Aftermath (Part 1): The Harris Family

Many families were left with homes beyond recognition or no home at all after Hurricane Michael ravaged the Florida panhandle and Georgia.
Published: Oct. 24, 2023 at 6:33 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) - Five years ago, Hurricane Michael ravaged the Florida panhandle and Georgia, leaving catastrophic destruction.

Many families were left with homes beyond recognition or no home at all—enter Rebuild Florida.

It’s a state program designed to help low-to-moderate-income families. Work includes repairs, reconstructing or even replacing homes, bringing homes into code compliance and providing resiliency for future storms.

Some Floridians who took part in the program said finding out they had help was a beacon of light during dark times but it turned out too good to be true.

The Harris family lives on Hartsfield Road in Greenwood, Florida. Regina Harris returned to the home from south Florida in 2007 to care for her mother and father. It’s a family home for almost thirty years that holds the last memories of her beloved parents.

Now, Regina Harris, wife and mother, has a new title—storm survivor.

As the storm raged through the panhandle, homes were flattened, trees stripped from the ground and the landscape changed forever. For the Harris family, Hurricane Michael’s impact made their home almost unrecognizable.

“Oh my gosh...horrible,” Regina Harris said of the damage to her home. “We had trees in that back room over there into the roof. And we had a big hole in the back room where me and my husband were staying.”

Regina inherited the home from her mother. She said seeing her family’s home in shambles was devastating, emotionally and financially. Then, she heard about Rebuild Florida.

“It was like the Lord had blessed us,” she said.

Fast forward to July 2023: Walking through Regina’s home, you might be confused. The Harris home seems move-in ready but there’s more than meets the eye.

“Even though we were going through that, I’ve never been stressed, never complained, never did anything. But these two years, I’ve been so stressed out because it’s so ridiculous,” Regina explained.

The entire layout of the home was changed, Regina fears the plumbing and electrical weren’t inspected properly, and sealing gaps left rooms possibly exposed to outside elements.

Before Rebuild Florida began work on the home, the Harris’s had paid to have a new roof put on—a roof that Rebuild Florida tore off, after the family had put $45,000 into the repair.

The biggest issue—unauthorized modifications to hallways and doorways. Now, they’re too narrow for a wheelchair to fit through, a necessity for Regina’s husband.

When asked about what her husband’s quality of life would be if they moved in now, Regina said, “Isolated, isolated because it’s limited what he would be able to do.”

The Harris’s issues with the program don’t stop there but according to Rebuild Florida, the work on their home is finished.

Records indicate the final inspection of the house was on July 19, 2023, during which Regina was not present. One document has a place for Regina’s signature to confirm an earlier inspection. The space is blank.

Regina has sent certified letters to the building inspector, the Office of Building Regulations, the plumbers, the governor’s office, and Rebuild Florida. The only office she received a response from was the Florida Department of Commerce for Rebuild Florida and the Office of Building Regulations. Rebuild Florida’s response reads, in part, that Regina’s case has been closed out and outlines her responsibilities as the homeowner.

The Office of Business and Regulations response: the form to file a uniform complaint.

Harris said that if the rules had been followed, they could be living in their home. But now, they don’t know if they’ll ever be able to again.

In their statement, Rebuild Florida noted that all of the construction work is done by certified contractors. Presently, Rebuild Florida is ready to give the keys back to Regina and her husband to move in.

They feel safer living in the shed behind their home—the way they have been since work on their home started.

The Harris’s aren’t the only ones. The shockwaves reach throughout the twelve counties affected by Hurricane Michael. Aftermath Part 2 will premier Tuesday, October 31 on News4 at 6.

Subscribe to our News 4 newsletter and receive the latest local news and weather straight to your email every morning. Get instant notifications on top stories from News 4 by downloading our mobile apps.