H 84° L 76°
  • clear-day
    Current Conditions
    Thunderstorms. H 84° L 76°
  • partly-cloudy-tstorms-day
    Thunderstorms. H 84° L 76°
  • partly-cloudy-tstorms-day
    Thunderstorms. H 84° L 76°

The latest newscast

00:00 | 00:00


The latest traffic report

00:00 | 00:00


The latest forecast

00:00 | 00:00

Guardsman recalls Hurricane Michael

Guardsman recalls Hurricane Michael

Guardsman recalls Hurricane Michael
Photo Credit: AP Photo/David Goldman, File
FILE- In this Oct. 11, 2018 file photo, a soldier stands guard at the damaged entrance to Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, Fla., in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

Guardsman recalls Hurricane Michael

Longtime Sarasota-area resident Chris Dillon is no stranger to hurricanes.

Riding out a direct hit from Hurricane Michael at Tyndall Air Force Base in October tested the veteran Florida Army National Guard lieutenant colonel's nerve and spurred him to double down on preparedness plans for his family.

The National Hurricane Center recently upgraded Michael's status at landfall to a Category 5 storm, with 160-mph winds and a 14-foot storm surge. The hurricane caused $25 billion in damage, and killed 16 people.

Dillon has been in about nine hurricanes total, after growing up in Sarasota and serving since 1997 in the Florida Army National Guard, responding during and after storms hit the peninsula. Usually, he and fellow Guardsmen are driving into the storms during landfall, positioning resources to help Floridians in the first days and weeks of the recovery process.

Michael's wrath was unlike any that he had seen. Dillon was one about 50 U.S. and Canadian military personnel who sheltered in a building with reinforced concrete walls.

"Because Tyndall was the center, we had the front part of the storm hit us really hard," Dillon said in an interview at his Brightway Insurance office along State Road 70 in Bradenton. "It was so loud, even though I was in a building with three-foot poured walls. The sky was gray green. When the storm hit on that side, it was deafening at times."

READ MORE: Sarasota Herald-Tribune's 2019 Hurricane Guide.

Though Dillon is a seasoned hurricane veteran, even he has re-evaluated his personal evacuation and preparation strategies in light of Michael.

He was the air defense coordinating officer for the National Capital Region Integrated Air Defense System, while serving at Tyndall in the Panhandle. Post 9/11, the First Air Force at Tyndall serves as the air defense for Washington, D.C. After Dillon sent officers working for him to safety, he realized he was too tired to drive up the rural roads through Alabama. So he stayed.

Although he had been "fairly confident" that the building would hold up, Michael tore the roof off and forced military personnel to move from the second floor to the first after water started pouring in. He remembers a Canadian officer's calm but dire warning.

"We continued to move around the building. Certain parts of the building were coming down. The roof was getting ripped off," Dillon said. "I remember him saying, 'Hey, if it gets any worse you have to get under the desk.' That's kind of where we were."

When Michael's 14-mile-wide eye crossed over, they cautiously ventured outside and caught a glimpse of the base, where all of the 700 buildings were reported damaged and about a third were destroyed.

"All the aluminum and steel, the hangars and all the aluminum walkways, the majority of them were shredded and winds made them fly into things and cause more damage," Dillon said.

Then the other side of the hurricane hit and sent them back inside.

The back side of the storm, he said, "wasn't as violent, but it felt like there was more water."

After the hurricane passed, they walked outside to survey the devastation. All of the vehicles that had been left behind, including an older truck that Dillon was in the process of restoring, were damaged or destroyed.

Rocks had hurtled through the air and cut deep ridges in the paint of his truck. Another rock had blown out the back window and allowed several gallons of water to get inside. But he was one of the lucky ones.

"There were cars turned over. There were cars, the water got so high and the wind, it made them slam in together," he said. "There wasn't one car that didn't experience anything."

But everyone on the base was safe.

"At the end of the day, when we walked out of the building that we were in, it didn't matter that everybody's car had rocks go through them or were flipped, it was that we were alive," Dillon said. "That's what was important."

After the storm

Dillon kept a large, framed photo of Tyndall Air Force Base's "Stay Behind Team" outside the building where they took shelter. The first thing they did was inspect the roof and put the Canadian and American flags atop the building.

Regardless of rank, everyone went to work cleaning up what they could.

"We had a three-star general down to a staff sergeant working with us. Everybody walked out and just started cleaning up," Dillon said. "We started taking care of everybody. We tried to get ahold of whatever families were there. That was probably one of the hardest things — that took a couple of days, to find the families."

For the first time during his post-hurricane experience, communications were out. He was able to use Facebook Messenger at times. One carrier occasionally had a signal and officers took turns using that phone.

"We had zero phone service. My wife was trying to get in touch with me. It took a couple of days," he said.

Normally as a Guardsman, Dillon is equipped with radios and other different means of communication. Instead of rendering assistance as he usually does post-storm, he found himself on the receiving end.

The house he was renting in Mexico Beach washed off its foundation when Michael's 14-foot surge crashed ashore.

When he returned to his rental home three months later, it was an odd sight. Two bedrooms were unscathed, the beds still made. The rest of the home looked like it had been picked up and shaken, with a foul, sulfur-smelling muck coating the floor. The roof was ripped off and a neighbor's truck and a pile of debris were lodged on the steps in front of where his house once stood.

Mexico Beach bore the brunt of storm, with 1,584 buildings of 1,692 reported damaged, and 809 of those destroyed, according to the National Hurricane Center's post-Michael report.

Dillon's elderly, disabled neighbors decided to stay, and survived even though they were found in their home in chest-high water after the storm. One of his colleagues, a lieutenant, had her rental home swept out to sea. Two weeks after the storm, a black box containing military uniforms and equipment was found about a half-mile away and returned to her.

"The people in Mexico Beach, there's a lot of people that stayed," Dillon said, adding that Michael and 2017?s Hurricane Irma reinforced the imperative that people evacuate the coasts. Most of the direct-cause deaths were by drowning. Of the seven deaths in Florida, five people who drowned were in evacuation zones.

"You just want to get off the coast with something like that coming. Even 100 miles off the coast is better than being on the coast," he said. "If you can get out, get out. You don't need that experience, especially if you're near the coast. With Irma, people in the center of the state, their houses were destroyed."

One for the record books

Last year's hurricane season produced several record-breaking storms that unleashed damage from winds, surge and inland flooding.

According to the National Hurricane Center:

? Michael is tied with the San Felipe Hurricane of 1928 as the fourth strongest hurricane to strike the United States (including Puerto Rico), since 1900, behind the Labor Day Hurricane (1935), Camille (1969), and Andrew (1992).

? Michael is also the strongest hurricane landfall in the Florida Panhandle and only the second known Category 5 landfall on the northern Gulf Coast.

? Michael marks the latest date that a Category 5 hurricane made landfall in the United States.

Cleanup and recovery efforts will continue for years in the Florida Panhandle and southern Georgia.

In a visit to the Panhandle on May 8, President Donald Trump said the Department of Housing and Urban Development would be granting $448 million to the state for hurricane response, according to the Military Times. The area had received $1 billion in disaster aid through April.

In North Carolina, Category 4 Hurricane Florence was blamed for 22 direct deaths and 30 indirect deaths, most caused by inland flooding after a record 36 inches of rain fell. Florence caused $24 billion damage, according to the NHC.

As always, emergency managers and hurricane experts urge the public to prepare each year before hurricane season begins June 1. This year, Florida residents again get a tax-free holiday on essential supplies from June 1-7. For information on qualifying purchases, go to freetaxweekend.com/tax-free-weekend-in-florida/.

Too often, preparedness pleas fall on deaf ears. Since Sarasota and Manatee counties have not had extreme damage since Hurricane Donna in 1960, complacency reigns. A close call with Hurricane Irma in 2017 showed the vulnerabilities that Southwest Florida faces and the chaos that a major hurricane can cause.

Even though nearby Charlotte County suffered a direct hit from Category 4 Hurricane Charley in 2004, many people in Southwest Florida harbor a false sense of security. With residents moving in from other states, it is imperative that people prepare early before the roads are jammed with evacuees, shelters are packed and the store shelves are bare of essential supplies.

Dillon, as a former insurance claims adjuster and now as an insurance agent, sees the risk and does what he can to advocate preparedness.

"Sarasota is definitely an area that has the potential to have a lot of damage. The whole Gulf Coast, we've been very lucky," he said, noting that few have been around long enough to remember Hurricane Donna. "The longer it gets in the past, the less prepared we get."

He recommends grabbing a copy of the Herald-Tribune's annual Hurricane Guide, which is inserted in the May 19 newspaper. It is also available online at HeraldTribune.com/hurricane.

"It's got the list of things you need," Dillon said. "As a Guardsman, I always kept that part and put it in my house and I had one at the armories."

Experts advise coastal residents to prepare now. Use cell phones to do a video or photo inventory of all belongings, and keep essential food and water supplies as well as insurance documents in a waterproof container that you can toss in the car if you are ordered to evacuate. Don't forget to prepare for pets, as well.

"You go through your belongings and you find what's really important," he said of his own preparation for Michael in the Panhandle. "That's the thing that you've got to do now, before hurricane season."

Michael has changed Dillon's evacuation plans for his family.

"Me personally, anything above a Cat 3, I'm getting out," Dillon said. "As long as I'm in the Guard, I'm staying. My family though, I'm going to try to get them out and get them into a safe place. You don't know when that storm's going to blow up and become a Michael or an Andrew."

Vicki Dean is a freelance writer based in Venice.


Information from: Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune, http://www.heraldtribune.com

Read More

The Latest Headlines You Need To Know

  • In case you ever really wanted to know what those little turtle see when they dip under the water, The Fish Whisperer is here for you. The Youtuber, that typically fills his channel with adventures of feeding fish and being one with nature, decided to take a trip down to the pond with dead fish in hand to feed some turtles. Amazingly, quite a few of his shelled-buddies come out of the water and approach him when they realize he’s handing out free lunch. Using the fish, he coaxes one turtle to allow him to strap on a GoPro camera to the its shell. The footage he collects from the turtle’s subsequent swim is a wondrous, albeit murky, underwater trip. Before long, the amphibian returns to the shore, seemingly to return the camera to the stranger. Though we all know, in reality, he wanted some more of the fishy lunch. Mobile users, see the video ‘I strapped a GoPro on a turtle’ here.
  • A man is facing several charges after police said he dragged an officer during a traffic stop, reaching 60 miles per hour. The video shows officer John Murphy with the Orlando Police Department speaking with Zavier Askew during a traffic stop near College Drive and Willie Mays Parkway. Officer Murphy initially pulled Askew over on May 9, 2019 for an expired tag.  The officer later asks Askew to to get out of the vehicle and pats him down after having him stand by his patrol car. Murphy then searches the glove compartment inside the vehicle and allegedly discovers 'a large vacuum seal bag of pot.' Vials of cannabis oil, a scale and multiple baggies were also allegedly found. As Murphy walks back to Askew, the video then allegedly shows Askew run back to the car, jumping in the drivers seat and accelerating, dragging Murphy with him. 'Dude you're killing me,' the officer can be heard saying as his legs were being dragged outside the vehicle. 'Stop! This is attempted murder!'  A minute into the drive, Askew finally stops and is placed in handcuffs. 'I'm bleeding I think,' Murphy can be heard saying. 'You almost killed me.' App users click here to see the video. Another officer arrives as backup and to help with the arrest. Askew faces six charges, including attempted murder of a law enforcement officer.  He is being held at the Orange County Jail on no bond. 
  • Deputies from the Limestone County Sheriff’s Office in Alabama found what they call a  caged ‘attack squirrel’ during a raid on a suspected drug house. Officials believe two suspects who lived in the home fed the animal meth to keep it aggressive. A video shows the long tailed guy jumping around his cage while the deputy reports in saying “I’m dodging a crazy squirrel right now.” Animal control was called in to assist and ultimately decided the squirrel should be released into the wild. They were not able to test it for meth consumption prior to its release, citing safety concerns. This may give new meaning to the term “Wild animal.” App users click here to see the video. One  suspect who lived in the home was arrested, a second man fled the scene.  Officials reported they recovered other drugs, body armor and ammunition from the home.
  • A Missouri man who pleaded guilty to molesting an 11-year-old girl will not be going to prison, a judge decided last week. According to the Jefferson City News Tribune, Judge Calvin Holden on Friday sentenced Joseph Meili, 22, of Russellville, to five years of supervised probation after Meili pleaded guilty to a third-degree child molestation charge. Authorities said Meili sexually assaulted the girl at a Springfield apartment in July 2017 after the pair met on a dating app, the News Tribune reported. >> Read more trending news During the incident, police were looking for the child, who had been reported missing, authorities said. She was found after she returned to her Republic home to pack a bag, according to the Springfield News-Leader. The girl told investigators that she had fallen asleep while she was with Meili, the News Tribune reported. When she woke up, she felt like a sexual encounter had occurred, she told authorities. The girl later told police that she and Meili had had sex, HuffPost reported. A test also confirmed that the child had chlamydia, a sexually transmitted disease, authorities said. Meili, who initially was arrested on kidnapping, statutory rape and statutory sodomy charges, said the girl's dating profile said she was 18, the News-Leader reported. Those charges were dropped as part of Meili's plea deal. Meili's attorney, Scott Pierson, said the girl had 'essentially catfished' his client by lying about her age, according to the News-Leader. 'He felt horrible about the entire incident,' Pierson told HuffPost of Meili, who is now a registered sex offender. But Elizabeth Fax, an attorney with the Greene County Prosecutor's Office, was skeptical. 'I think dating apps make it easier to get into these types of situations, to be sure, but to actually see her in person. ... He knew and just decided to go along with it anyway,' Fax told HuffPost.
  • Video posted on youtube by Laura Loomer shows a man in a F-trump t-shirt being cuffed and frisked by Orlando police Tuesday, after he allegedly assaulted a Trump supporter who was waiting in line outside the Amway Center. The video was taken by Illoominate Media reporter, Jacob Engels who can be heard saying “plenty of witnesses saw you kick the other person.” Another witness can be heard saying  “ It’s not funny now, huh?” App users click here to watch the video.  Thousands of people crowded into downtown Orlando to support the presidents re-election bid or to protest the event. Most were peaceful. 

Washington Insider

  • Even as President Donald Trump and top Republicans in Congress call on Democratic leaders in the U.S. House to allow a vote on a new trade deal with Mexico and Canada, the President's top trade negotiator told Senators on Tuesday that there's still no set date for when the agreement would be submitted to the Congress 'I believe we're on track, I believe we are making progress,' said United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. Asked by a GOP Senator about discussions with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Lighthizer gave no public hint about any problems. 'My hope is that over the course of the next several weeks, that we can make substantial progress,' Lighthizer added, as he said talks with Pelosi had been 'constructive.' Democrats have been pressing the Trump Administration over the enforcement of new labor reforms in Mexico, worried that the government won't adequately enforce the changes. Asked by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) when to expect a vote in Congress, Lighthizer gave no concrete date - as the trade agreement has not yet been formally submitted to the Congress. At a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee, Lighthizer faced some verbal slings and arrows from both parties about the President's trade policies. 'I do not agree that tariffs should be the tool we use in every instance to achieve our trade policy goals,' said Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA). 'China's market is now more closed off to American goods and American agriculture than before the trade war began,' said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), as he complained about the impact of the President's tweets on trade policy. For the most part, Lighthizer did not engage in pitched battles with Democrats over trade matters, repeatedly stressing common ground over trade disputes with China and final talks over the USMCA trade deal. As for China, Lighthizer made clear that President Trump isn't bluffing when it comes to additional tariffs on Chinese goods, acknowledging to Senators that the next round could have a bigger impact, to include items like laptop computers and cell phones. Lighthizer could have a somewhat more partisan reception on Wednesday, when he testifies on the same issues before the House Ways and Means Committee.