Night is black-ink dark.

The lights of Gulf Power’s trucks and other restoration crew members from across the country — now numbering over 7,000 — ­ working throughout many of the communities still without power offer the only illumination. 

Thanks to the massive effort, lights are returning to thousands of homes and businesses daily, pushing back the darkness and kick-starting the recovery for our customers.

By midnight Oct. 24, thanks to the crews working 24/7, 95 percent of the customers whose homes or businesses are able to receive power will be flipping on their lights, chilling and cooking their food and washing their clothes or plugging in power tools to make those much-needed repairs.

Gulf Power and the other power restoration crews are one link in the huge chain that will restore the lives of Michael’s victims and communities it impacted. If there’s a silver lining, it’s measured in the outpouring of disaster relief groups rushing to the area to help. One of them, America’s Cajun Navy, even rode out the hurricane in a hotel in Panama City to be ready to spring into rescue mode. Many others are putting their lives aside for the long haul to help the people whose lives have been derailed by Michael.

Kimberly Blair and her family rode out Hurricane Ivan in 2004 in their attic as a storm surge swallowed their home in Gulf Breeze.