Kids share their hur­ri­cane sto­ries

So far, grownups have dom­i­nated talk about Michael. What was the storm like for chil­dren?

Tampa Bay Times - - Front Page - aY 6PTrRYu VPRu Times Staff Writer

PANAMA CITY — They wor­ried about their pets, their toys, Wi-Fi. They were scared some­times, or ner­vous, or just plain bored.

They are the young sur­vivors of Hur­ri­cane Michael, kids who wit­nessed one of the strong­est storms on record rav­age the place they call home. Months after the Oc­to­ber storm, res­i­dents of Bay County — the epi­cen­ter of the de­struc­tion — were still grap­pling with piles of de­bris, job loss and lim­ited hous­ing, forc­ing some to re­lo­cate.

But by Novem­ber, schools had re­opened for the kids who re­mained, in­clud­ing nine fourth- and fifth-graders at Parker El­e­men­tary School who sat down in De­cem­ber to tell their storm sto­ries. The school ab­sorbed stu­dents from neigh­bor­ing Os­car Pat­ter­son El­e­men­tary School, de­stroyed in the storm. They call their blended stu­dent body of 480 kids “P&P.”

So far, the story of Hur­ri­cane Michael has been told by the grownups — more than 40 peo­ple dead, dam­age es­ti­mated in the bil­lions of dol­lars.

Here, edited for length and clar­ity, is what some of the chil­dren have to say about the storm.

Dur­ing the hur­ri­cane

RJ CY­WIN­SKI, 11, FIFTH GRADE: “We had to evac­u­ate. It al­most felt like the storm was fol­low­ing us as we drove down the high­way. We landed at a ho­tel that’s — ” he forms air quotes with his fin­gers — “‘non-smok­ing’ when ac­tu­ally (it was) full of smok­ers, and our pets did not like it. They were sad, and it was hard. We have a lot of pets. Three cats and four dogs. One of them is prac­ti­cally a horse. When he walks, he gal­lops. And when he runs, he’s faster than any­one.” JAMES RUS­SELL, 9, FOURTH GRADE: “I saw a lot of de­struc­tion like, I saw a tree fall down where we were. I ate pack­able ce­real. I al­ways drunk milk with it. And then in the af­ter­noon I al­ways eat peanut but­ter sand­wiches.” JAKAR MILLER, 10, FIFTH

GRADE: “My par­ents heard that there was a hur­ri­cane com­ing and I was like, ‘Mom, let’s evac­u­ate,’ and she was like, ‘No, we sur­vivors.’ When we stayed, the power went off and then a few mo­ments later, our win­dows broke — one of them — and then there was a lot of wind com­ing in and it started to leak on the roof. It started leak­ing ev­ery­where. We had to leave our house dur­ing the storm. Our porch was all gone. It was cov­er­ing the front door. So me and my mom had to go out through the back door. We were crawl­ing through the trees and jump­ing, go­ing over trees. We went down the street. Luck­ily these peo­ple were out­side and they said we could stay there un­til the hur­ri­cane was over. … I was like, ‘Is this a dream? Or is this re­ally hap­pen­ing?’

“But it was hap­pen­ing.”

Sounds of the storm

IZ­ABELLA VAZQUEZ, 10, FIFTH

GRADE, puffs her cheeks and blows hard, then slaps her hands to­gether.

JAKAR hums through his teeth like a race car ac­cel­er­at­ing.

R.J.: “You know those books — well, I’m not sure if ev­ery­body’s heard this, but I’m a book­worm so — have you ever heard in books how they de­scribed the wind as ‘howl­ing’? This one lit­er­ally sounded like a pack of wolves were howl­ing. And I hear these trees that, it sounds like you’re crack­ing a tooth­pick in your ear. And next thing you know, there’s a tree on your car.”

After the hur­ri­cane

R.J.: “There’s black mold in my room. There’s black mold in the garage. We had to throw away tons of toys and books that we made fam­ily mem­o­ries on.”

IZ­ABELLA: “In Mex­ico Beach, we have two busi­nesses, a pizza place and a para­sail­ing one. At our pizza place … it got de­stroyed, and when I first seen it I started to cry be­cause that is where I earned my first $20.” CAYLEN NGUYEN, 10, FIFTH GRADE: “There was a tree on top of my car. It was get­ting crushed. A tree went through our house where we would have been stay­ing.

It was in a closet that me, my dad, my whole fam­ily would have been in dur­ing the hur­ri­cane. So it would have went right through and killed us, but luck­ily we evac­u­ated kind of late.”

R.J.: “We had to cut into the wall. My dad had the plea­sure of sledge-ham­mer­ing the bath­room wall.”

IZ­ABELLA: “No fair. I got to kick down a gate and pull down a door, but it was fun. The door in­volved a tow truck.” JES­SICA DE­BIANA AGUILAR, 9,

FOURTH GRADE: “I went back to my house, and when I saw my house the first time, the roof just came out of my house. And my heart felt like it was just bro­ken be­cause I miss my house. My dog loved his house, too, and he missed it. He was cry­ing. He was try­ing to make me feel bet­ter, but he misses his house, too.”

While school was out

IZ­ABELLA: “Me and my cousins, we put on a lit­tle dance show and then when we wouldn’t do that, I was play­ing with my step­brother’s snake. … We res­cued four ducks and four chick­ens that were at the dock. One of them, I no­ticed that it broke its leg, so I got two Pop­si­cle sticks and put it on its leg and put tape around it, and then two weeks later it was walk­ing nor­mal.” DEASHIA TUBBS, 9, FOURTH GRADE: “Sur­vivor!” Then, to the tune of Destiny’s Child’s Sur­vivor, “I’m not gon’ give up.” CRIS­TIAN PIZANO, 11, FIFTH GRADE: “After the storm it was ac­tu­ally kind of bor­ing. I went to Alabama, but all I did was get in trou­ble.”

JES­SICA: “When it was Thanks­giv­ing, we ac­tu­ally went to At­lanta and cel­e­brated and we had fun. I was tired of see­ing the de­struc­tion, so we went to At­lanta, and I felt hap­pier there with my cousins.”

JAKAR: “After the hur­ri­cane it was re­ally bor­ing. My mom’s room was the only thing that was okay, so then I had to sleep in there with her. And then we had to eat canned food beans.”

How many cans do you think you ate?

JAKAR: “Eh, one.”

DEASHIA: “I ate at least 10.”

IZ­ABELLA: “You want to hear a fun fact? Re­fried beans are only fried once.” (It’s true.)

Re­turn­ing to school

“Scary.” “Funny.” “Awk­ward.”

R.J.: “I kept on hear­ing ru­mors that once we got back to school they would take away our sum­mer. My dad, he said, ‘Yeah, you’re go­ing to have, hmm, one day. You sleep one day and oh, look, you’re sixth grade! Yay!’ I was just so scared they were go­ing to take away my sum­mer, and it would have sucked.”

JAKAR: “We got our in­ter­net and ev­ery­thing back on. I was in the mid­dle of watch­ing TV and my mom came in my room and said, ‘Oh, I got some good news for you. You’re go­ing to school to­mor­row. No stay­ing up late.’ And I’m like, ‘Nooooo! Why?!’ ”

IZ­ABELLA: “I’ve made new friends from Pat­ter­son.”

JES­SICA, a for­mer Pat­ter­son stu­dent on show­ing up to a new school: (I was) “kind of ner­vous and scared.”

JAKAR, an­other for­mer Pat­ter­son stu­dent: “It’s re­ally not that ner­vous if you only do it once.”

CRIS­TIAN: “Just don’t think about it. I’m not think­ing about it.”

JES­SICA: “My dad is think­ing, he al­ready bought a house, but we’re go­ing to move (and go to a new school), I think he said months or years be­cause that house that my dad bought — it was kind of dam­aged a lit­tle bit. But it’s hard to make new friends again and again.”

Their burn­ing ques­tions

close DEASHIA: be­fore “Why the did storm the came? toy store … How do peo­ple get on roofs to fix roofs?” IZ­ABELLA: “Why am I so cute?” CRIS­TIAN: “Can we do shoutouts?”

JAKAR: “Can I stay in Tampa with you guys?” What about an­other hur­ri­cane?

CRIS­TIAN: “My mom said if it’s two or above, she’s leav­ing.”

JAKAR: “I’m too hand­some for it.” “No.” “No.” “Um ... not re­ally.”

MON­ICA HERN­DON | Times

nrom left, Steve 7or­dan, 10, R.7. Cy­win­ski, 11, 7es­sica 4ebiana Pguilar, 9, 4eashia Tubbs, 9, and sz­abella Vazquez, 10, talk last month about their ex­pe­ri­ences dur­ing rur­ri­cane tichael at Parker lle­men­tary School in Panama City.

Pho­tos by MON­ICA HERN­DON | Times

RJ Cy­win­ski, 11, and Jes­sica De­biana Aguilar, 9

Iz­abella Vazquez, 10

Jakar Miller, 10

Steve Jor­dan, 10.

Caylen Nguyen, 10

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