Editor's Note: The following two essays were the second and third place winners in the Franklin County Public Library's Hurricane Michael essay contest.  The first one, by Laurel Winn-Arndt, of Carrabelle, won second place, and the other one, by Dennis Hefner, of Carrabelle, won third place.

Hurricane Michael

By Laurel Winn-Arndt

Special to the Times

There was almost no clue that this storm was out there.

I was at a retreat on St. George Island on Saturday, Oct. 6. We had a two-hour break so I went to the beach there to do some boogie boarding. I tore up my boogie board and beat myself up with glee. Those waves were the biggest ones that I have played in since we moved to Carrabelle five years ago. I had a blast! That could have been a clue had I been looking for one.

Some friends and I went to greet the sunrise on the beach on Sunday. It was gorgeous, but very windy. A man came up to us and said, very seriously, “There’s a hurricane coming!” His name was George. (Saint)? Then he hurried on down the beach to warn other daylight greeters. Steve and I kept track of the tropical storm that had just turned into a category 1 hurricane by Sunday evening. Its name was Michael.

Monday morning, Steve and I went to Tallahassee to have my new partial adjusted. I mentioned to him that we needed to put gas in the car. We passed or pulled into gas stations that were out of gas. We got gas for the car in Tallahassee before my appointment. When we were leaving town afterward, we noticed that there was a huge run on the gas stations. The stand-still lines of cars spilled out to the main roads, even out to the interstates. Lines everywhere! Was that a missed clue? We came right home and started preparing for a bad storm. By Monday night the storm reached a category 2. We watched the Weather Channel and got ready to leave, just in case.

By Tuesday morning, Hurricane Michael had become a category 3. The TV news showed slow-moving lines of cars trying to evacuate from the Florida Panhandle. Steve and I decided not to enter into the frenzy. We evacuated from Hurricane Irma last year with our kitties, and it was insane stress on us all. We were all going to ride the storm out here, in our little mobile home near the mouth of the Carrabelle River, along the Gulf coast.

Len stopped by on Tuesday to offer his and Judy’s place as a sturdier structure home rather than our mobile home, as a place of refuge for us. They would be in Jacksonville with his family, and he told me where their house key was. Steve and I contemplated the offer while we stayed in our little metal box of a home with our kitties. Were we still clueless?

We kept the option open. We didn’t want to stress out the kitties any more than they were already with the approaching storm, by taking them out of the house. We knew at that point, that the category 3, still being energized by the warm gulf water, would hit just to the west of us by Wednesday afternoon. Steve and I agreed to wait until Wednesday morning to go to Len and Judy’s. I was called by church friends to stay in contact with an elderly lady that was staying. I did that as well as knowing where other friends would be. Here or gone.

Wednesday arrived with a category 4 and horrific wind. Len and Judy’s place was only five minutes away but you had to cross a bridge and go down a road with that one road back out. Bridges were being shut down and big trees were coming down. The neighbors on either side of us were staying. I put on my ski helmet and tennis shoes, in case of broken glass or a tree in the house, I mean metal box. Play cribbage and pet the kitties. They are so much less stressed than if we would’ve left. We may need a stronger word than clueless at this point!

I got told very strong words by Ellen and Wally’s friend Jim, when I called on Wednesday, to give my “I love you’s” to family and friends. Jim was sternly blatant about his opinion on what we were doing, or not doing, like on our way driving to Wisconsin. His cuss words told me that he loves me. Very much, by the sound of it.

The power, phone and cell phone went out soon after my I love you calls. We had a battery-powered radio with us and the announcer told us to fill bathtubs and water containers for a water shut-off. God!?

Hurricane Michael reached wind speeds of 155 mph. two miles shy of a category 5! The eye of the hurricane hit Mexico Beach full on at noon. I wore my ski helmet and shoes for a very scary six hours. The trees were being pushed sideways by the wind up against our metal box. There was the roar of the wind and the more roar of the gusts that made me cringe. Since it was still daylight, we were able to see the sheets of metal on our porch roof being peeled back and flapping in the “breeze.” Just keep petting the kitties. I heard in a sermon recently that you can’t pray and worry at the same time. Call me a multitasker.

The storm showed signs of slowing down and it seemed like everyone who stayed here was driving down whatever street that was accessible to see if friends and family were OK. Steve and I did the same. Our friend Vic stopped by our place soon after we got home. Vic keeps his hair slicked back with stuff as a hairstyle, but he was very disheveled and looked like he had seen a ghost. “I’ve lived here most of my life and I ain’t never seen nothing like this before!” The sight of him made me laugh. We survived!

Thursday morning when I was rolling up the semi-protective blinds on the porch, I saw a praying mantis clinging to the porch screen. Thank you, praying mantis, for reminding me that I am blessed. Now there’s the scramble for recovery. First came the state forest service crew to help clear the roads, along with the police and sheriffs. Next was the National Guard and Duke Energy convoys. Best to stay off the roads. The kitties are safe and so are we, and our neighbors too. Help emerges from everyone to everyone now.

I can just hear Ellen and Wally’s friend Jim, and my friend too. “Great! So you survived an historical bleep catastrophe! Good for you! Don’t ever bleep do that again! Bleep bleep!”

I can feel another life adventure coming on.


My first email after Hurricane Michael

By Dennis Hefner

Special to the Times

I finally got phone and electric. It has been an emotional couple of weeks. I can finally drive down the road, the devastation is terrible. I see the people picking through the rubble of what used to be a life, the look on their faces overwhelms me. I don't mean this as a funny but they look like a chicken coming from the fortune teller booth. It’s really sad.

As I sat in my camper with the wind blowing hard, near a 100-mph hard, at times it concerned me. It is odd what goes through your mind during an event like that. Time, the consciousness of time ate at me as I laid in the dark. Muffy my dog understood the seriousness. I’m glad Debbie was gone. When my cell phone finally came back on line there were dozens of texts from concerned people, it was an emotional moment. After the storm the most frustrating thing was no gasoline, none anywhere.

The Red Cross did pretty good; they fed me so much, I will have to go on a diet. Also the electric company gives a new meaning to "'pole dancers." Just to be funny I ran up to one of the linemen and slid a dollar in his tool belt, what a look. After I explained the "pole dancer" joke, it was two more days ‘till we got electric because of all the laughter.

And toilet paper I had two cases, you would have thought I owned Fort Knox, I had two cases of paper towels too. One guy said that he could cut the roll in half and make two rolls of toilet paper. I said that it was as rough as sandpaper, and he said that it would just buff the hair off places his wife shouldn’t have hair, and he would save money on razors.

The National Guard gives out so much water you could float an ark and also these things called MRE, that stands for “meals ready to eat.” I'm sure if you eat one that you will live forever. They last longer than Twinkies. There isn't any expiration date; they just last forever. They are pretty tasty. They make them sound so good, Savory Chicken in a succulent sauce with crackers and skittles. How did they come up with that recipe? The skittles are good, though. And it comes with a chemical heater to warm the "Savory Chicken." So while trying to use the heater I burned myself and had to walk down to the staging area and get a "Storm Victim" first aid kit to fix my wound. I had to read the directions on how to put "Miracle Salve" on my wound while still trying to eat my "Savory Chicken" and Skittles.

I haven't seen TV in a week. I don't watch much TV anyway, but I wanted to watch the drama unfold as the news anchor interviews a man that bought a roll of paper towels for 20 bucks for toilet paper that will help him save $8.95 on his wife's razors. Guess I should have thrown in a tube of Miracle Salve so his wife could rub some on to give comfort after buffing herself with sandpaper towels.

Maybe I should invest in Viva paper towels but then the chick would probably leave her old man and want to shack up with “Mr. Viva paper towel man” so that in the event of a hurricane she would have gentler tissue to take care of her personal needs, but that would cause a real strain on my marriage, because I'm sure Debbie isn’t going to let go of her “Viva” paper towels.

I did finally get to go to the gas station, 65 miles away. That was breathtaking. Have you ever seen 200 cars in a gas station trying to fill up their auto and 10 gas cans? Tensions were really high. I sure wouldn't want to be around if they ran out of gas. And if that wasn't bad enough, some politician drives by the station in his gas-guzzling limo with a 50 highway patrol car escort. Wow, at the hand gestures. Now I know why hand grenades are unlawful to own.

Though Hurricane Michael was more than terrible, I hope you can tell that in the face of disaster, as others, I’m trying to keep my spirits high. Well, I will end for now. Love all of you.