Florida’s Panhandle Hammered by Hurricane Michael
Hurricane Michael slammed into Florida’s Panhandle on Wednesday, October 10 as a Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph, the strongest storm ever recorded. Originally forecast as a Category 2, Michael gained far more strength than originally anticipated, putting Panama City on the western side of the eye. Making landfall at Mexico Beach, Michael wreaked havoc and destruction on homes, boats and marinas in its path.
With widespread devastation and grid outages across Florida’s Panhandle, Michael’s impact would have resulted in greater loss had he hit denser areas, like Destin and Pensacola, about 50 miles from ground zero. The level of decimation would have been epic, given the tragedy suffered in Panama City, Apalachicola and Port St. Joe.
“What a difference 50 miles makes,” said Shawn Talpey, president of Emerald Coast Marine Center, a full-service boat dealership and marina with dry storage in Niceville, Fla. Located on Boggy Bayou about nine miles from the Gulf of Mexico and Destin Pass, Emerald Coast Marine Center is already reopen for business.
“If just a few degrees west, this would have been awful,” said Talpey. “We were really blessed. Our dry storage, which houses thousands of boats, had no damage.”
According to Talpey, CNN misreported that Emerald Coast’s Niceville location was destroyed.
“This is false,” said Talpey. “Emerald Coast Marine Center is fully operational with no boats damaged, as photos demonstrate.”
However, Talpey’s satellite office at Pirates Cove Marina in Panama City was damaged, possibly losing inventory, 12 new vessels and two brokerage boats, namely cruisers, center consoles, deck boats and pontoons.
“We assume these are damaged or totaled,” said Talpey. The authorities won’t allow access yet. We had several trailers near the barn destroyed in Pirates Cove.”
In an email to YachtingJournal.com, Scott Burt, spokesperson for Pirates Cove Marina on Grand Lagoon in Panama City Beach, Fla., said, “All communications remain out. Appreciate your thoughts and concern. We will recover."
Talpey pledges support to Pirates Cove as they regroup, loaning equipment, staff and supplies. Fielding numerous calls to relocate boats, Emerald Coast offers vacant wet slips and is adding staff to recondition vessels with onsite fiberglass technicians and canvas and upholstery repair.
Battening the hatches
Constructed with steel beams and aluminum sheet metal roofing and siding, Emerald Coast’s dry storage protected about 350 boats from Michael’s wrath. Talpey sold hurricane haul-out plans as the imminent storm approached, moving all boats from the water to the storage barn.
Even with no real damage, the Niceville marina lost about one week of operating time, suspending normal business for hurricane prep and reorganization, post storm.
While vessels in wet slips are the boat owner’s responsibility, Talpey took precautions to block boats and relocate stripped-down vessels. After moving hundreds of 40 to 50-foot boats in less than 12 hours, Emerald Coast sent videos, providing complete transparency on vessel condition as 26 operational cameras recorded torrents of rain and wind gusts.
Fuel tanks were topped, with the marina’s generator on standby to assist first responders, fire trucks and safety boats. After battening the hatches, employees were encouraged to evacuate. The marina fueled all employee vehicles, providing cash advances for emergency relocation.
“We encouraged employees to leave,” said Talpey, whose family lives in a mandatory evacuation zone. “Regardless of what happened, we’d rebuild.”
Talpey cites more fake news regarding damage to Legendary Marine’s headquarters in Destin, which is reopen for business.
“Reports from colleagues are they made it through relatively unscathed,” said Talpey. “Legendary’s Destin location had no damage, although I am unsure about Legendary’s Panama City location. On that property, Marine Max has a complete glass storefront. The doors blew out, but the glass across the storefront was still intact, just amazing.”
Across the once beautiful, sleepy Redneck Riviera’s landscape, the force of wind and floating debris peeled bark off pine trees, strewing litter like spinnakers blown hither and yond on an obliterated coast of abandoned, flood-ravaged structures.
As Michael’s eye zeroed in Tuesday night, Talpey was reflective, confident he’d done his utmost to prepare, and just as concerned everything accomplished couldn’t possibly be enough to ward off disaster looming offshore.
“I said a difficult prayer on Tuesday, praying for Michael to jog east and hit somewhere else,” said Talpey. “I’m still digesting how to feel and act, but know I am blessed. Part of me is optimistic and part of me feels guilty I’m in good shape.”