For many, fear seeps in as storm roars ashore

Baltimore Sun - - NATION -

PANAMA CITY, Fla. — Florid­i­ans in the crosshairs of Hur­ri­cane Michael made last-minute prepa­ra­tions be­fore leav­ing or hun­ker­ing down in ho­tels, homes and shel­ters.

Here are snap­shots of how they pre­pared and then coped af­ter the Cat­e­gory 4 hur­ri­cane slammed Florida. Hours be­fore land­fall, rain and wind buf­feted Keaton Beach as Tom Moenich drove the streets in his pickup look­ing for neigh­bors need­ing help. His cell­phone rang con­stantly as friends who evac­u­ated pressed him for up­dates.

“It’s go­ing to be real ugly,” Moenich said.

The area of Florida east of where the eye of the mas­sive storm made land­fall has barely re­cov­ered from a flood­ing surge brought on by Hur­ri­cane Her­mine in 2016.

“Af­ter Her­mine the year be­fore last, some of the peo­ple still haven’t got­ten re­built from that,” said Moenich, a con­struc­tion worker. “What they did get re­built is go­ing to get it again.”

Moenich planned to ride out the storm at his home, which sits on higher ground. He­had ex­tra gas for his gen­er­a­tor. But the po­ten­tial for high storm surge had him spooked.

“I’m wor­ried,” he said.

As winds started to top­ple trees in Florida’s cap­i­tal, Tal­la­has­see, one of them landed onto the chim­ney of res­i­dent Joe Marino.

“It was like an earth­quake. The book­shelf shook and a frame fell down. It was weird. We went out­side, and you could smell the pine, and there it was: lay­ing on the chim­ney.”

Marino, who works for a vet­er­ans or­ga­ni­za­tion and lives with his girl­friend and her el­derly grand­mother, said wa­ter started drip­ping through the chim­ney, and they feared wind would blow the tree from its perch and send i t crash­ing through the roof. They planned to stay on the first floor.

“Up­stairs zone.” is a no-go

In the Panama City area, not far from land­fall, Diane Far­ris, 57, and her 23-year-old son, Waine Hall, walked to the shel­ter near­est their home, Ruther­ford High School, early Wed­nes­day. There they found about 1,100 peo­ple crammed into a space meant for about half as many.

“The cafe­te­ria, gym, all those are full. They’re putting peo­ple in the hall­ways and rooms ... There will be more space hope­fully be­cause there are more peo­ple com­ing ev­ery minute,” said Far­ris, who was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing her first hur­ri­cane.

Far­ris was des­per­ate to know where other rel­a­tives had wound up. Nei­ther she nor her son had any way to com­mu­ni­cate be­cause their lone cell­phone got wet on the way to the shel­ter and quit work­ing.

“I’m wor­ried about my daugh­ter and grand­baby. I don’t know where they are. You know, that’s hard,” she said, chok­ing back tears.

An­other shel­ter oc­cu­pant, Michi­gan na­tive Pamela Cowley, was un­nerved by heavy rains and winds as Michael ap­proached.

“I’m scared,” she said. “I’m wor­ried about the af­ter­math be­cause they’re talk­ing about maybe up to Emily Hin­dle makes do at a shel­ter set up at Ruther­ford High in Panama City Beach, Fla. two weeks with no elec­tric­ity.”

Ahead of land­fall, Chris Oaks sat out­side un­der­neath his raised house in St. Marks, watch­ing storm cov­er­age on a tele­vi­sion as some neigh­bor­hoods around him were al­ready start­ing to flood. The fish­er­man was rais­ing up a rid­ing lawn mower and other items off the con­crete slab be­low the house as the hur­ri­cane ap­proached.

Asked if he was wor­ried, he quickly said, “No.” He added: “It shouldn’t get over a cou­ple of feet above this slab.”

He said he’s had wa­ter flood the area where he was stand­ing, but the liv­ing space of his home is raised 17 feet off the ground and he saw no need to evac­u­ate.

Oaks said that if he were closer to the pro­jected land­fall, “I’d def­i­nitely be gone, but it’s a good ways to the west of us.”

The mas­sive storm’s cen­ter would later make land­fall about 70 miles to the west. Meshell Beach, who sells real es­tate and helps man­age rental prop­er­ties in Keaton Beach, was gath­er­ing photo al­bums from her sis­ter’s house near the beach Wed­nes­day. It’s been a year since Beach fin­ished re­pairs on the down­stairs of her own her own home af­ter Her­mine sub­merged it in 5 feet of wa­ter.

Beach didn’t ex­pect her down­stairs level, which she uses for vis­i­tors while she lives on the home’s se­cond story, to sur­vive Michael. “It’ll be gone,” Beach said as she pre­pared to head in­land. “I’m go­ing to make a big out­door kitchen this time. I’m not do­ing it all over again.”

Mean­while, she had loaded her down­stairs fur­ni­ture into a rental truck to save it from get­ting ru­ined. “I just filled a U-Haul and took it down and left it be­side the road,” Beach said. “It’s all new fur­ni­ture.”


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