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.
The Salvation Army is ramping up meal service to areas across the Florida Panhandle ravaged by Hurricane Michael. In addition to property damage, survivors and responders are faced with widespread power outages.
As of October 14, more than 191,000 people were still without power in Florida, with four counties reporting 92-98% of residents impacted by the outage. The Salvation Army has 42 mobile feeding kitchens (canteens) serving across the area to provide meals and supplies as people wait for utilities to be restored so rebuilding can begin.
Amazingly, Ashley Johnson and her four young children were in good spirits as they waited in line for a hot meal from The Salvation Army’s mobile feeding kitchen (canteen) in the late morning heat. The family managed to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Michael as it approached the Panama City area as a strong Category 4 storm.
“We thought about riding it out, but we knew it was time to go when it nearly became a Cat 5 hurricane,” says Ashley. Returning home, they found what most in the area did: trees blown down, damage to their house, and no electricity to speak of.
Keeping her kids entertained over those initial days wasn’t easy she says, but they were still standing, alive and incredibly thankful that The Salvation Army was there to provide food for her family. “You don’t know how much you appreciate a hot meal and something to eat when everything is so scarce and have to feed your family,” says Johnson. “It’s amazing to have The Salvation Army helping, it really is.”
As of October 13, The Salvation Army has provided the following to people impacted by Hurricane Michael in Florida:
- Meals – 24,649
- Drinks – 25,024
- Snacks – 20,113
- Emotional and Spiritual Care – 545 people
- Water (cases) – 1,756
- Service hours – 6,197
How to Help:
The best way to help survivors and relief workers is to make a financial contribution. Monetary donations allow disaster responders to immediately meet the specific needs of disaster survivors.
- Donate by phone: 1-800-SAL-ARMY (1-800-725-2769)
- Donate by mail: The Salvation Army, PO Box 1959, Atlanta, GA
- Please designate ‘2018 Hurricanes – Michael’ on all checks
- Donate online: www.HelpSalvationArmy.org
- Donate by text: Text STORM to 51555 to receive a donation link for easy mobile giving
- The Salvation Army has served survivors of every major national disaster since 1900.
- In times of disaster, we serve the whole person – physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
- After immediate needs are met, The Salvation Army will remain and continue to partner with impacted communities to rebuild. Rebuilding communities takes time and partnership, and we will be there as long as it takes.
- The Salvation Army is there before, during, and after the storm.
Hurricane Michael is strengthening as it enters the Gulf of Mexico, and is aimed at Florida. The storm is expected to become a Category 3 hurricane by the time it reaches Florida’s Gulf Coast on Wednesday. It will probably be the area’s strongest hurricane in at least 13 years.
Both Florida’s Panhandle, from Pensacola to Apalachicola, and its Big Bend area are the zones of greatest concern. This area faces the possibility of coastal inundation from rising ocean waters, flooding rain and destructive winds starting Tuesday night and continuing through Wednesday.
“#Michael could be one of the worst hurricanes to ever strike the Florida Big Bend and Florida Panhandle region,” tweeted Rick Knabb, the Weather Channel’s hurricane expert. “We only have today and Tuesday to complete life-saving preparations.”
The National Hurricane Center warned of a “life-threatening storm surge,” which is the rise in ocean water above normally dry land. It could reach at least 8 to 12 feet in hardest hit areas, inundating roads, homes and businesses. Mandatory evacuations were ordered in parts of Florida’s Gulf County, which is between Panama City and Apalachicola.
Serious hurricane effects will not be restricted to coastal areas and may extend farther inland, potentially affecting the Tallahassee area.
The last major hurricane, Category 3 or higher, to strike the Florida Panhandle was Opal in 1995.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) declared a state of emergency for 26 counties in Florida’s Panhandle and Big Bend areas. “Families should take the opportunity TODAY to make sure they have three days of food and water, as well as all needed medications,” he tweeted. “EVERY FAMILY must be prepared. We can rebuild your home, but we cannot rebuild your life.”
After making landfall on Wednesday, Michael’s effects are expected to surge northward. “[H]eavy rainfall from Michael could produce life-threatening flash flooding from the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend region into portions of the Carolinas through Thursday,” including some of the same areas flooded by Hurricane Florence, the National Hurricane Center warned.
While destructive hurricane-force winds were forecast to be confined mostly to Florida, damaging tropical-storm-force winds were predicted to affect a much larger area, potentially expanding north into the Carolinas.
As of 2 p.m. Eastern, Michael’s peak winds were at hurricane strength, sustained at 75 mph, as it moved north at 7 mph. It was centered just 20 miles from the western tip of Cuba, which was getting lashed by heavy rain and strong winds.
The storm, the seventh Atlantic hurricane of 2018, was starting to form an eye Monday morning. Traveling over very warm waters, with light upper-level winds, it could rapidly intensify over the next 24 to 36 hours, the National Hurricane Center said.
At its current rate of speed, tropical-storm-force winds should reach the northern Gulf Coast as early as Tuesday evening, after which conditions will steadily deteriorate. Landfall is projected during Wednesday — although models differ on whether it will occur early in the day or late in the day.
Hurricane watches have been posted from the Alabama/Florida border to the Suwannee River, which is just northwest of Cedar Key on Florida’s west coast. Tropical storm watches extend farther south through the Tampa Bay area to Anna Maria Island, Fla., and, to the west, along the Alabama coast.
Storm surge watches are in effect from Navarre, Fla., which is east of Pensacola, to Anna Maria Island, including Tampa Bay.
Michael is projected to strike an area that is exceptionally prone to storm surge because of the adjacent shallow shelf water and the concave shape of the coast. Like a bulldozer, the storm will be able push a vast amount of ocean water inland, potentially inundating homes, roads and businesses on the coast.
Areas to the east of where the storm center tracks will experience the greatest storm surge, and flooding will be worst around the high tides. High tides are extra high this week because of the new moon Tuesday.
Storm surges just east of where the center makes landfall could reach 8 to 12 feet, if the storm comes ashore around high tide. Here are specific initial storm surge projections from the Hurricane Center:
- Indian Pass to Crystal River: 8-12 feet
- Okaloosa/Walton County Line to Indian Pass: 5-8 feet
- Crystal River to Anclote River: 4-6 feet
- Anclote River to Anna Maria Island including Tampa Bay: 2-4 feet
- Navarre to Okaloosa/Walton County Line: 2-4 feet
Weather Underground’s Jeff Masters and Bob Henson projected the surge could even reach 19 feet in a worst-case scenario. “There are very shallow waters along the coast where Michael is expected to make landfall, where the continental shelf extends out about 70-90 miles from shore,” they wrote. “The winds from the storm will thus be able to pile up a large storm surge along the east side of the storm’s center.”
The National Hurricane Center projects widespread rainfall amounts of 4 to 8 inches from the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend areas north into the Carolinas, with isolated amounts of up to a foot. “This rainfall could lead to life-threatening flash floods,” it said.
Flooding rainfall is likely to affect some of the areas recovering from Hurricane Florence.
Heavy rain could first arrive in Florida on Tuesday night and in south Alabama and south Georgia early Wednesday. By Wednesday night and into Thursday, heavy rain will rapidly streak north through north Georgia and into the Carolinas.
The rain is expected to reach the Mid-Atlantic, including Virginia, Maryland and Washington on Thursday before rapidly exiting by Friday. Depending on the track of Michael’s remnants, southern New England could also see a period of heavy rain late Thursday.
The potential rainfall in the Mid-Atlantic and New England ranges from 2 to 4 inches with locally higher amounts. As these areas have seen heavy rain in recent weeks, flooding may become a concern here as well.
Michael’s maximum sustained winds are forecast to be around 120 mph when it strikes the coast. Winds this strong will be confined to the ring around its calm eye, known as the eyewall, and “devastating” wind damage could occur in this narrow zone. “Well-built framed homes may incur major damage or removal of roof decking and gable ends,” the National Hurricane Center said. “Many trees will be snapped or uprooted, blocking numerous roads. Electricity and water will be unavailable for several days to weeks after the storm passes.”
After the storm strikes land, this eyewall will quickly collapse and winds will weaken.
While hurricane-force winds of over 74 mph will be confined to a relatively small area, tropical-storm winds of 39 to 73 mph will occur over a much larger zone and could potentially result in minor structural damage and many downed trees and power outages.
Elsewhere in the tropical Atlantic
Tropical Storm Leslie — which formed Sept. 23 — is still active and probably will be through the weekend. It is forecast to become a hurricane, again, as it heads toward the Azores by the end of the week. And for being around for 16 days, it is presently centered just 115 miles from where it was when it formed.
Finally, a potent weather disturbance that recently left the coast of Africa is located near the Cabo Verde Islands and has a shot at becoming at least a tropical depression this week, if not a tropical storm, before conditions become more hostile by the weekend. The National Hurricane Center is giving it a 50 percent chance of reaching tropical depression status this week, but no models suggest this will become a threat to land. The next name on the list is Nadine.