When you see a disaster on TV, it’s displaced from you. When you see it in a place you’ve known your entire life, it shakes you to your core.
As I headed south on Highway 77 into Bay County with a truck full of toilet paper and canned ravioli, I didn’t know what to expect.
I didn’t even know if I could get into town because of the debris on the roads, waves of emergency vehicles and the prospect of looters; all the possible roadblocks made travel a question hanging in the air.
I kept going, though, and the farther south I went, I saw more trees lying on the highways, the occasional trunk leaning on a building or damaged roof. It was far from the devastation people described.
When I hit the bridge heading in to Lynn Haven, Florida, that’s when it became clear. I suddenly left the real world that was hit with a storm and entered the set of a new “Mad Max” sequel.
There had been some damaged trees previously, but after heading over the bridge, the coastline was barren from the storm that hit it.
The horizon, once covered in branches dotted with emerald leaves and random affluent homes, was now lined with sterile broken trunks and wrecked houses. Boats were missing, docks were trashed and the park near the end of the bridge had been flooded.
The deeper I headed into town, the more calamity and destruction hit me. Entire sections of power poles were thrown on the roads to the point where they choked entire intersections.
The trees were blown into permanent acute angles or broken entirely, Random shreds of metal from some signs were twisted on the tallest trunks, and gas station canopies had collapsed on themselves.
The more I traveled around town, the more surreal it all genuinely felt, especially after I went downtown to look around.
The high school I graduated from with kids I knew since first grade was torn to shreds. The middle school gym where I had been forced against my will to jog listening to “Fall Out Boy” was now missing two entire walls, a place all the Weather Channel news drones made sure to fly through for the audience.
A diner my football teammates and I would eat at every Friday night was imploded and stripped of any identity.
From here, I hurried to check on some friends in Callaway, Florida. The whole drive was more of the same, seeing entire churches and business faces just ripped off.
I pulled into the neighborhood they lived in, and their homes were gone. One was missing a wall and chunk of their roof, and another was flattened entirely.
One family, along with three dogs, five cats and a snake, had to be crammed into one house and guard themselves at night against potential looters.
After making it to my own home, I was surprisingly secure despite everything else. Adding to the absurdity, our home was nearly untouched.
A large pine tree fell over our back fence from the now-nonexistent woods. One foot forward, and it could have taken out a wall, yet it hit one shingle.
The rest of the town I called home was ripped entirely apart, but my own house had only a scratch on the back.
As the night set in, with overwhelming thoughts of confusion, bleakness and hurt, one thing stood out. What thing stood out?
With no power, save from what utility trucks provided, I looked up to a sky full of stars. Despite destruction and a city with an entirely new face, above us, where there was chaos, there was now calmness.