A band of “brothers” in my neighborhood are my “Hometown Heroes.” They’ve relentlessly traveled to the other side of Panama City, chainsaws, gas, food, and tools in hand, day in and day out letting us know of needs and then delivering them back, helping in whatever way possible. The newly-formed Backroads Sports Radio Network owners and staff, that literally formed a non-profit to help recovery while Hurricane Michael was still paving its path of utter destruction, are my “Hometown Heroes.” Our area’s first responders are my “Hometown Heroes.” And the countless power company workers, tree and supply companies, food and supply ministries, local businesses, volunteers and groups such as churches, the Boys & Girls Clubs, Alaqua and the list goes on are all our “Hometown Heroes!” Not one of us hasn’t been touched by what has been left in the wake of the devastation and despair from Michael.
Our heroes: the reliable; the self-willed in a good way and the determined; the ones who break through any barrier to help; those who keep their focus steady, trusting God who opens up the way before them instead of becoming daunted by a blocked path; and those who impart hope and comfort at the right time.
On the week of Oct.10, we were preparing for a storm, it seemed, no one knew would have such catastrophic consequences. It did. The good news? We immediately witnessed our best jumping right in to help our neighbors, family, friends, colleagues and those we might not even know to the East. We have all been touched, it seems. We are dedicated, passionate, caring and relentless in our giving and serving. THANK YOU for your willingness and motivation to respond to those in need so quickly. Michael has reminded us that we are a close-knit community, and a partner with and to other communities.
Destin Lifers, you are my “Hometown Heroes” — you, who would otherwise be secure in your homes, but have been working your way to PC and smaller communities beyond or behind-the-scenes providing care, supplies, cooking meals, making sandwiches and more to help. Our community has truly come together to help those less fortunate begin to recover and regain a sense of normalcy. We are providing RELIEF!
And some have become “heroes” by default, ending up blessed in an immeasurable way, such as Keith Vargo, in his own words:
“Our beach home in Mexico Beach was destroyed by Hurricane Michael. I was there on Friday to meet with the insurance claims adjuster, to retrieve the few items that were worth saving and to check on my offshore boat that we keep stored under the house. As I was digging through the rubble, a man walked across the street, came up to me and extended his hand to shake mine and said, ‘thank you for saving my life.’ Some background: My wife, Beth, and I took the kids to the beach house for fall break and left on Monday morning as the storm had been upgraded to a Cat 1 and gaining strength quickly. I tried to board as many windows and doors as possible, secure outdoor items, and get out quickly to return back to our home in Atlanta. In the rush, I was flip-flopping on whether to trailer the boat back to Atlanta or not. I’m meticulous with the boat, so 99 times out of 100 I would have brought the boat back. But, last minute, I decided it would be okay where it was. I was also planning to have an addition built under the home beginning in November so I had pulled the boat as far forward (towards the driveway but still under the home) as possible to allow for the work to be done. I had never stored the boat in that spot before since we built the house several years ago. For the entire week following the hurricane, I was kicking myself for not trailering the boat home. I had come to terms with the fact that the house was destroyed and there was nothing I could have done to save it; yet, I was upset with myself for the decision I had made to leave the boat and put it in harm’s way – something I could have prevented.
As the neighbor continued his story he told me that he, his wife and his parents had decided to ride out the hurricane in his parents’ one-story beach home. Yes, a very bad idea. His parents are in their 70s and his dad is a Vietnam vet in a wheelchair. As the storm surge continued, the entire front of the home was ripped away, and two of them were floating on a vinyl mattress; the other two on an insulated hot tub cover inside the home, pinned against the back wall of the living room. As the storm surge water pushed to 8 feet inside the home, they only had 12 inches of airspace left to breathe before all would drown. There was no escape. The incredible power of the storm surge, the sounds, and sheer force of the hurricane were unimaginable. They had given up and realized all were going to drown within minutes. In those last minutes as they were saying their goodbyes, they saw something large coming at the front of their home. It was my boat. It had broken free from the trailer that had wedged under the pilings, and floated across the street straight towards their home, and just before it impacted their house, it turned sideways and slammed into the home, wedging itself into the front wall. The boat became the new front wall of the home and acted to divert the majority of the incredible storm surge around the middle of the home to the sides of the home. Once that happened, the storm surge remained steady at 8 feet deep in the home rather than continuing to increase as it should have (the surge was 10+’ from the storm at my home), giving them those precious few inches of air to breath, and remained that way for the next five hours as they rode out the storm, literally inches from death. As the storm surge eventually receded, the boat un-wedged itself from the home and gently floated 20 feet to the side of their home and eventually lay on its side in their front yard.
The decision I had been upset about and second guessing all week was immediately put into perspective. The boat’s ultimate purpose wasn’t fully realized until those moments that Wednesday. My neighbor’s words will be burned into my mind forever, “your boat literally saved the lives of my entire family – I can’t thank you enough.” Honestly, I had nothing to do with saving those lives. God had a reason for giving me that last minute pause on Monday morning that caused me to leave the boat, and for parking it in a spot under the home, where I had never parked it before, that would allow it to be clear from the pilings to travel across the street and save the lives of those four people. What I thought was ‘my mistake’ was really me just not understanding that there was a bigger purpose for the boat, and it needed to be left at the house to serve that purpose.”
Our efforts will be long-term. Destin Life will continue to post and update its Facebook page with volunteer, donation needs and drop off sites. Though this might not be a completely exhaustive list, as we are provided the information, we are posting it. If you have updates or additional information, email Publisher@MyDestinLife.com or the Sharing Hands Network at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sharing Hands Network is a local organization that is bringing together all of the needs, organizations and volunteers. Visit http://SHN.co to discover where and how your support is needed. Please see page 4 for more information.
-Lori Leath Smith, Destin Life publisher