Advertisement
  1. Hurricane

Baby born after Hurricane Michael starts life in Walmart parking lot

Wilmer Capps takes the temperature of his two-day-old son Luke while preparing with his wife Lorrainda Smith to spend the first night out of the hospital in a parking lot in Panama City, Fla., Monday, Oct. 15, 2018. Capps says he and wife had no choice but to camp out the night their son was released from an Alabama hospital because their home in Panama City was badly damaged by Hurricane Michael. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Published Oct. 18, 2018

PANAMA CITY — Their home full of soggy furniture and mosquitoes, Wilmer Capps was desperate to find shelter for his wife and their son Luke, born just three days after Hurricane Michael ravaged the Florida Panhandle.

So Capps, wife Lorrainda Smith and little Luke settled in for the longest of nights in the best spot they could find: The parking lot of a Walmart store shut down by the storm.

On a starry night, mother sat in the bed of the family's pickup truck; her child sat in a car seat beside her. Dad sat in the dark and pondered how it could be that his son's first night out of a hospital could be spent outside a big-box retailer because of a lack of help.

"It really upset me, man, because I've always been the type of person who would help anyone," Capps said in an interview with The Associated Press, which found the family outside the store Monday night. An AP photographer accompanied them on a journey from the lot to a hospital and met them again at a hotel where donors later provided them a room.

RELATED: Mexico Beach was gone. But we found a way to get there.

Luke is healthy and so is Smith, his mom. But she said her newborn deserves better than the stormy life he's had so far.

"We had everything. Full-time job, a place to live. One day we had it all, the next we had nothing," said Smith. "This is not what I thought I'd be bringing him back to."

The story of Luke's birth is just one amid the chaos that life has become in areas of the Florida Panhandle hit hardest by Michael.

With the hurricane bearing down on their native home of Panama City, Capps and Smith sent their three other children to stay with relatives. Doctors had planned to induce labor on Oct. 11, the day after Michael made landfall between here and Mexico Beach, wiping out a wide expanse of buildings and timber.

Smith went to the hospital as planned that day, courtesy of a ride in a police car along streets crisscrossed with downed trees and powerlines. Smith said workers at Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center told her they couldn't deliver a baby that day, so she walked several miles (kilometers) home after being unable to find a ride back.

Anya Mayr, a Gulf Coast Regional spokeswoman, said the hospital has operated only as an emergency room and hasn't admitted patients since Michael. About 560 people have been treated for injuries ranging from storm wounds to heart attack and chainsaw cuts, she said, and more than 170 have been transferred to other hospitals by ambulances and helicopters.

RELATED: Tallahassee, and Andrew Gillum, breathe a sigh of relief after Hurricane Michael

Labor pains started the next day, so Capps drove Smith to a hospital about 80 miles (130 kilometers) to the north in Dothan, Alabama, which was flooded with coastal refugees from Michael. She gave birth at 1 a.m. last Saturday, three days after Michael's landfall.

Discharged from the hospital and unable to find a hotel room nearby, the couple drove back to Florida, where conditions had improved only slightly since Michael.

Still unable to stay at their storm-damaged home amid oppressive heat and bugs, Capps settled on the Walmart parking lot because they were low on gas and were fearful of driving at night with a curfew in place. The store has a reputation for letting travelers sleep in the parking lot overnight, and Capps knew it.

"I had no choice, (Luke) would have had a heatstroke. When he started acting like he was getting sick from the heat and wouldn't eat, that's when we went to Walmart," Capps said. "There was kind of a breeze there, there was no bugs biting us. I said 'We're all right now."

Police officers who showed up after the AP photographer realized the couple's plight and escorted them back to Gulf Coast Regional, where workers checked out Luke but couldn't provide a bed for the night, frustrating Capps. Fearful of safety and sanitation problems at a shelter suggested by workers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the family returned to the Walmart lot.

There, they met a security guard who helped secure them a hotel room in nearby Panama City Beach with air conditioning, water and power Tuesday night. Capps doesn't know how long the aid will last, but he intends to repay the donation.

Pulled back from the brink after doubting the kindness of humanity on that night in the parking lot, Capps still has little money and no permanent home. But things are looking up because of the kindness of strangers.

"These people have been a godsend, because otherwise we'd be back in the parking lot tonight," he said.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. This satellite image shows Hurricane Michael on Oct. 9, 2018, as it enters the Gulf of Mexico. It made landfall near Mexico Beach in the Panhandle as a Category 5 storm. Florida State University professor Wenyuan Fan said the storm probably created "stormquakes" offshore in the gulf, too. [Photo courtesy of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration]] NOAA
    Analysis of a decade of records shows hurricanes causing seismic activity on continental shelf
  2. Tropical depression 15 has formed in the eastern Atlantic. National Weather Service
    The newly formed system joins a tropical wave off the coast of South America.
  3. Peggy Wood, center, attends a community announcement with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, right, in Mexico Beach in September. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The Wood family presses forward with plans to rebuild the Driftwood Inn amid a changing town.
  4.  Mexico Beach, one year anniversary of the landfall of Hurricane Michael. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    One year later, Mexico Beach is still recovering from the Category 5 storm.
  5. Meteorologists are keeping watch on a system in the mid-Atlantic that could develop into a tropical storm sometime in the next two days. A system off the eastern coast of Florida will bring heavy rainfall to the state before moving to the east, north of the Bahamas. National Weather Service
    While the chance of further development is low, the system will bring heavy rains to the state.
  6. The National Hurricane center National Hurricane Service
    The system poses no threat to Florida.
  7. The endangered torreya tree at the Gregory House at Torreya State Park north of Bristol. Special to the Times
    The storm had some unintended — and devastating — consequences for a small but mighty endangered tree.
  8. In this Sept. 16, 2019 photo, Remelda Thomas bows her head in prayer in her home in McLean's Town Cay, Grand Bahamas Island, Bahamas. Thomas said she lost eight family members in the storm. While sleeping one night after the storm the wind was blowing and the tarp over the hole in her roof was snapping and it brought back the fear from Hurricane Dorian. CHRIS DAY  |  AP
    Dorian mustered massive strength over warm waters and lashed the Bahamas for almost 40 hours. The ocean roared ashore and swelled 20 feet high.
  9. Siesta Key Oyster Bar pulled $15,000 off its walls to help aid victims of Hurricane Dorian. Facebook
    Siesta Key Oyster Bar also joined three other Siesta Key Village businesses in raising another $10,000 during a separate fundraiser.
  10. Oct. 2• Hurricane
    Hurricane Lorenzo is expected to begin impacting Ireland in the next 24 hours. Forecasters estimate that the British Isles could see 90 mile-per-hour winds. National Weather Service
    The latest forecast shows strong winds are on the way for the British Isles.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement