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Mexico Beach, Florida, Motel Owner Describes Michael's Fierce Winds And Floodwaters

A view of the damage caused by Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Florida, on Oct. 14, 2018. (Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images)
A view of the damage caused by Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Florida, on Oct. 14, 2018. (Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images)

President Trump is visiting the Florida Panhandle on Monday to survey the damage caused by Hurricane Michael last week. The small town of Mexico Beach was among the hardest hit.

Here & Now‘s Robin Young speaks with Charles Smith, owner of the Gulf View Motel in Mexico Beach, about the damage.

“Right before it really hit, we had no [electricity], so I couldn’t see the TV,” Smith says. “My neighbor called up — he stayed — but he had so much stress in his voice. He said, ‘Looks like we did the wrong thing.’ I said, ‘Yes sir, we did.’ And he said, ‘Looks like this is it,’ and I said, ‘Yes sir,’ I said, ‘It’s been really good knowing you sir.’ Then the phone lines went dead.”

Interview Highlights

On what it was like to be in the motel during the storm

“I held on for a little bit, I grabbed all my cats and took them downstairs, put them in one of my rooms, because I figured the roof’s going to blow off the top. We went into the rooms, the water started coming up under the door and around the side of the door. My neighbor’s house came through the front, then I tried to get that cat out to put him in the stairwell. But the water was too much. I grabbed a hold the doorknob — it would not move. There was too much water pressure.

“Then the walls started collapsing in, I was able to get one door open. I grabbed one of my cats, just threw it in the office. It went up to the top stairs, I went back down for the other ones, the door slammed on me. The water went up … from 2 feet to 4, to floating me up to the roof. Then I got sucked into the laundry room with the four cats. And then the refrigerator hit me, because everything is floating — you take everything that floats and put it right about four feet where you’re at, and it’s not standing still. It is moving.”

“I got hit by beds, stoves — because I’m a motel, and I’ve got kitchenettes, and my neighbor’s house was floating in my house. I grabbed that cat I had, I threw it in, then it came in as sucked me back out. I was able to get back into room No. 2. Then the outside wall caved in, once I got up on the refrigerator, ’cause it sucked in and jammed into the bathroom. I was able to get back up onto the refrigerator. I went to reach for my cat, the wall broke through and the cats just were on the bed, and they just floated out.

“And this whole time, I’m having 150, 160 mile an hour winds hitting me, and it’s not that the wind’s blowing, it’s what the wind’s blowing. Right now, my face has got windburn. Wednesday night, it took me an hour to get the salt water out from behind my eyeballs. That’s how hard it was. And if you’ve ever seen wind at that speed, it is white. And I did not even hear the roof rip off the motel. I heard nothing at all. They say you hear a freight train? That was not that. You heard nothing but the wind.”

On his plans to rebuild

“Yes, I’m going to come back. I don’t care what it takes. I am 100 percent rebuilding. I owe it to my community and I owe it to my customers that’s been loyal to me for all these years.”

On whether his cats survived

“I got two. I got two out of six. I tried to go to take one of them … to float it out. I found him on a pile of rubble at the top. But I tried to get him to a vet. But there was no vets to be open.

“Just take your animals with you. Put the dogs in the cage, throw the cats in the trunk, I don’t care. Put your goldfish in a bag.”

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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