SNEADS, Fla. – “It was like 100 pressure washers going on all at once.” Those were the words of Kelly Bunting, a park ranger with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Mobile District at the Lake Seminole Project Office, who along with her husband Nate, a biologist with the Florida Wildlife Commission, their nine-year-old daughter Norah, and their Boston Terrier Roxie, survived the harrowing ordeal known as “Hurricane Michael.”
When someone has a hurricane barreling down on them, bringing with it 130 mph hurricane force winds, and you happen to live in the middle of the forest where trees are already beginning to fall around you, the time to evacuate has already passed. Now you have to improvise and strategize to survive.
That is just what Buntings did as they rode out and lived through Hurricane Michael.
Thanks to some quick thinking by Nate, the Buntings got into their bulldozer, and rode out into an area on their property where there was no possibility for trees to fall on them, waiting for the storm and winds to finally pass.
Four long, and sometimes terrifying, hours later, the Buntings had survived their ordeal —thankful to have come out of it alive.
“We didn’t evacuate because we never expected a hurricane to still be a Category 4 storm when it came 80 miles inland,” Kelly says. “After we saw the first tree go down, my husband did some quick thinking and came up with the idea of getting in a bulldozer and driving to an area where no trees could fall on us and we would be safe from fallen debris. And we just sat in the bulldozer waiting for the storm to end.”
As Kelly, Nate, Norah, and their dog Roxie waited out the storm, they watched grimly as Hurricane Michael lifted up and smashed the pole barns – essentially, large carports -- that housed Nate’s FWC vehicles. The Bunting family also saw numerous trees around their house — the life blood of Nate’s work with the FWC — snap, break, and fall right before their eyes.
With what she described as seeming like 100 pressure washers blasting at once all around the bulldozer, Kelly continued recalling her family’s survival in the onslaught of the storm.
“We saw everything being blown all around. We saw humongous pine trees and oaks snap and break right around our house. During all that time we could not see what was happening to our house.”
To Kelly’s amazement, nothing significant happened to her house as only a small corner of her roof received minor damage. Another thing that surprised Kelly was the resilience of her daughter.
Kelly says Norah rode out the storm just fine and showed no signs of fear.
“We got into the bulldozer and Norah had her tablet with her and she was just focused the whole time on her game. I don’t ever think she ever felt extremely scared. I just hope she isn’t too traumatized by the whole experience.”
The help and care the Buntings have received from the USACE and FWC families has really touched them. Kelly says the support their coworkers have provided has helped them recover and be thankful.
“The support we have received has just been wonderful. They have been calling and texting, checking on us. To have Col. (Sebastien) Joly come by and visit, that meant so much. Nate’s FWC co-workers from Pensacola and Tallahassee, have all come and helped us clean up and helped to make the house safe. They have been very supportive.”
The one thing Kelly says has impacted her the most from Hurricane Michael is the devastation the storm left behind in an area near and dear to her heart.
“The first place I lived after I got my Master’s Degree was Panama City. I love this place. I’m just so distraught for everybody.”
Overall, Bunting says she is truly thankful to have survived the storm and also thankful for her husband’s quick thinking to have their family literally ride out a hurricane in a bulldozer.
“I’m thankful that my family and I are alive I’m thankful that our house survived. This area is so devastated. I’m extremely thankful for the presence of mind of my husband. I’m thankful for our lives and our house. It could have been so much worse. I’m thankful that we were able to find a safe place and that we made it through.”