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Sunday, October 7th – As a property manager in the Florida Panhandle, I awaken to text from customer, “Can you empty frig of perishables due to the tropical storm?” “Yes – no problem” I answer, then ask myself what tropical storm? I pull up weather.com and see something has just formed in the Caribbean, heading for the Gulf of Mexico. I alert my husband. “Oh? Ok.” And it’s off to visit in-laws in Panama City Beach.
Monday, October 8th, Columbus Day – Tropical storm likely to form into a CAT 1 – head out to prep properties for possible CAT 1 hurricane. I procrastinate going shopping, am out of my usual food, etc. Decide to head to Walmart Santa Rosa Beach early 9:00 AM. Store is packed, employees said water is almost gone, sheriff’s department stocking up. I decide to top off gas – head home and unload groceries – head out to Scenic Highway 30A to prepare properties for storm. Finish late afternoon – pass gas station with long lines and cop directing traffic. Encounter many tourists in golf carts, kids in bathing suits, large groups riding bikes, grills firing up, a jolly mood this holiday weekend, no one concerned, party atmosphere, roads clogged. One woman asks where should I gas up — she hasn’t a drop, her large SUV with Texas tags sits in the driveway. I said go now and fill up – may be evacuations tomorrow. She’s shocked as she walks her dog. Start to see yellow bags covering gas pumps. I go home and start filling plastic bags with ice.
Tuesday, October 9th – Now a CAT 2, saying possible CAT 3 by day’s end – Bull’s eye 20 minutes away in Panama City Beach. My husband and I discuss possibly heading out. Prep home for storm – put porch furniture, plants, pillows, etc. in garage, make more ice, gather car and homeowner’s insurance, spare cash, checkbooks, business info and customer’s keys, put in go box, get out raincoat, pack small bag with underwear, sandals, change of clothes, cat food. Get out pet taxi. Watching news — millibars dropping, get out crank radio, candles, flashlights. In-laws in Panama City Beach decide not to evacuate, along with thousands of others including tourists. Many including us have “ridden out a CAT 3” — our’s was Ivan in 2004.
October 9th – Tuesday evening – Governor Rick Scott describes life-threatening event – get out now. Local stations broadcasting hour by hour weather changes – the sky and the meteorologists both turn grey – a young local meteorologist begins to choke up and finds it difficult to continue – a commercial break – he comes back pulled together. I gulp. Statements like, “We’ve never seen this before, little time to prepare, rapid intensification, this could be the worst we’ve ever seen, bridges will close, get out now.” Emergency Management and FEMA ready. A beautiful sunset in deep orange, magenta and gold emerges.
Wednesday, October 10th – Awakened at 4:30 AM by text message from friend in Boston: “Can’t sleep, it’s now a CAT 4, are you evacuating??” I try to get back to sleep, but we are up at 5:30 AM. Weather reports are dire – local officials say get out now. Cops with loud bull horns drive through every neighborhood hollering to evacuate – emergency alarms come across our cell phones by local officials warning to leave. Winds pick up. Relatives in Panama City Beach start calling — evaluating sea wall height and estimated waves, should we leave? I keep saying yes, but no one listens. More waiting. Time runs out, no one can leave. Local news says winds approaching a CAT 5. I am in shock! NOON – tall 45 foot pines surrounding our property bend, but don’t break. I make a weird philosophical mental note on that: sounds like a freight train. See dark clouds swirling in a circle, all vegetation outside is sideways. 5:00 PM — power goes out — light candles. They’re pumpkin spice scented from Bath & Body Works. Cat frozen in a chair — won’t use the litter pan — PTSD as a kitten from the shelter – she holds it all day. Here is some live footage:
Thursday, October 11th – Officials say stay off roads — no power — damage assessment underway. Local channels gone — Emergency Management broadcasting on radio. No one knows the extent of devastation but we survive — all family OK. Nature emerges as if nothing happened: hummingbirds zip about, cardinals sing, and butterflies flutter among the still standing blue plumbago and purple sage. Chirping birds mix with the sound of chainsaws, with helicopters and transport planes overhead. Head out to check properties — a ghost town. People slowly emerging.
Friday, October 12th – In-laws still have no power, then lose water and toilets, search for accommodations for them. Evening — Our power is restored! A miracle — within 24 hours! Freezing water bottles, plastic bags of frozen water and ice saves most food. Filled up tub in case water needed – emptied prior to power restoration and flooded grinder. Outside cap pops off – water and toilet paper emerge into yard — lesson learned — wait til power is restored. Gas pumps empty.
Saturday, October 13th – REALITY: Panama City devastated, Calloway and all points East gone, Mexico Beach gone – LEVELED, Port St. Joe and beyond devastated, major hospitals Bay and Gulf Coast closed – heavily damaged, ER at Bay remains open, evacuations of patients to other hospitals, cell towers gone – 911 and communications compromised, Panama City Beach International Airport damaged, Tyndall Air Force Base heavily damaged, so many trees and power lines down – roads inaccessible, entire power grids gone – will have to be rebuilt from the ground up taking weeks if not months they say, schools heavily damaged – estimated return to schools – after Christmas. Search and rescues underway – miles and miles of utility trucks.
Parts of Panama City Beach gets power and water restored. But across the bridge in Panama City: a war zone. Army dispatching MRE’s and water — National Guard deployed — news is sketchy — strict curfews, FEMA villages setting up, sister-in-law says home healthcare offices destroyed, supervisor’s home destroyed — they reach 15 out of 85 patients, a makeshift plan develops by late day to reach them. News says strongest hurricane to hit Florida ever, and the third strongest in US history.
Go to bed Saturday October 6th, wake up to a tropical storm. By Wednesday Oct. 10th: complete devastation and destruction; businesses gone; infrastructure gone.
Life as we know it here in the beautiful Florida Panhandle is forever changed.