When Hurricane Michael made landfall on Wednesday afternoon in Mexico Beach, Fla., as a Category 4 storm, residents of the Florida Panhandle’s most vulnerable areas had had only 48 hours’ notice to flee.
A single mother in Florida decided not to go after her employer told her that if she left, she would not be paid. A family that did evacuate found its bill rising to at least $750 on hotels, food and other costs, and it does not know when it will finally be able to go home.
As the storm bore down on the region, a person who commented on one of our Hurricane Michael articles said we needed to report more on the hardships that can come with evacuating from a hurricane zone.
So we did some research and asked readers to tell us about their experiences evacuating from Hurricane Michael. For some, cost was a paramount issue. For others it was minor. Below are some of their responses, which have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
If you have faced the decision whether to evacuate from a storm, please use the comments to tell us what you decided and how it worked out.
‘I cannot afford to continue staying in a hotel’
The first mandatory evacuation orders were issued at 10 a.m. Monday, after forecasters at the National Hurricane Center warned that the storm was strengthening over the Gulf of Mexico.
Evacuated: About 130 miles, from Panama City Beach, Fla., to Pensacola, Fla.
Cost: Almost $500, including $270 for three nights in a hotel
I made the decision to leave my home in Panama City Beach around 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday evening. I have a 2-year-old daughter and I could not take a chance with our lives. I knew that when I left it would be days or even weeks before we could make it back home, and even then what would I be coming back to? I will be trying to get back to my home in the next day or two because I cannot afford to continue staying in a hotel.
So far my costs associated with evacuation are nearing $500. My hotel costs are approximately $270 for three nights at a hotel and the rest is from gas, food and supplies. I am using credit cards to finance these costs. I have some cash but do not want to spend it because I know I may need it when I return home.
— Sierra Cardenas, Panama City Beach, Fla.
‘I am very lucky to have minimal expenses’
The governors of three states — Alabama, Florida and Georgia — declared states of emergency, and 375,000 residents in those areas were under mandatory evacuation orders. But sometimes people flee a storm only to find themselves in its eye.
Evacuated: About 60 miles from Walton County, Fla., to Callaway, Fla.
Cost: $200 on hotels, $250 car insurance deductible
I left my home in Walton County, one block from the Gulf, to go stay in a hotel in Callaway, Fla., where a friend, an E.R. doctor, had evacuated and invited me to stay.
The hotel was solidly built and not in an evacuation zone or flood plain, so I thought it would be safer than my older beach home. Unfortunately, Callaway was hit hard and I spent hours on Wednesday hiding in the bathroom with my cats while the siding and roof blew off the hotel.
It was a scary feeling — the building shaking and hearing the wind.
Around 5 p.m. Wednesday, the hotel staff informed everyone they had to evacuate the hotel because of the damage!
I frantically packed the car and got my three cats and thought I would try to head home since I’d heard my home was in good shape. I made it home safe with my fur babies and am so thankful for that.
Money wasn’t an issue in my situation. I am very lucky to have minimal expenses and people offering to assist.
I paid around $100 for a hotel in Montgomery, Ala., that I didn’t end up using and left a few items — including a large cat scratcher and precious bottled water — in the hotel when I evacuated, so maybe another $100.
Geico will repair my car, which was trashed by falling debris, but I have a $250 deductible. I’ll use savings or credit cards or friends and family for my relatively minimal expenses.
— Antoinette Simonetti, Walton County, Fla.
‘All in all, we were very fortunate’
In a survey of 1,000 Floridians that was released by the National Hurricane Survival Initiative in September, 60 percent said that evacuating from Hurricane Irma last year cost them more than $300, with 40 percent saying their costs totaled more than $500.
Evacuated: About 140 miles, from Panama City, Fla., to Pensacola, Fla.
Cost: $750 to $800 on hotels, food, diesel and supplies
My boyfriend and I had moved from Oregon (3,200 miles away) and had arrived six days before the storm.
Tuesday morning we awoke to being told that we must evacuate immediately — we were in Zone C — so we packed up our enclosed trailer with what we brought with us, our two dogs, and drove to Pensacola! WELCOME TO FLORIDA!!!
We have spent so far — on hotels, food, diesel and supplies — between $750 and $800 and we are not able to go back yet due to not being able to contact the Realtor, which is closed and dealing with its own damages and losses. Plus there’s no power and no hotels with vacancies.
— Kelley Gerig, Panama City, Fla.
Evacuated: About 240 miles, from Niceville, Fla., to Birmingham, Ala.
Cost: $500 for three days of lodging, food and gas
We are a military family and my husband is currently deployed, and I am six months pregnant. Members of our squadron were instrumental in preparing the house, and my mother-in-law helped pack up the pets and necessary things to evacuate. Traffic getting out of town and into Birmingham added three hours to our trip. All in all, we were very fortunate.
This is the first storm for which we have ever evacuated. For lodging, food, and gas, from Tuesday to Thursday, we spent around $500. This will come from the amount of our income that we normally save each month.
— Vanessa Feigel, Niceville, Fla.
‘If we don’t get our regular paychecks we will be in big trouble’
One in five people who responded to the National Hurricane Survival Initiative survey said they would not flee a Category 3 or 4 storm forecast to hit within 10 miles of their homes.
Evacuated: No, ‘it wasn’t an option’ financially
Cost was a factor, not in the sense of being able to get out, but being told by my job that if I chose to leave I wouldn’t be paid. As a single mother that’s a big threat, especially if it didn’t turn out to be bad and we couldn’t get back. That was lost work hours, and being behind on bills already, it wasn’t an option.
— Kelly Cuff, Florida
Evacuated: About 170 miles, from Panama City, Fla., to Foley, Ala.
Cost: About $1,000
Early Wednesday morning the wind was howling terribly and we decided to grab what we could and our dogs and raced out of town to safety.
We have a little cash and some room on credit cards, but if we don’t get our regular paychecks we will be in big trouble. My bank is local to Panama City and the entire system is down, not allowing access to funds online to transfer to another institution.
— Danielle Gracey, Panama City, Fla.
‘It is tough to “go back to normal”’
Evacuated: About 420 miles from Lynn Haven, Fla., to Tennessee
Cost: Military covering some
We left on Monday after my husband was told to leave the area by the Air Force base. We are staying with his dad and stepmom with all of our animals.
We are blessed that we have them and we were lucky that the military is paying for our gas and food. But we are going to be financially devastated with all other expenses since we didn’t have much time and just grabbed enough stuff for a week.
We are terrified of how our house is. It’s our first to own and we put so much time, love, money and sweat into doing remodeling, and it’s probably either gone or pretty much unlivable. And then there’s the insurance deductible to get it fixed. I’m not sure how we will be able to come up with that. We will probably be homeless.
— Jody Walton, Lynn Haven, Fla.
Evacuated: About 260 miles, from Tallahassee, Fla., to Orlando, Fla.
Cost: Not indicated
We decided at the last minute to evacuate for Michael on Monday night. I taught classes all day at Florida State University and got home around 7 p.m. I rushed to throw things in a bag and we were on the road by 8:30 heading to my sister-in-law’s house in Orlando. My husband had packed up our son’s things during the day and secured our house. We arrived by midnight.
Costs are always high for evacuating. Two years ago we evacuated for Hermine and spent four nights in a hotel. Last year we bought a lot of supplies to stay during Irma. These have been put on credit cards, which is not good. It is expensive to evacuate or prepare well to stay during these storms. The psychological toll is high, too; it is tough to “go back to normal” after things like this.
— Kristin Dowell, Tallahassee, Fla.