First time experiencing a Category 5 Hurricane
I Was Home for Hurricane Michael
Hurricane Michael… Time’s Up
Back in 2018 on October 10th I was living in Panama City, Florida. I expected to get up and go to work as usual. Instead, I got up to the work phone ringing. Since it was a work day, I figured I might had better answer it, so I did. It was my boss saying to call my appointments and tell them I wouldn’t make it and then to get out of the city. Before I could even ask why, he informed me that a hurricane was coming and was set to hit the city head on.
Stupidly, I did actually start calling my appointments. I call it stupid because every one of them were already aware of the hurricane and- rightfully- thought I was wasting both our times by calling them to say I wouldn’t be making it that day. Regardless, I called anyway and then went to my room to start packing a suitcase really fast. The neighborhood cat that had adopted me was asleep on my bed and I panicked a little because I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with her. After a long while I decided that she would be safer in my apartment than outside and since I had nowhere that I could take her, I might as well just leave her there. I was going to my brother and his girlfriend’s house about an hour away and I couldn’t take her.
Fast forward a little bit later and I am about to head out the door. Well, turns out that I was all wrong about the timing of the storm. It wouldn’t be the last bit of information that was wrong either. At this time, people were saying that it would be a category four hurricane when it hit Panama City. It wasn’t. It was a category five. For the record… category six doesn’t exist.
I opened the door to check on the situation, thinking that it may prove difficult to get down the road due to people scrambling and the usual panic situation. Instead, I saw a black sky, trees bent over from a wind that made it very hard to open the door, and a sheet of rain so thick that you couldn’t see anything beyond it. By this time, I was on the phone with my brother. I closed the door and just said, “yeah, I’m not going to make it.” I had no choice but to stay in the second-floor apartment and ride out the storm. I knew it would be bad, it’s a hurricane after all, but I didn’t realize how bad.
Fortifying an Apartment
Luckily, my brother and I both know a good bit about how to prepare for horrible weather and the aftermath of heavy storms. Not hurricanes, but heavy storms. Taking what we each knew; I plugged the bathtub up and began running water to fill the tub. I boiled and then made two large pitchers of sweet tea. I refused to have to drink only water the whole time. Yeah, I’m that guy. After that, I blew up an air mattress and pushed against the inside wall of the apartment and away from all the windows. I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep, but it was still nice to have it there just in case.
To place the mattress in its location, I had to move the only small table I owned to a wall in the tiny living room. It was not the best of moves since it placed the table directly across from the large window in the living room. However, it was the only location I could put it, so I did. I unplugged my computer and the router from the wall, and then I gathered some books and other small items and placed them on the table. This small collection of items included battery operated lights and the flashlight that I used for work. I turned off the unnecessary lights in the apartment and then fixed a few sandwiches and put them in Tupperware containers, which sat on the kitchen counter. Sadly, I smoke so I also brought the coffee can with water in it from the balcony and placed it on the table along with my cigarettes and lighter. This was for my use and also to keep any objects from the balcony from becoming a danger. Luckily, that was the only item I had sitting out there.
At Home During a Hurricane, In Fast Forward
Obviously, I can’t write about every little thing that happened during those hours of being in the apartment while Hurricane Michael tore through; that would be a novella instead of a post. Instead, I will try to give you more of a highlights summary of a few things that happened. Surprisingly, the first several hours were not that bad and honestly, I wasn’t even concerned for a good while. I sat at the table and read a book, drinking tea, and looking around for signs of the cat or anything that needed my attention. Hours and hours past and I would capture footage on my phone and then go back to reading a bit. I had gone to the bathroom a few times and glancing in my room, I knew that the cat was now underneath my bed. Smart cat.
The most nerve-racking experience from that very long day, night, and early morning happened around midway through the night. I got hungry so I got up from the table to walk into the kitchen for one of the sandwiches. Just as I made it out of the living room, I heard an explosion coming from the living room area. I ran out of the kitchen area and whipped around the wall to look and the entire area was covered in glass and water. The glass had shot all the way to the wall that separated the kitchen and living room… a foot and a half past where I was sitting only seconds before. A tree had hit the outside rail of the balcony and sent the rail into the living room window... shattering it with enough force to send the glass 12 or more feet into the room. I took a moment to get over the shock of what could have just happened, then the shock of what had actually happened. After that, I started sweeping up the glass and then stuffing towels into the window area. I tacked up a blanket over the window to catch the water coming in and the debris.
As I was sweeping up the glass, I noticed there was more water than there should have been in one area. I looked closer, which was hard to do with not much light, and that is when I realized that water was coming from under the door. That was horrible on its own, but then I followed the stream of water right to the air mattress. I wasn’t worried about the mattress because it’s made of plastic and is very disposable. My main concern was that on the other side of the air mattress was my computer… on the floor along with the router. That is a lot of money and a lot of my important resources. I can honestly say that I have never moved a computer so fast. Now, when I say computer, I am talking about a bulky custom-made desktop computer.
Aftermath and Conclusion
As I said, I can’t recap every event that happened during all of those hours, but those are the highlight moments. The next day, I began trying to clean up a little, but quickly realized that it was kind of pointless in that moment. Instead, I was on the phone with my brother and decided that it was time to leave Panama City. I eventually got the cat out of the apartment and then got on the road. The entire city looked like a bomb had gone off. The streets were flooded, people where on the side of the road looking for other people and who knows what else. It honestly looked like something out of an Armageddon movie. Luckily, I was in a company full body truck so a lot of the roads could still be navigated, but the majority of them where unpassable even for a large truck. Powerlines were down and threatened to turn any flooded area into a death sentence instantly Cops and other emergency responders were directing some traffic and trying to deal with the outright devastation that was everywhere you looked. I was told that they were turning people back and making them go home, but the cop thankfully let me drive on. It took a while but I managed to get through the city and then out onto an open road and head for my brother’s house. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the visuals of that night and especially the next day.
To help cut this already long post short, I will say that I ended up returning a month or so later to my apartment, but only to pack what I could salvage and then move. I was lucky… two buildings over from mine, the roof was ripped off from half of the building. So much damage. So much tragedy. I hope that nobody has to go through that ever again. If I am ever living in a place that is set to get hit by a hurricane… I’ll be one of the first people headed down the road and away from the path. You can count on that.