Gone with the wind
‘I could just see everything flying. I thought, oh my God’
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’.’’
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.