The Eye of the Storm

On Wednesday, October 10, 2018, our lives and homes were forever altered. Hurricane Michael blew through the Panhandle region of Florida and left a path of immense destruction in his wake. Nothing would ever be the same.

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Though we’d prepared, on the morning of October 10, at 4:30 am, John and I decided staying in our home was no longer an option. Michael was forecasted to hit our area mid-morning a powerful Category 4, potentially Category 5, hurricane. Nowhere in his path would be safe.

We called our daughters and their boyfriends, more like sons to us since the four of them have known each other and us since high school. They live together in a home in the Lynn Haven area. We told them to grab essentials and within the hour to meet us at the Panama City Surgery Center, where we would ride out the storm with other family members. My brother-in-law, a local physician and part owner of the facility, provided the sanctuary as our Plan B. We are so very grateful for his aide.

We packed essentials and fled the Cove, where our home is located. I left my new Toyota 86 sports car in the carport because the wind and rain had already made the streets too dangerous to drive in a six-speed car that low to the ground. I knew leaving that the likelihood of losing the car was great, but at the moment I didn’t care. I wanted my family safe. That’s all that mattered.

In the few hours we had prior to Michael making landfall, we helped the other families sheltering with us and prepared to ride out the monster headed our way. I called my extended family in the area, ensuring they were either safe or had fled the area. At 11:04 we lost power and phone service. The generators kicked on providing light, which in the darkest moments of the storm was a godsend.

By 11:11, Michael was making landfall with sustained winds of 155 mph and gusts reaching 185 mph. The eye of the storm passed a mere 25 miles from Panama City where we were located, battering the building we’d taken shelter in. We could hear transformers exploding all around us. The sound of trees snapping and debris hitting the building was like nothing I’d ever experienced. Frightened and praying, we huddled together in the interior of the building.

For nearly four hours the storm was relentless. The lobby doors had been breached and we could hear ceiling tiles falling and metal roofing being ripped off the mezzanine out front. The walls seemed to be breathing. We could feel the air pressure around us dropping with each successive hour Michael battered our city.

The eyewall skirted our area as it made its way inland over Mexico Beach, Callaway, and Tyndall Air Force Base. In our area, we never got a reprieve from the wind and rain, but we were together and safe. As long as I could see my daughters, hold their hands and shelter in my husband’s embrace, I would withstand the storm.

As the winds began to lessen, we began to breathe again. We’d survived the worst, but the aftermath was just beginning.

In a lot of ways, it felt surreal. Growing up in this area, I’d seen many storms hit the Gulf Coast, had even ridden out a few, but never had I experienced anything like this. Still, I was unprepared for the destruction that awaited us outside our safe haven.

Next installment: In the Aftermath of a Monster