Hurricane Michael: Reports from the Coast

December 4, 2018

Hurricane Michael, the third-most intense Atlantic hurricane to make landfall in the contiguous United States in terms of pressure, attained peak winds of 155 mph as it approached the Florida Panhandle and made landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida on October 10, 2018.

Here are reports from two paddlers with ties to Tennessee and TSRA: Chester Butler and Daniel Boone

Chester Butler, former TSRA President, now lives in Carrabelle, Florida

photo of beached and broken sailboat on roadside
Beached and broken sailboat on the roadside

Hurricane Michael spared our house. My boats, which I had stored in the flat woods, survived, too. Not so for so many others!

Michael’s storm surge destroyed or severely damaged every dock on a 90 mile stretch of coast, including our development’s dock. Untold numbers of boats were beached, sank or destroyed by the surge. Many boats were pitched onto the highways. The sheriff’s department now has a fleet of kayaks collected from roadways.

There were about 30 highway breaches between our home and Apalachicola. That’s about one breach for every mile. Home after home was flattened or blown out by wind and surge, leaving many stunned and homeless. Bald Point State Park, where I do data collection on Horseshoe crabs for the University of Florida and Florida Wildlife Commission, fared well. But the park on Cape San Blas is now an island. St. George Island Park is closed due to damage.

The new evidence on the storm is revealing: Michael generated the lowest barometric pressure ever recorded in a hurricane. The storm surge was 14 feet plus topped by waves of about 15 feet at Mexico Beach. Offshore waves topped the 60 feet mark. Once data collection devices were located in Mexico Beach, it appears the eye wall spun off tornadic winds of about 200 miles per hour. Cutting a 50 km swath, Michael flattened $1.9 billion in timber.

I tracked the storm eyewall by the pattern in downed trees for about 60 miles. It is a dramatic landscape. The good news is Michael gave us new data and that data will be helpful in the future. It is allowing local governments to predict and plan for chronic and storm flooding, establish new building codes and better evacuation planning.

debris from Hurricane Michael on US Hwy 98 in Carrabelle, FL
Debris from Hurricane Michael on US Hwy 98 near Chester’s house

Also, the first responder teams are our heroes. In our little town of 800 registered voters, we had 110+ line trucks and 2,000 linemen to restore power! The National Guard, the Florida Highway Patrol, FEMA, Homeland Security and many others did a great job. And they are still on the job. Across the area, the power companies have replaced approximately 6,000 power poles. That is about double the amount from any other hurricane.

But the most impressive thing is the attitude of the people: They have been and will continue to stand together and are truly Panhandle Strong! In the middle of a crazy political atmosphere, there was no Red or Blue, just helping hands reaching out to help . . . and that’s pretty cool!

Thanks again and give my best to all the paddlers back in Tennessee,

Chester

Note: 1977 TSRA President Chester Butler retired to Carrabelle, Fl., earned Florida Green Guide status at Wakulla Environmental Institute and completed Florida Master Naturalist training and Habitat Evaluation training with the University of Florida. His story of environmental activity has been memorialized by the University of Florida Samuel Proctor Oral History Program.

 

Daniel Boone, current TSRA Board Member and 1996 and 1997 TSRA President, spent a week in Florida in early November providing disaster relief.

sanctuary of First Baptist Church in Port St. Joe, Florida, with damage from Hurricane Michael
Sanctuary of First Baptist Church in Port St. Joe, Florida

I have been involved in disaster relief service since 2005 following Hurricane Katrina. I serve as a trained volunteer through the Tennessee Baptist Convention (TBC). I am a member of Judson Baptist Church in Nashville. I find it very rewarding to serve Christ through this type of ministry. You encounter and help folks during a very devastating point in their lives.

I’ve been in Oklahoma, Missouri, and Texas and all over Tennessee, after flooding, tornadoes, ice storms and hurricanes. I made a trip for a week to North Carolina in September following Hurricane Florence doing flood recovery in homes.

The damage from Hurricane Michael in Florida is by far the worst I have experienced. We spent a week in Port St. Joe and Mexico Beach doing chain saw work. We have access to a fully equipped chain saw trailer from the Nashville Baptist Association. We rented a skid steer in Panama City to help with the heavy lifting and hauling to the roads. The group consisted of a team of six from Judson. We were housed in Highland Baptist Church where TBC had a cook crew and shower/laundry trailer on site. They will be there for at least two months staffed by different volunteers from Tennessee.

Daniel Boone sitting in a wheelbarrow holding a bunch of green grapes
Get back to work, Daniel!

We are tentatively planning another trip in January to help with flood recovery or rebuilding depending on the most urgent needs at that time.

Anyone interested in getting involved can contact me at danielboone883@att.net.

Daniel

Sycamore tree damaged in Hurricane Michael, top half of tree covering a car
Vehicle meets tree meets chain saw team