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After Hurricane Michael, some Bay County residents are more likely to evacuate for next storm


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BAY COUNTY — The joke long has been that Floridians get annoyed whenever a storm becomes a Category 3 because it means “you have to care about it,” as a popular meme that circulated before Hurricane Michael spelled out.

But now, after watching Michael rapidly intensify from a Category 1 to a Category 4, almost 5, overnight, the joke doesn’t seem as funny.

And now, some Bay County residents said they will take future storms more seriously.

Even if it’s just a tropical storm, Brenda Evans, who was in her Panama City home as the roof ripped off, said she will evacuate.

“This is like nothing you’ve ever seen before,” said Evans, who currently is living in a Fort Walton Beach motel and looking for permanent housing. “I don’t care what kind of man you are, how big you are. They’re all leaving (if another storm comes).”

Half of the people in the evacuation zones are estimated to have stayed, but that likely will be a different story if another storm comes to Bay County, judging by people’s reactions almost four weeks after Hurricane Michael tore through town. The area had not endured a major hurricane in more than a decade.

Local officials said people didn’t heed warnings and take the storm seriously enough before it made landfall, though residents said from now on, they expect the community to react differently now that they’ve lived through a catastrophic natural disaster.

“If the city is worried enough to order an evacuation, I’ll definitely go,” said Jasmine Saniee, who stayed in her home for Michael. “It happened so soon.”

Her friend, Kelly Kirkland, who also stayed, said she would evacuate “for sure” next time.

“I guess, with what I’m reading and the science of the way it’s getting hotter and more storms in the Gulf being big like this, I’m more nervous,” Kirkland said while setting up to participate in a yoga class. “My mom says no matter what, we are leaving next time.”

Considering how much work clearing the yard in front of her mobile home in Callaway has been, 80-year-old Laverne Daugherty also declared she would evacuate if another hurricane was coming. In fact, she said she would “have a heart attack.”

Daugherty happened to be in New York with her husband during the storm and didn’t think Michael would wreak such havoc. She had evacuated for other hurricanes, and thinks more people will leave if another storm roars to shore.

“I’m 80 years old and been in Bay County my whole life,” said Daugherty. “The others were nothing.”

Wanda Segers lives in Lynn Haven, another city devastated by Michael, and evacuated the day before the storm hit. She returned a few days later and said she will leave even sooner if she finds herself in the eye of a hurricane. So would her friend Mary Lou Edwards, who lives in Callaway and left town for a bit after the storm.

“I wouldn’t stay again,” said Edwards.

But not everyone is spooked enough to leave town for another big one.

Millville resident Larry Henderson, whose home was “untouched,” stayed behind and said he will stay again.

“Growing up, we never left the house. I was born in ’39,” said Henderson. “I’ve been through quite a few hurricanes.”

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