MEXICO BEACH, Fla. — While most residents fled ahead of Michael’s arrival Wednesday, some chose to ride out the hurricane.

Many barely escaped as homes were smashed from their foundations, neighborhoods got submerged, and broken boards, sheet metal and other debris flew through the air.

Hector Morales was one of them. The 57-year-old restaurant cook never even thought about evacuating. He grew up in Puerto Rico, where he said “you learn how to survive a storm.”

His mobile home isn’t on the beach. But the canal behind his home quickly overflowed as the hurricane came inland. Soon, Morales said, his mobile home started floating.

“The water kept coming so fast, it started coming in from everywhere,” he said as he sat outside on a broken set of stairs lying atop a mattress and other storm debris. “I had about 3 feet of water in my house. That’s when I decided to jump.”

He got through a window of his home onto the top of his car outside when Morales saw two neighbors wading through the rushing surge. He swam out and grabbed a utility pole, then reached out and helped steady the wading couple. They fought their way onto a fishing boat that had been tied to a palm tree and climbed inside.

Morales left his neighbors in a bathroom below the boat’s deck, while he sat in the captain’s chair. He said they stayed in the boat for six hours before the winds calmed and the surge receded.

“I lost everything – my clothes, wallet, credit cards,” he said. “But I made it.”

filed under: