*Ya’ll this is long…and filled with a lot of pictures. This has been our life since Hurricane Michael. Even though the national media may not be reporting on it any longer, he is still very much a part of our everyday lives. This is our story.
On October 10th, our lives changed forever when Hurricane Michael, the third strongest hurricane, come ashore just east of Panama City in Mexico Beach. Mexico Beach is 23 miles from Panama City, and Hurricane Michael was about 350 miles wide, with hurricane force winds extending outward about 90 miles from the the center. I will let you do the math.
On Saturday October 8th, we were going about our business, buying a few things at Sam’s, and decided to grab a couple of cases of water, because there was a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico, and we were in the cone of uncertainty. We were preparing to be without power for a couple of days, since at the time the tropical storm was projected to be a category 1 or possible 2 when it made land fall. I was happy to see that others were also buying water, and not waiting until the last minute, like so many do here. I called my aunt and uncle, who were in the process of packing up their home to move to North Carolina; I told them they might want to grab some water, since people were buying cases and cases of it. My aunt hadn’t even heard much about the hurricane that was projected to hit our area….because our local news channels weren’t covering too much on it. I only knew what I did because of Facebook. (more on that and why Facebook was a life saver for so many later.)
On Monday October 9th, Kelsie and I got up and went to Target. Hurricane Michael was going to be a category 2 at least, and we needed to get food that we could live on for a few days. We grabbed batteries for the flashlights and radio, and bought oil for the oil lamp and a new wick. Water was scarce at Target, with only about a dozen gallons left on the shelf. Out of panic, I grabbed 3, even though we had just bought 3 cases at Sam’s over the weekend.
We went home, and prepared the yard. We put all the patio furniture against the house, in the corner. Zack used a strap, and strapped the trampoline to the wooden swingset, to keep it from becoming airborne. We put away the pool floats, and I brought in our plants. In 24 hours things changed drastically.
We evacuated on the morning of October 9th (Tuesday), right after I watched the latest live update from Mike’s Weather Page, on Facebook. I urge you to follow him if you live any where that a hurricane could strike, or come close to your area. That man is not a meterologist, but he called a strong 4, possible 5 on Tuesday morning. At that time our locals were saying a possible 3. Mike talked about wind shears, and lots of other metorlogical language, but he knew, HE KNEW exactly what was going to happen. There have been so many residents in our area thanking him for his predictions, because they literally saved their lives. They returned home to rubble.
We watched The Weather Channel, and I followed Facebook like a hawk on Wednesday as Michael came on shore. From what we saw on TWC, we weren’t too terribly concerned. It seemed that even though Michael was almost a category 5 when he came ashore, it seemed at the time, that besides some minor damage, and a tree here and there down that Panama City was OK. HOWEVER, TWC was in Panama City Beach, NOT Panama City. For those of you who don’t know, or are not aware, we are two different cities seperated by a large bridge. If you go across the bridge into Panama City Beach, you would think that they had a strong thunderstorm come through. Fences down, a few trees down or uprooted here and there, and several blue tarps, hiding missing shingles. Nothing compared to just over the bridge in Panama City where total chaos sits.
When pictures started coming in from Panama City, just hours after the eye came ashore, we were worried. Destruction was everywhere. Buildings were unrecognizable. Kayla found a quick burst of a video on SnapChat from the fire station right down from our home; the whole place was flooded, street and all. Trees were down, but we couldn’t tell anything about our home. I begged Kayla to find a friend that would drive by. However, I had no idea that people couldn’t really drive anywhere. Almost every power pole was snapped and down, and lines were all over the roads. Trees were blocking roads and intersections, and you couldn’t just hop in your car and go any place safely. They were telling everyone to stay put that help would be on the way as first responders started making house checks.
We watched over the next couple of days tv and Facebook, our home town destroyed. We weren’t allowed back in the area quite yet. NOAA released a website that gave a live view, so that you could search for your home online. We did just that, and from the aerial view, it looked as though a couple of trees were down. Little did we know that entire view was deceiving.
Finally, on Saturday we were allowed back into town. We made the 4 1/2 drive home, and when we came across the bridge from Southport to Lynn Haven, it literally took our breath away. All the beautiful trees that once stood along the shoreline stretching as far as the eye could see, they were just gone. The tops of trees snapped and bear branches for as far miles and miles. The devestation grew more and more as we drove into the city, closer to Panama City. Homes were half gone, and the ones still standing proud, their roofs were ripped off, or trees laid on top of them, most with limbs crashing through the sides, windows, and ceilings. Cars were crumpled beneath trees. Buildings and businesses were no more. Churches were torn a part, and power poles and lines were everywhere. Traffic was (and still is) the worst ever. The only way I can describe it is if they combined spring break and bike week at once. Where it once took you 20 minutes, now takes an hour or more. Everywhere you look, there is more and more destruction.
When we arrived home, we saw the big holly berry tree down in front of our home, blocking our front porch and our gutters hanging off. The cedar tree that sits at the front corner of our yard was literally splintered a part. It looked like it literally just blew up. We found parts of it in the back yard, and to this day (11/5) part of it still sits in our sago palm tree, hanging in the cable lines.
We get out of the car, without unpacking anything, but the dogs, and immediately start assessing the damage. We walk in a very stuffy house, because there is no power, the is no air circulation. We start checking all the windows, the ceilings, the floor for flooding. As we start looking room to room, we are truly thanking God, with tears in our eyes, because our home, our home is whole in one piece. It’s in one piece, without major damage. The rain/wind was so hard that the windowsills in Kelsie’s bedroom are wet, and the rain wet her carpet around the window. But it’s just damp. Zack cleans it up, and sprays some pet odor cleaner on it, as well as Lysol. No windows are cracked, and the screens aren’t even torn. Zack grabs the ladder to assess the roof, because we do have trees on our home. He comes back with the report that besides chipped shingles and a few missing down to the tar paper, we have come away from this hurricane with minimal damage.
Sure a tree is crushing our above ground pool, wooden swing set, and trampoline, but our home, what truly matters is OK. Zack and I embrace one another with tears in our eyes and thanked God. He spared our home. All of these years we have hated living in this house, wanting to move, but God, He had other plans. We are exactly where He wants us to be.
We stayed at our home until Monday (10/15) morning. It was hot and miserable without power and water. The two nights we were were there, helicopters zoomed over head, while flashing police lights went by every 30 minutes or so, because there was a curfew intact, they were patrolling the neighborhoods. Looting was not going to be tolerated, and I am thankful that the law enforcement was so heavy. Never once did we feel unsafe, even though we were the only ones on our block that were home, and sleeping with our windows open. It was so hot in the house that we all slept in the living room where the best air circulation was. The silence was almost unbearable. Living on a busy street, we are used to hearing cars zoom by throughout the night, and the fire truck sirens off and on. There was none of that. No sound of the air conditioner kicking on or off, no ceiling fan hum, nothing. We were so thankful for the generators that the city was using at the fire station down the street, because that broke the deafening silence. We would have probably gone insane had it not been for the radio. We had a radio station that was on air 24/7 giving out such valuable information following the hurricane for over a week after. From the news of where to pick up food, water, and ice, to where to get well checks, and tarps for roofs. It literally felt like we lived in a war zone. With a curfew of 7pm intact and the constant passing by of the National Guard trucks filled with soilders in their full gear, including helmets, I half expected to see zombies appearing, or gas masks. It was a feeling that I will never forget. It is one I never want to live with again. Zack tarped the roof where the shingles were missing, and we went back to Alabama to my daddy’s house.
We stayed in Alabama until they restored power a week later. We returned home for good on Monday October 22nd. I’m not sure what we expected when we came home. When your home looks like it belongs in a war zone, there isn’t much that can change in that short amount of time. It was a record, I believe for power restoration, and we were under a boil water notifice for what seemed like forever. All that water we bought prior came in handy. I have friends whose homes were destroyed, and a few rebuildable. Then I have friends like us, that didn’t face major turmoil. Even though we don’t have the damage others have, our hearts aren’t the same.
Those that did stay and ride out this hurricane all claim it’s the last one they will ever stay for. Walls shook, roofs lifted, people huddled in the bathrooms and hallways with mattresses over their families, praying that their homes wouldn’t collapse on top of them, and that they would live. The ones that did stay faced the all too terrifying fact that right after Michael passed by that communication was pretty much nonexistent. They couldn’t contact family members elsewhere to let them know how they fared the storms. They couldn’t make phone calls to call for help, unless they had AT&T. We would have been screwed, as were the majority here.
It’s been almost two months since the hurricane, and if you were an outsider, just showing up for the first time, you’d think that we just had a hurricane hit over the weekend. Like so many, we are waiting on our insurance money to get any work done. We still have a tarp on our roof, and only one quote from a roofer. Even though we’ve made dozens of calls, everyone is so busy that we only managed for one to actually show up. Our trees are still mostly like the photos. Zack is working on them every chance he gets. I still hear chainsaws daily. It’s become part of the outside noise, along with the cars passing by. The curfew was finally lifted, but stores still close far earlier than they once did. People are living in tents in the Walmart parking lot and on various empty lots. FEMA hasn’t brought in trailers for those people to live in. The ones that did manage to get some FEMA help are living in different cities in hotels because there are only a couple of hotels here that will accept FEMA checks. (Can you imagine, a huge tourist town like Panama City Beach, NOT having rooms for those affected by the hurricane simply because they won’t accept FEMA receipents?) Hot food, water, ice, and supplies are still handed out daily at a few locations scattered across the city. Gas is not as scarce as it was the couple of weeks following the storm, but it’s not easy to come by. In the area of Panama City we live in, there are only a few gas stations able to open. And as you can imagine the lines there, at times are long.
My dad came to pick up somethings from my aunt and uncle’s home after they moved…I had been telling him that we didn’t have internet and they didn’t know when we would get it back. He didn’t really understand, as many simply don’t get it. Pictures and video clips just don’t paint the entire scope of our destruction. Once he got here he said to me that he understood now why. He was amazed at what had happened here. A place that he was born and raised, forever changed from a hurricane, that wasn’t supposed to be anything more than a 3 when it made landfall, as of Tuesday, October 9th. In just a few short hours it strengthened drastically.
Please continue to pray for Panama City, Bay, and Gulf County. We have years of work ahead of us to rebuild our area.