This is the third in a five-part series of Thanksgiving Week conversations with survivors of Hurricane Michael. The interviews, titled “Surviving Michael: A Thanksgiving Retrospective,” explore the faith that saw everyday individuals through the eye of a Category 3 storm. See Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
Carlos Aguilar never knew what the weather forecast of ‘getting really bad’ meant as Hurricane Michael crossed over the Florida Panhandle and headed into Early County. He had seen bad storms before, but nothing had prepared him for what he was about to experience.
Nell, his wife, was bedridden and under hospice care and could not leave their house. So, like so many others in tight-knit Jakin – population 155 – they decided to stay.
“The wind got really bad so I tried to get her to move from the bed into the living room closer to the center of the house. She is not well and refused to move so we remained in the bedroom, together. We just stayed there and listened to the wind and rain beat against our old house.
“It was not 20 minutes until we heard a large BOOM and a crash. A massive tree came right down into the living room where we would have been staying. The only thing that kept the century-old tree from coming into our home – and letting in the wind and rain – was that it rested on the stub of an old brick chimney which I had partially removed from the roof years ago.
“Only the stub of the fireplace, in the wall inside the home, supported the weight of the tree. It’s a miracle it didn’t come through the house.”
What is he thankful for?
“Right now my mind is racing at 100 miles an hour but I am thankful for being alive.
“I had to cancel our home insurance three years ago to pay for Nell’s hospital bills and medicine and now I have this tree on my house. I have no idea what kind of structural damage it caused. It’s not the end of the world; somehow we will rebuild.
“But we are alive.”
Keith and Jujuan Bowen had been through the 75 mile per hour winds of tropical storms. It just comes with the territory when you live in the southwest corner of the state not that far from the Gulf of Mexico.
But they had never experienced the fury of a Category 3 hurricane that rolled through their farming community.
“It seemed like it went on for hours and hours,” Jujuan Bowen explains while standing in the Rocky Ridge Baptist Church parking lot, just across the field from their home. Roofing nails and shingles littered the ground and the church steeple lay in the grass. The steeple, secured with massive bolts, tore a large 8-foot-square hole in the roof and exposed the sanctuary to the wind and rain. Days passed the building began to smell of mold and stale water.
“I prayed constantly when the storm hit and it seemed to last for hours and hours,” she continues. “When the eye of the storm came through – it was completely still – we went outside to assess the damage as best we could in the dark. About 30 minutes later the wind shifted to the opposite direction and we went back inside for the second half of the storm.”
What is she thankful for?
“I’m most thankful to have my husband laying by my side in the night. He’s been so wonderful, helping many people who suffered so much more than we did.
“In addition to farming we have a barbeque business and we have been cooking Boston butts to take down to the fire station to help feed National Guard and other first responders. The fire chief said the guys work real hard if they have had one good, hot meal a day.
“It’s the least we could do to help those who have come to help us.”