1. Hurricane

In Port St. Joe, fear and waiting for Hurricane Michael

Published Oct. 10, 2018

PORT ST. JOE — On the edge of this small city, which sits just west of Apalachicola, straight in Hurricane Michael's path, police are making frequent passes.

The storm surge here could reach 13 feet, according to forecasts.

Wind is already all you can hear downtown. Rain is pelting sideways and everything — the sky, the road, the water — is gray.

There are still several boats in the marina at Port St. Joe, protected by a short hook of land.

Rex McCormick, 25, and Alyssa Graziano, 23, came down to the marina to see the edge of Hurricane Michael. He said it's not his first storm, won't be his last. It's her first. "If you ain't already out, you ain't going nowhere," he said.

"Leaving's kind of easier said than done" when you have pets and family here, Graziano said. "The water already came in a whole lot." She pointed to a concrete landing about 15 feet offshore. Normally you can fish there, she said. Now it's underwater.

Gusts are getting stiffer, enough to rock vehicles.

Bill Kennedy, redevelopment director for Port St. Joe, was checking out some short-term rental cottages he owns. The water is already up to the top of the dock. "It's about a foot above what I'd call a very high tide."

Several trucks have approached the area, the drivers seeming to scope out the shore before turning around. Kennedy actually got out. "This is the first time in the history of storm predictions they've underestimated what a storm is going to do. It's crazy."

Kennedy lives on the water, about 6 feet above sea level, and he expects his house to be inundated. He plans to bunker down in the local high school. "It's going to be okay. We're going to wake up the next day cutting sheetrock and digging out insulation and we'll move forward."

Still, he got choked up thinking about the damage and what his family might lose. They packed away some photographs. Port St. Joe is an old paper mill town, said Kennedy, 58. It just "discovered tourism extensively about 10 years ago," he said.

The gusts here are already high enough to cause him to lose balance and shuffle his feet. "We just hope we can survive this catastrophic event," Kennedy said. "It's never happened before."

Just after Kennedy left, Keith Nixon, 55, pulled up in a pickup. He's lived here since 1972 and said he never evacuates. But now, just hours before Hurricane Michael comes ashore, he's considering it. "I'm kind of nervous," he said. "It's going to blow."

As of now, he plans to ride it out at his house, which he said is about a block from the water. "That's the only place I know to hunker down in," Nixon said.

Some residents are sheltering at Port St. Joe High School. They've got a breakfast bar, and the local news on TV.

Kelvin Griffin, 16, is a junior in high school. But now he's curled up under a fleece blanket in the library. "I feel like I'm pretty safe here," he said. "It's long, drug out, but it's best for your safety."

Wynell Burke, 84, has lived in Port St. Joe since she was 8 years old. "We've been through some pretty rough stuff before," she said with a drawl. She wore a purple Port St. Joe Sharks hoodie. "I think it's worse this time than it's ever been."

Burke said her daughter is the assistant principal at the school. Her son is the property appraiser of Gulf County. She's bound to the place and has been praying. "We've got a lot of good people here ... I'm just not really scared. I think the Lord's going to take care of us."

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