PORT ST. JOE, Fla. – Since the day after Hurricane Michael pounded the Florida panhandle, the American Red Cross shelter in Port St. Joe has been “home” for Stephen A. Whealton.
“I’ve been impressed to the infinite,” Whealton said of his temporary home away from home. “They’ve treated me very well.”
But this wasn’t the retiree’s plan.
Warned to evacuate as Michael bore down on his hometown, Whealton filled his car with gas, but the bank was closed, so he couldn’t stock up on cash. He decided to ride out the storm in the home that had been in his family for more than 70 years.
“I stayed in my bedroom, looking out the window, avoiding a spray of glass if the window broke,” he recalled. Gesturing his hand four inches above his ankle, “Then water, mud and debris came up this high into my home, which is already raised a few feet from the ground.”
Whealton spent the first four nights following Michael at the Honeyville shelter, which he described as, “Absolutely fantastic. The situation in Honeyville was wonderful, admirable. Many people from Port St. Joe were there.”
To keep busy, Whealton and his new friends played endless games of Monopoly, suggesting the game’s maker come out with the new version: “Port St. Jopoly: Michael Edition.”
Without a car and unsure of his home’s future, Whealton mused, “I’ll have one really good day followed by one really bad day. I’ve also had a lucky day,” which he described in detail: Shortly after the storm, Whealton spoke aloud in the shelter of his need to see his home. A chiropractor from Georgia, in town to help those affected, offered to give him a ride.
“This man I didn’t know helped me save a prodigious amount of stuff, including my sheet music, my childhood zinc penny collection and a stuffed koala bear my uncle brought from Australia when I was very young,” he said.
“When you’ve spent your life being self-sufficient, it doesn’t cross your mind to ask for help.”
In addition to shelter and food, the Red Cross will be giving Whealton and his fellow storm victims guidance as they make plans for their post-storm recovery.