Community Impact

The camaraderie after the storm

Hurricane Ian ravaged southwest Florida. Through spotty cell service and damaged homes, one Walgreens store team stayed connected and saved lives.
Sarah Cason, Walgreens Stories
For residents of Florida, tropical storms are a part of life. Same goes for hurricanes, especially during Atlantic hurricane season, which stretches from June 1 to Nov. 30 every year. But when a storm develops into a relentless Category 4 hurricane in a matter of hours, it can uproot even the most seasoned Floridian.

This was the case for Megan Lynch, a lifelong Daytona Beach resident and Michelle Reeb, who has lived in the same area for eight years. Both were caught by surprise by the severity of Hurricane Ian, a tropical storm that first developed into a Category 3 hurricane over Cuba before intensifying into a Category 4 hurricane and making landfall west of Fort Myers on Sept. 28.

The hurricane, the fifth strongest to ever make landfall in the continental U.S., battered the Florida coast with 155 mph winds, pelting rain, flooding and storm surges. As electrical lines fell and cell phone service waned, it became more and more difficult to contact those in Ian’s wake.

When Walgreens store manager Lynch and retail associate Reeb finally got a hold of each other, Lynch learned that Reeb’s home had become uninhabitable. Without hesitation, Lynch offered her own home as shelter. Below, they recount their experiences and how having their Walgreens “family” has made recovery possible.

‘This was totally different’

Hurricane Ian weakened to a Category 3, then Category 1 storm over the course of 24 hours before exiting the Florida area. It was the second deadliest storm to hit the continental U.S. since Katrina, with 101 people confirmed dead. 2.4 million people lost power and thousands were displaced from their homes.

Lynch: I've experienced hurricanes here my whole life, so I just figured it was going to be a “normal” storm. I don't think anybody expected the flooding and the wind and everything to be as intense as it was. I just figured, “OK, another hurricane,” and unless it’s coming directly toward us, you don’t panic. But with all the damage around central Florida and Daytona, it was really that bad.

tree uprooted from stormReeb: When they say a tropical storm is coming, you just think a little bit of wind and it's gone. This was totally different. It was a hurricane sitting on top of you for hours.

Lynch: There was flooding within the first 24 hours and then the rain. It didn't stop. You just kept thinking that we’re still getting rain and the water’s still coming up.

Reeb: Eleven hours before it was over.

Lynch: I can’t remember the last time I’ve ever seen flooding this bad. The wind was pretty intense. I stayed over at my parents’ house. I hadn’t looked into the possibility of leaving central Florida because I didn’t think this would be that extreme. My first thought was, “How do I stay in contact with my team members and make sure they’re OK?”

Reeb: I lost part of my roof. Water started coming in through the hole. When I saw that going, I waded outside. The subdivision I live in had started to flood. My neighbor pulled my truck to the street where the roads were more clear. It took a little bit of work but we got it started.

Lynch: I stayed in contact with most of my team members the best we could because the cell phone towers and the service was really bad during the storm. It was touch and go throughout the day with everybody, but once the storm was actually over and you got to a good point where you had service, I started touching base with everybody and started to learn about the damage and power outages.

‘It’s an emotional rollercoaster’

In all, 20 team members from the Daytona Beach area were displaced. While some have been able to return to their homes, some remain uninhabitable, including Reeb’s. Lynch, still sheltering at her parents, offered for Reeb to stay in her home for the time being.

Lynch: The day after the storm, I reached out to Michelle and invited her over and let her know we’re going to make it through this together. We’ll take it day by manager and team member smiling

Reeb: I appreciate it a lot. I'm not one to ask for help and it took a lot for me to say yes, trust me.

Lynch: Emotions are so raw. When you lose your foundation of your normal everyday life, your pattern is taken away. You usually have a place to go home to, but when that’s gone, it’s hard to sift through all those feelings. What is starting over going to look like? Can I start over? How long will it take? It’s an emotional rollercoaster.

Reeb: We've all been through hurricanes, we all know people that it's affected. It's never affected me like this. It's just mind boggling.

Lynch: Mabel is another one of our team members. She's been with Walgreens for over 20 years. She’s in her 80s and 5’3” if that, and we couldn’t get a hold of her. We protect Mabel at all costs here. I was talking to my pharmacy manager and I said one of us has to go over and see if we can get to her home. A lot of the streets were flooded over where she lives.

Reeb: It was not a good feeling.

Lynch: My pharmacy manager drove over there and got as far as she could into her neighborhood and at the same time, reached out to a buddy of hers that works for the sheriff's office. They did a wellness check on her and we heard back from them the same day. I think almost everybody in the store almost started crying because she was the only person we hadn't heard back from yet. I think about that and it just shows the amount of care we all have for each other. Altogether I had three team members in the area who sustained the most damage, including Michelle.

Reeb: I've been back to my home once since then, when the insurance adjuster called me and told me he was going to meet me at the house. I just unlocked the door and went about five feet into the kitchen, pointed and went back outside. I didn’t want to see any more.

‘It’s hard to replace character’

The Walgreen Benefit Fund (WBF), a nonprofit 501(c)(3) charity that’s entirely funded by Walgreens team members, awards grants to team members and their families who have experienced hardship cause by long illnesses, accidents, natural disasters and other situations. Through it, team members can receive direct cash deposits within days and funding for temporary housing, funeral services and more.

Lynch: We had a group text message going at this point and we got a QR code going about applying to FEMA or for different grants. Team members have already been getting financial assistance from the Walgreen Benefit Fund. It’s great to have everyone working together and relaying information. People are offering to help clean up yards and things like that. It speaks volumes about what kind of environment we foster here at our store. Our district manager just got Michelle set up in a hotel with funds from the WBF as well.

Reeb: I’ll be there for two weeks, at least. It depends on when my insurance company decides to pay out so I can fix the roof. The adjustor said it could be a day or two weeks until they get through all the paperwork. I just told him, “I can’t handle any more of this.” Just don’t fall through!

Lynch:  I think that's the biggest thing I could have asked for with this storm. We lose materialistic things but it's hard to replace a person or the character that they bring to the store every day. I was just happy that all my team members are accounted for and they're safe. Another team member lost about 90% of his stuff because of the flooding in his neighborhood. He’s only been with Walgreens for about 30 days. It makes me feel good how he says he can't believe Walgreens has done as much as they have for somebody who's barely been here on top of the support from his team.

Reeb: It's hard to talk about because it's, you know, it's such a wonderful thing. There's definitely that family feeling here.

Lynch: This is how our company showed up and how they drive us to lead—to be connected and committed to each other. So, I think good things did come out of this. We're going to stick together and rebuild whatever we have to rebuild.

Reeb: And if I don’t get my roof fixed in time, I’ll be back at your place, Megan.

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