As a steady, gentle rain fell from a blanket of overcast skies Thursday morning, residents in this coastal fishing village turned retirement community were taking precautions as Tropical Storm Hermine drew closer in the Gulf of Mexico, threatening to become a Category 1 hurricane.
It was a familiar sense for the community’s long-term residents who’ve made these preparations over and over again — but not for more than a decade.
If Hermine makes landfall late Thursday or early Friday as a hurricane, it’ll be Florida’s first in more than 10 years.
A stream of cars and trucks flowed in and out of the parking lots for Carrabelle’s two main gas stations, its couple of hardware stores, its marinas and the local IGA grocery store. Residents stocked up on supplies, secured their homes and boats and planned to either to get out of town before Hermine arrives or ride out the storm.
With his pickup truck stocked with plywood and a cooler full of ice from the gas station, Carrabelle resident Lee Poteet said he was headed back to his home on the coast to board up his windows.
“We just haven’t been through it in a long time,” Poteet said. “It’s been so long, you use all your old supplies for projects — building doghouses, whatever you want.”
Franklin County issued a mandatory evacuation order Wednesday evening for its barrier islands, low-lying and vulnerable areas, and for residents living in mobile homes or RVs. Sandbags were available for pickup Thursday in Apalachicola, Eastpoint and Carrabelle. And a shelter for county residents was opened in Crawfordville in Wakulla County, the next county north about 30 miles inland and south of Tallahassee.
Several residents, like Poteet, said they want to stay put.
“I don’t think it’s going to be too bad,” he said. “For the most part folks around here know, they have their own sixth sense of whether they need to get out of here or not.”
At The Moorings at Carrabelle — one of the town’s marinas — people secured their boats in case a storm surge of several feet slams the coast as predicted. The ideal scenario, they said, would be for Hermine to either pick up speed or slow down just so landfall doesn’t coincide with high tide at 4 a.m. Friday, which would make the impact of a storm surge even worse.
“We’re just getting ready to ride out the storm,” said Russell Lee, a 30-year resident of Carrabelle. “If it’s what they’re saying with 60 [sustained wind of 60 mph], we’ll be fine. If it gets higher than 60, it’s just hold on and hope for the best.“
Lee and his friend, Benji Deloach of Carrabelle, spent the morning readying their fishing boats and others in the marina. Their checklist included checking batteries and using a double lines with some slack to tie off the boats.
“We all got large investments here, and we don’t want to see them destroyed,” said Melvin Blanc, of Tallahassee, who docks his boat in Carrabelle.
With a storm like Hermine — a strong tropical storm or a Category 1 hurricane — Lee and Blanc said they’re not too worried.
But they remember the aftermath of major hurricanes a decade ago, like Dennis, Ivan and Katrina. Dennis, a Category 4 hurricane in 2005, brought chest-deep water into the marina’s parking lot, Blanc recalled.
“Katrina, Ivan, all of them were hard on us, but Dennis was the storm surge to remember,” Blanc said. “There were people who’d been here 100 years and had never seen it like that.”
“The water came in, and then it went out and took everything out with it,” Lee remembered.