Knoxville News Sentinel
Published 9:35 PM EDT Oct 18, 2018
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – As Hurricane Michael churned toward the Florida Panhandle, Russell King could not stand to watch.
The Chattanooga attorney had built a seaside home with his nephew just the previous year in the small Gulf Coast village of Mexico Beach and had just received a certificate of occupancy in April.
With break-away walls along the first floor designed to detach if a severe storm struck, it was designed to survive the worst.
King watched from cameras in the home as the hurricane drew near, and two cameras were eventually knocked out as the break-away walls did their job and gave way.
"We knew everything on the ground floor would be gone," King said. "Our hope was the water would not get in."
He decided to see the house for himself and drove to Florida after the storm.
The house was constructed to withstand 250 mph winds, exceeding the Florida building codes by around 75 mph. Only two of the windows broke during the storm but never sent glass into the home, and a third endured a hairline crack.
King is having them tested and replaced. It's a five-bedroom beach house designed like a fortress to withstand severe weather, which King predicts will only get worse.
"I believe in science," he said. "I read Al Gore's book, and I said, 'Uh-oh.' We're heating up the planet and Mother Nature's going to punish us. Look at the hurricanes now, the one that just happened. The punishment's just beginning. My concern now is that the house may not be strong enough."
More: 7 more deaths raise Hurricane Michael toll to 33
Fridge for just water, paper towels
Although King's home was built recently, the houses surrounding his were between 40 and 60 years old.
Images of King's home, popularized soon after the storm and chronicled in many news accounts, show it surrounded by devastation.
The death toll in Florida now stands at 23. That’s in addition to at least 10 deaths from the storm elsewhere across the South.
Residents of Mexico Beach, one of the hardest-hit areas by Hurricane Michael, began returning home Wednesday for their first look at the devastation that has leveled the town of 1,000 people.
Mexico Beach was ground zero for Michael when the storm roared ashore last week, packing 155 mph winds and bringing a catastrophic storm surge.
Many of the houses in King's area were vacant since vacation season ended in August.
Rebuilding after Hurricane Michael may be difficult. His house may still stand, but King and the people around him now lack running water, electricity and basic utilities.
"My expensive Samsung refrigerator is just storage for water and paper towels," King said.
Seaside beauty surrounded by ruins
Relief efforts are underway for the area, and throughout Florida. But while organizations are trying to help people get back on their feet, rebuilding can be costly. The storm will cost an estimated $25 billion.
"Hopefully, people will build after this," King said. "Hopefully, they'll have more survivable houses than me."
"The views are just incredible, as it was before, and it'll be great to see people rebuilding homes," King said. "But turn 30 or 40 degrees either way, and I see total destruction. And if I turn 70 degrees, you just see mercy vehicles."
USA TODAY contributed to this story.