Port St. Joe gets ham­mered, but Apalachicola is largely spared

Orlando Sentinel - - NATION & WORLD - By Russ Bynum

PORT ST. JOE — The piano was washed into a ditch across the street. The din­ing room ta­ble be­came lodged against a neigh­bor’s tree. And the storm surge that gut­ted Rex and Nancy Buzzett’s home of 44 years scat­tered their other be­long­ings as far as two blocks.

“It busted through the win­dows, and once it did that, it floated the fur­ni­ture up,” said Rex Buzzett, a for­mer city com­mis­sioner in this Gulf Coast town of 5,000. “The fur­ni­ture rolls around in there like be­ing in a wash­ing ma­chine and bangs out ev­ery­where, try­ing to get out. The re­sults are there be­hind me.”

The Buzzetts re­turned home Thurs­day to find Hur­ri­cane Michael had sent about 9 feet of wa­ter smash­ing into their house and their neigh­bors’ homes, which face the Gulf of Mex­ico across a nar­row coastal high­way. Win­dows shat­tered and brick walls crum­bled, and most ev­ery­thing in­side their home came spilling out.

De­spite its mon­strous wing­span — trop­i­cal storm­force winds reached out 175 miles and hur­ri­cane-force winds 45 miles from the cen­ter — Michael largely spared neigh­bor­ing Apalachicola.

Though just 20 miles far­ther from the storm’s cen­ter, Apalachicola’s his­toric 19th-cen­tury homes sur­vived largely un­scathed — though some busi­nesses near the wa­ter flooded, tree limbs lit­tered the streets and yards, and a few burly oak trees top­pled.

“It up­rooted these huge trees, but that big house doesn’t have a speck of dam­age on it,” Judi Stokowski said as she cruised around Apalachicola on Thurs­day in the six-seat golf cart she uses for guided tours.

Stokowski’s 120-year-old home es­caped dam­age. Her golf cart weath­ered Michael out­doors and started right up af­ter the storm passed.

Her gift shop, where she sells T-shirts and rub­ber al­li­ga­tors, wasn’t so for­tu­nate. Cloth­ing, hand­bags and cos­tume jew­elry got soaked by thigh-high storm surge that swamped the busi­ness dis­trict and left the streets thick with mud.

“It is what it is,” Stokowski said. “I’m just glad my house is all right.”

Even homes on neigh­bor­ing St. Ge­orge Is­land, which sits in the Gulf, separated from the main­land by a 3-mile cause­way, stood up to Michael’s fury. They largely stayed dry, mostly be­cause they are on stilts.

Josh Cad­wal­lader and his mother came home to the is­land to find their home miss­ing pieces of wood from its front steps and porch, but oth­er­wise dry and in­tact.

The beach town was lit­tered with shin­gles, strips of metal sid­ing and soggy in­su­la­tion. But there was lit­tle de­struc­tion.

“It’s all built to take it,” Cad­wal­lader said. “You’ve got to have a house that can with­stand it.”

In Port St. Joe, where the homes of the Buzzetts and their neigh­bors are built low to the ground, the cou­ple gath­ered up framed pho­tos and a few shirts and set them on the trunk of an up­rooted tree to dry out. Other pho­to­graphs were piled into a laun­dry bas­ket.

Two gui­tars sur­vived be­cause they were stashed in their cases up­stairs. The Buzzetts and their grown son had evac­u­ated to a rel­a­tive’s home on higher ground nearby.

“We’re just thank­ful we’re here and safe,” said Nancy Buzzett.

Boarded-up win­dows and sand­bags didn’t save their home. But af­ter four decades of liv­ing on the wa­ter­front, the Buzzetts don’t plan to live any­where else.

“We’ll re­build on this spot, but we’ll have to bull­doze ev­ery­thing,” Rex Buzzett said. “We’ll build up higher. But how high?”

RUSS BYNUM/AP

Josh and Nancy Buzzett talk out­side the fam­ily’s home in Port St. Joe, a day af­ter it was gut­ted by a storm surge from Hur­ri­cane Michael.

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