Timothy Thomas isn’t budging from his home on Ocean View Drive, even though it’s directly in the path of Hurricane Michael.
Thomas, a 50-year-old air conditioning repairman, plans to defy an evacuation order and ride out the monster storm in an apartment that’s just a few hundred yards from the beach and even closer to the tea-colored Grand Lagoon, which will rise as the massive storm pushes ocean water toward the coast of the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday.
An Illinois native with a beard, long hair and a streak of independence, Thomas hasn’t been through a major hurricane before; he’s only lived in Panama City Beach about seven years. A neighbor with far more storm experience is evacuating to higher ground.
But police aren’t being pushy about enforcing the order, and Thomas figures he, his wife and their puppy will be OK because they live in a second-floor apartment. It’s more than 10 feet off the ground, after all, and forecasters say the water in his area isn’t supposed to rise that much. “If it does, I guess we’ll be swimming,” he said Tuesday evening as the sky darkened overhead.
Aerial image of damage to homes and flooding after the arrival of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla.(JAMES E WYATT/ EPA / Rex / Shutterstock)
People walk around the destroyed portion of Alligator Drive, in Alligator Point, Fla.(TAILYR IRVINE / Tampa Bay Times)
U.S. Customs and Border Protection crew conduct a search and rescue operations in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael among damaged homes and flooding in Panama City, Fla.(GLENN FAWCETT/ EPA / Rex / Shutterstock)
A body is removed after being discovered during the search of a housing structure in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla.(David Goldman / Associated Press)
Entire blocks were destroyed in Mexico Beach, Fla., two days after Hurricane Michael devastated the small coastal town just outside Panama City, Fla.(Pedro Portal / Miami Herald)
Flyover of the Florida panhandle in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael shows a destroyed boat yard near Panama City, Fla.(GLENN FAWCETT / AFP/Getty Images)
Tom Bailey walks his bike past a home that was carried across a road and slammed up against a condo complex as Hurricane Michael passed through the area in Mexico Beach, Fla.(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
Rescue personnel perform a search in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla.(Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)
Storm-damaged boats in Panama City, Fla.(Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty Images)
The coastal township of Mexico Beach, Fla., population 1,200, lies devastated a day after Hurricane Michael made landfall.(Douglas R. Clifford / Tampa Bay Times)
A boat storage building is collapsed in Panama City Beach, Fla.(Chris O’Meara / Associated Press)
Damage from Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla.(SevereStudios.com)
Mishelle McPherson climbs over the rubble of her friend’s home in Mexico Beach, Fla.(Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)
Dr. Patricia Cantrell, left, and Ana Kaufmann with the South Florida Search and Rescue Task Force survey damage at the western edge of Mexico Beach, Fla.(Douglas R. Clifford / Tampa Bay Times)
Gavin Conklin, 17, gathers water bottles from a neighbor’s refrigerator after Hurricane Michael destroyed the home in Panama City, Fla.(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
Hector Benthall, right, gets a hug from his neighbor, Keito Jordan, after a tree crashed onto Benthall’s home in Columbia, S.C.(Sean Rayford / Getty Images)
The overhang of a gas station is toppled over in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Inlet Beach, Fla.(Emily Kask / AFP/Getty Images)
Amanda Logsdon begins the process of trying to clean up her home after the roof was blown off in Panama City, Fla.(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
Kathy Coy inspects what is left of her home after Hurricane Michael destroyed it in Panama City, Fla. She said she was in the home when it was blown apart and is thankful to be alive.(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
Men cut a tree that fell on a vehicle in Panama City, Fla.(Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)
Phlomena Telker stands on what was her covered porch after hurricane Michael tore the roof off her home as it passed through the area in Panama City, Fla.(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
The storm surge retreats from inland areas, where boats lay sunk and damaged at the Port St. Joe Marina in the Florida Panhandle.(Douglas R. Clifford / TNS)
Bo Lynn’s Market starts taking water in the town of St. Marks, Fla., as Hurricane Michael pushes the storm surge up the Wakulla and St. Marks rivers, which come together in St. Marks.(Mark Wallheiser / Getty Images)
A woman and her children stand near a destroyed gas station after Hurricane Michael passes through Panama City, Fla.(BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP/Getty Images)
People walk through the wreckage of a building after the arrival of Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Fla.(DAN ANDERSON / EPA / Shutterstock)
Haley Nelson inspects damage to her family belongings after Hurricane Michael made landfall along Florida’s Panhandle in Panama City.(Pedro Portal / Miami Herald)
People walk through the wreckage of a building in Panama City, Fla.(Dan Anderson / EPA)
Mike Lindsey stands in his Panama City antique shop after Michael’s winds broke the windows.
(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
Kaylee O’Brian weeps inside her home after several trees fell on it when Michael hit Panama City, Fla.(Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)
A hotel canopy collapsed on cars in Panama City Beach, Fla.(Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)
A hotel employee holds a glass door closed as it breaks from flying debris in Panama City Beach, Fla.(Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)
People look at a damaged store after Hurricane Michael hit Panama City, Fla.(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
The Oceanis is grounded ashore by a tidal surge at the Port St. Joe Marina.(Douglas R. Clifford / Associated Press)
Haley Nelson stands in front of the remains of one of her father’s trailer homes after Michael hit Panama City.(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
A man walks through a flooded street in Panama City, Fla.(Dan Anderson / European Pressphoto Agency)
People walk among downed trees in a heavily damaged neighborhood in Panama City, Fla.(Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)
Mitchell Pope tries to salvage what he can from his mobile home after the Wakulla and St. Marks rivers overflowed in St. Marks, Fla.(Mark Wallheiser / Getty Images)
Cameron Sadowski walks through crashing waves as Michael’s outer bands hit Panama City Beach, Fla.(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
A storm watcher takes photos of the surf and fishing pier on Okaloosa Island in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., as Hurricane Michael approaches.(Devon Ravine / Northwest Florida Daily News)
A satellite image of Hurricane Michael as it moves north-northwest over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico.(NOAA)
People fill bags with sand at the Lynn Haven Sports Complex while preparing for Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Fla.(Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty Images)
Beach visitors await the approach of Hurricane Michael in Panama City Beach, Fla.(Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty Images)
Waves crash against the Malecon esplanade in Havana, triggered by the outer bands of Hurricane Michael.(Ramon Espinosa / Associated Press)
Krystal Day, left, leads a sandbag assembly line at the Old Port Cove restaurant in Ozello, Fla. Employees were hoping to protect the restaurant from floodwaters as Hurricane Michael continues to churn in the Gulf of Mexico heading for the Florida Panhandle.(Chris O’Meara / Associated Press)
The effects of Hurricane Michael are seen along the coastline of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo.(Alonso Cupul / EPA)
Carol Cathey spray-paints words on the plywood over her daughter’s business in preparation for Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla.(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
Xavier McKenzie puts a 20-pound bag of ice into his family’s car in Panama City, Fla., as Hurricane Michael approaches.(Joshua Boucher / Associated Press)
Workers board up the windows of Marco’s Pizza in Panama City Beach, Fla.(Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty Images)
Nick Severson carries his daughter, Aubrey, as they and others walk the beach in Destin, Fla. Waves from Hurricane Michael pounded the shoreline of this Florida Panhandle resort town.(Devon Ravine / Northwest Florida Daily News)
Workers scramble to store boats before the arrival of Hurricane Michael in St. Marks, Fla., south of Tallahassee.(Mark Wallheiser / Getty Images)
Thomas isn’t alone; other residents along his street also plan to take on Michael head-on, even though authorities have told about 120,000 residents of Bay County to leave. Thomas’ first-floor neighbors also plan to stay, and they’re welcome upstairs if the water gets too high, Thomas said. So are his next-door neighbors and their dog.
“We’ve got canned food and a can opener. We have lots of water and food for the dogs, and I’m going to tape up the windows, cover the windows, just tack them up with sheets or whatever, to keep the glass from flying if that happens,” he said.
As Thomas spoke, a hurricane party was going on less than 2 miles away at Buster’s Beer and Bait, a dive bar popular both with locals and tourists who overwhelm the region during the summer. With Michael percolating out in the Gulf of Mexico, dozens of people gathered outside Buster’s as small palm trees swayed in the breeze nearby.
Other places were shut down and locked up. The windows were covered with metal hurricane shutters at Pineapple Willie’s, a popular beachfront restaurant, and sandbags blocked the entrance to a Wells Fargo bank. Plywood covered the front at Shrimp City, a small seafood market.
Dwight Williams, who lives across the street from Thomas, wasn’t taking any chances — he and his wife were packing to evacuate. They plan to stay with friends in DeFuniak Springs, a Panhandle town about 30 miles inland. Their single-story home is built to withstand winds blowing up to 130 mph, Williams said, but rising water is scary.
“What worries me is the storm surge,” said Williams, who has lived on the street about 24 years.
Thomas said relatives in Illinois had urged him to leave and stay with them, but he didn’t have a way to get so far north so quickly, and shelters aren’t a good option in his view.
“You never know who you’re sleeping beside,” he said. “Here, I do.”
So Thomas and his wife will stay put. And once the wind stops howling and the water recedes, Thomas will await the natural outcome of a hurricane for someone who works in the air conditioning business in a place known for hot, humid summers.
“After all the air conditioners go underwater, we’ll be busy,” he said.