Published 9:33 PM EDT Oct 10, 2018
DOG ISLAND, Fla. — Since completing a 2,000-square-foot house he designed and built in 2003 on Dog Island, Florida, Bradlee Shanks always wondered how it would stand up during a hurricane.
He found out Wednesday when Hurricane Michael plowed into the less-than-3-square-mile Gulf barrier island. About 50 miles west in Mexico Beach, the Category 4 hurricane's eye had roared ashore with sustained winds of 155 mph, just 2 mph shy of a Category 5 storm.
His house passed the hurricane test although the weather was proving to be a bit more forceful than what he expected.
“I always wanted to see how my house performed in a hurricane, and it’s performed marvelously,” said Shanks, an art professor at the University of South Florida.
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“I built this house myself 15 years ago,” said Shanks, whose expertise is in drawing and printmaking. “There is no bridge so you have to bring everything over by boat, so it’s a labor of love.”
Shanks built the two-story residence with several design features, including heavy metal brackets installed inside the walls of the post and beam construction that a structural engineer certified.
“My engineer said, ‘You’ve got yourself a ‘Cat-5 house,’ “ Shanks said Wednesday afternoon.
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Hurricane Michael tested it.
Shanks arrived Sunday from Tampa and took a water taxi to the island to his home on the island of about 100 residences 3½ miles off the shore of Carrabelle. The house at 813 Gulf Shore Drive sits in the Mountains area, the highest point of Dog Island.
Shanks shuttered the windows, cleared debris and any possible flying objects and settled in for what he thought would be a Category 2 hurricane.
“Honestly, if I had known it was going to be a Cat-4 storm, I would have thought twice about being out here,” he said calmly. “But as it turns out, it’s no problem at all.
“By the time it had gotten up to a Category 4, there was no way to get off the island. I was going to sit out a Cat-2 storm, but by the time it reached Cat-4, it was too late.”
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When asked Wednesday afternoon after the storm made landfall if his structure was fulfilling the structural engineer’s promise, Shanks replied, “absolutely.”
“We have hurricane-force winds right now and the interior of the island is flooded,” he said when reached by phone. “The storm surge is coming in now.”
Shanks said he had no regrets about testing the house’s chances in a hurricane. He purchased the 5/8 of an acre property in 1987.
“I’m perfectly safe,” he said. “I’m so far up I can see the floodwaters around me.”
Shanks is one of two residents who bucked evacuation orders and stayed on the island. A neighbor, who also lives in the Mountains area, hunkered down.
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"He is sort of like the island hermit,” Shanks said of the senior resident whom he didn’t want to identify.
Shanks, who is married with three grown children, came to Dog Island alone, he said. His family knows him well and is not worried.
“They know I’m an adventurer, and it’s like trekking off into the wilderness. You don’t know what you are going to get,” the 60-year-old said.
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But, Michael was not your average hurricane. The monster storm will go down in history as one of Florida’s most powerful. And while he had confidence in the house he built, he’s not sure about his Ford F-150 pickup parked on the other side of St. George Sound at the Carrabelle boat dock.
“I was going to stay through the storm and then leave out,” he said. “Now I have no idea when I’m going out. I have no idea what the infrastructure is going to be.
"I hear the water is rising rapidly,” he said. “Bye-bye to my truck.”
Follow Byron Dobson on Twitter @byrondobson