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Lori Adair has been away from a relative's house for more than two hours since being destroyed by Hurricane Michael.

The AutoNation Ford Panama City service consultant in Florida can only return to their home once a week, a 10-minute drive from the dealership.

There are some toys in the rubble where Adair lived before it was spilled by the storm. Their roof is blurred and all that remains is a carcass of a house.

Although she works five to six days a week, she returns weekly to check her warehouse. "I do not like going back to our house because of all the emotions it causes, because I only see your life in ruins."

The dealership and Adair's house were devastated by Hurricane Michael last month. The community, which includes a number of at least seven dealerships near AutoNation Ford, looks like a war zone, Adair said. Although collecting through the wreckage of the dealership is another reminder of the destruction of the hurricane, Adair and many of her colleagues have found a sense of normalcy and routine as they return to the battered shop.

Hurricane Michael landed on October 10 near Mexico Beach, Florida, with sustained winds of up to 155 mph. That made him the strongest storm the Florida Panhandle had hit. The storm continued on a devastating route through Georgia and into the Carolinas and Virginia, destroying communities and businesses. Dealers in various states were damaged, but with regard to concentrated wrecks, Panama City, Florida, seemed to be the case Ground Zero,

Of the 90 employees of AutoNation Ford Panama City, 20 lost almost everything by storm, but there were no injuries or deaths, said General Manager Steve Martin.

Preparations for reconstruction

Martin explained that the dealership had completed its renovation and could start rebuilding Automotive News last week.

Before the storm, the showroom of the car dealership was rebuilt and opened in the third week of November. The storm destroyed the building and pushed the open date to the end of the first quarter of 2019 or the beginning of the second quarter.

Service Advisor Lori Adair gathers the strength to return to the remnants of her home once a week. She says she was touched by the generosity of AutoNation employees and the dealer. Picture credits: SPENCER THOMAS AND LORI ADAIR

The three-lane service center adjoining the showroom shifted by six to twelve inches and lost its doors during the storm, Martin said. And the used vehicle construction of the dealership has to be rebuilt. It is expected to reopen in the second quarter. In the meantime, employees continue to work with followers, and inventory is displayed outside.

"We start in first place," said Martin. Fourteen new vehicles and 97 used vehicles had to be counted, and 42 new vehicles needed repairing damage caused by deposits.

The dealership reopened on November 1, using two trailers as temporary offices for its sales team. The trailers receive electricity from generators. To make the environment more customer-friendly, the sales team set up picnic tables in front of the trailers. The sales department is the only fully functional operation of the dealer.

"It will take a while to rebuild this store and we'll do everything we can, including supporting our local teams," said Marc Cannon, AutoNation's Chief Marketing Officer.

Steve Martin, the general manager of the dealership, on the left with a hat, says 20 of the 90 employees of the dealership had lost almost everything due to the storm, which also devastated the break room of the shop upstairs and the service center below. Picture credits: SPENCER THOMAS

"In the service department, the elevators are still being put into service and the vehicles are being serviced regularly," he said. "A few hundred customers have come to AutoNation Ford to either buy a vehicle or need service."

The car dealership's sales department in Panama City has around 200 new vehicles and nearly 100 used vehicles that employees can sell to customers, Cannon said.

The vehicles are a combination of those that AutoNation Ford retained prior to the hurricane and which AutoNation Inc. supplied to the dealer.

Martin said that AutoNation responded immediately to the needs of its dealership after the hurricane. As part of CEO Mike Jackson's No-Disruption Payroll policy, AutoNation paid its employees in full by October, Martin said. In addition, the company helped employees with more money and gift cards.

Heaven and earth move

"AutoNation Inc. has done a lot to alleviate the emotional strain and devastation of our employees," said Martin.

AutoNation also raised more than $ 42,000 for those in need and provided them with temporary phones to enable open communication with each other and their family members.

Ford Motor Co. has also supported, Jackson said.

Mark LaNeve, Ford's vice president of marketing, sales and service in the US, "contacted us on the same day as the storm, and Ford has always been there for us through a trauma," said Jackson. LaNeve "moves heaven and earth to help and support us."

Ford has a Civil Protection team founded in 2012 after Superstorm Sandy, said Paul Russell, sales and communications manager at Ford.

"The Ford Disaster Response Team intervenes as soon as a major storm or event is detected and remains engaged throughout all relief and recovery efforts," he said.

Nevertheless, a large part of the community remains in ruins. "The people of Panama City are still trying to understand what happened," said Martin. "What the community is going through is still surprising and shocking, and I have never seen the trade shut down, just store for emptiness."

Adair said she was moved by the generosity of AutoNation and the dealer's employees.

"It turns out that there are still decent people in the world who are ready to help other people in need."

Hannah Lutz contributed to this report.

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