Gone with the wind

‘I could just see ev­ery­thing fly­ing. I thought, oh my God’

Sunday Star-Times - - FRONT PAGE -

Tom Gar­cia is among those tear­fully search­ing for lost loved ones as a Florida town counts the cost of Hur­ri­cane Michael.

Tom Gar­cia watched in ter­ror as fin­gers of wa­ter pushed in­land across the beach and be­gan fill­ing up his home.

His wife handed him a drill and Gar­cia used screws to pin his front and back door shut. But soon the storm surge from Hur­ri­cane Michael was up to his chest. His dogs sat on his bed as it floated. He said it took all of his strength to hold his slid­ing door shut as the wa­ters out­side the glass rose higher than those flood­ing the house.

‘‘It was life or death,’’ Gar­cia said through tears yes­ter­day as he walked amid the de­struc­tion in Mex­ico Beach.

Michael was one of the most pow­er­ful hur­ri­canes to ever make land­fall in the US, and Gar­cia’s com­mu­nity of about 1000 peo­ple was di­rectly in its path on Thurs­day. While most res­i­dents fled ahead of the storm’s ar­rival, oth­ers stayed to face the hur­ri­cane.

They barely es­caped as homes were smashed from their foun­da­tions, neigh­bour­hoods were sub­merged, and bro­ken boards, sheet metal and other de­bris flew through the air.

Hec­tor Mo­rales, a 57-year-old res­tau­rant cook, never even thought about evac­u­at­ing. He grew up in Puerto Rico, where, he said, ‘‘you learn how to sur­vive a storm’’.

His mo­bile home isn’t on the beach. But the canal lined with boat docks be­hind his home quickly over­flowed as the hur­ri­cane came in­land. Soon, Mo­rales said, his mo­bile home started float­ing.

‘‘The wa­ter kept com­ing so fast, it started com­ing in from ev­ery­where,’’ he said as he sat out­side on a bro­ken set of stairs ly­ing atop a mat­tress and other storm de­bris. ‘‘I had about 3 feet of wa­ter in my house. hat’s when I de­cided to jump.’’

He got through a win­dow of his home on to the top of his car out­side and saw two neigh­bours wad­ing through the rush­ing surge. He swam out and grabbed a util­ity pole, then reached out and helped steady the cou­ple. They fought their way onto a fish­ing boat that had been tied to a palm tree, and climbed in­side.

They stayed in the boat for six hours – Mo­rales in the cap­tain’s chair – be­fore the winds calmed and the surge re­ceded.

‘‘I lost ev­ery­thing – my clothes, wal­let, credit cards,’’ he said. ‘‘But I made it.’’

Bill Shockey, 86, re­fused to leave Mex­ico Beach de­spite his daugh­ter’s plead­ings. He said he didn’t want to leave be­hind his col­lec­tion of Gone with

the Wind dishes and an­tique dolls. So he stashed those valu­ables up high in a closet be­fore head­ing to his daugh­ter’s newly built two-storey home next door.

With a pocket full of cigars and his cat named Andy, Shockey watched from an up­stairs bed­room as the hur­ri­cane rolled in. The wind shred­ded the roof of his sin­gle-storey home. Wa­ter rose nearly to the top of his garage door. A neigh­bour’s home across the street was shoved off its foun­da­tion.

Was he scared? ‘‘Wor­ried, I think, is

more like it,’’ Shockey said.

His col­lectibles sur­vived, but Shockey’s house was de­stroyed and he won’t be re­build­ing – ‘‘I’m go­ing to move in with my son in Ge­or­gia.’’

Res­tau­rant man­ager Hal Sum­mers stayed at his par­ents’ house, hav­ing promised to watch over an el­derly friend.

Sum­mers knew they had to get out when, about 30 min­utes af­ter the storm made land­fall, wa­ter surg­ing into the home’s kitchen rose up to his neck. He helped the el­derly man into an out­doors bath­room where they waited un­til the flood­ing re­ceded.

‘‘I had to hold the door shut or it would just keep flood­ing. There was a lit­tle crack and I could just see ev­ery­thing fly­ing. I thought, ‘Oh my God’.’’

While Gar­cia and his wife sur­vived the hur­ri­cane’s wrath, he was out yes­ter­day search­ing for his daugh­ter and mother. Kris­ten Gar­cia, 32, and her 90-year-old grand­mother, Jad­wiga Gar­cia, were stay­ing in a sec­ond-floor beach­front apart­ment on Thurs­day as the storm came ashore.

Gar­cia said his daugh­ter called him to say the apart­ment was flood­ing and they had taken shel­ter in the bath­room. He hadn’t seen them since the storm passed, and hadn’t been able to gain ac­cess to their apart­ment.

He had tears in his eyes re­call­ing their last con­ver­sa­tion.

‘‘She said, ‘Dad, get down here’,’’ Gar­cia said.

‘‘I said, ‘It’s too late’.’’

AP

Res­tau­rant cook Hec­tor Mo­rales es­caped through a win­dow as his mo­bile home started float­ing, and rode out the storm in a moored boat af­ter help­ing a cou­ple to safety. ‘‘I lost ev­ery­thing . . . but I made it,’’ he said.

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