Sheriffs Ban Alcohol After Hurricane Michael

By Keri Blakinger 10/22/18

Unsurprisingly, the move was met with a wave of criticism. 

buildings and palm trees in the midst of a hurricane in Florida

In the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, two Florida counties briefly banned alcohol sales as part of an emergency disaster declaration.

The Category 4 storm walloped southeastern seaboard states earlier this month, leaving at least 30 people dead in the U.S. and wreaking particular havoc on Florida and Georgia. Five days after the hurricane made landfall on Oct. 10, sheriffs in two Panhandle counties on the Gulf cut off booze-buying.

As the ban set in, a spokesman for the Gulf County sheriff said the top cop “feels like people need to not focus on drinking.” State statute allows local sheriffs the authority to pause alcohol sales during riots, states of emergency and other crises, officials told the local paper.

“He just wants to give people time to adjust and cope and the businesses time to get open and their feet back on the ground,” Gulf County sheriff's spokesman Corey Dobridnia said.

But even as word of the modern-day Prohibition spread, Panama City—the Bay County seat—voted to dial back the ban there four days after it began. Elsewhere, officials promised to re-open booze sales once power was restored. 

Both counties were open for a full bar by Saturday, according to local reports.

While it was in place, the short-lived restrictions—predictably—drew some backlash. And after Hurricane Katrina, there were no such bans in Mississippi and Louisiana, according to the Sun Herald.

But this time around it was not so much thirsty would-be customers who objected as it was devastated business owners already dealing with losses from the storm, now coupled with the dip in income from a lack of booze sales.

“This alcohol ban puts them in a bind,” Laguna Beach resident Nancy Estes told the Northwest Florida Daily News. “I don’t see where the business owners should be penalized for something they had to get a license to do. They paid to get a license to sell beer, wine or spirits, they should not be penalized.”

Some took to social media to air their concerns. 

“Banning all sales of alcohol only rubs salt in the wounds of those already affected financially by this disaster,” wrote Jonathan Hampel, “especially all of those in the restaurant business.”

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.