Hurricane Michael made landfall Wednesday afternoon as a Category 4 storm that brought destruction and terror as it bore down on the Florida Panhandle. With a central pressure of just 919 millibars, the storm was the third most intense hurricane to ever make landfall in the US.
As the unprecedented storm struck the coast, the city of Mexico Beach was directly in its path.
Among those sheltering in Mexico Beach were Patricia Mulligan and her 12-year-old daughter, Tessa Talarico, who documented the storm’s destruction on her Instagram account.
The pair were joined by six other people and three dogs as they sheltered in a four-floor condo apartment, where Mulligan has been living since moving from Miami.
Mulligan told BuzzFeed News she opted not to evacuate, despite urgent pleas from officials.
“We just didn’t think it was going to be as bad as it was,” she said. “We thought it would be OK. I’d been through Hurricane Andrew [in 1992].”
Their building lost power early in the morning. Then, as the rains picked up, so too did storm surge from the inlet in front of the apartment, where neighbors kept boats.
Even before the worst of the storm, canopies meant to protect the boats had been ripped apart by the gale-force winds.
Soon, the winds picked up. As it made landfall, the hurricane continued to intensify with sustained winds near 155 mph.
Visibility was almost nonexistent as heavy rains pummeled the city.
“For about an hour and a half, it was scary,” Mulligan said. “This building, which is very big, was vibrating. The floor was shaking.”
“The wind was shaking the building and this is a huge concrete block building,” she continued.
The ocean inlet in front of the apartment building soon began to breach its banks as a powerful surge carried water toward nearby houses.
“Houses were covered up to above and beyond the roof,” Mulligan said.
Video from the scene showed debris strewn about in the water: pieces of timber, uprooted trees, roofs that had blown off houses, and boats that had detached from their moorings.
Water began leaking into Mulligan’s apartment as the winds shifted, but from her fourth-floor perch, Mulligan said she knew she and her loved ones would be safe from the surge.
All they could do was look down at the destruction floating below them.
Mulligan said she spotted “two refrigerators, pieces of houses, turned over boats” floating by in the gray waters.
After roughly an hour and a half of fury, the storm moved on from Mexico Beach. Gradually, the inlet’s waters began to recede too.
Photos posted to Tessa’s Instagram page showed the scale of the devastation in the area surrounding the family’s condo, where cars drifting in the surge came to rest in carparks overflowing with debris from nearby houses.
“It’s just total devastation,” Mulligan said. “Nobody’s house is unscathed. Everybody has an issue.”
As emergency crews begin to deal with the aftermath of the destruction, Mulligan said she has enough food and supplies to sustain those with her. But while her family is safe, the experience was too terrifying for Mulligan to ride out another hurricane.
“I will never do this again,” she said. “Never ever, ever, ever, ever.”