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How do you ride out a Category 4 or 5 storm?

Posted at 1:41 PM, Oct 11, 2018

Nearly 400,000 people along the Florida Gulf Coast were ordered to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Michael but not all of them decided to leave. Some made the choice to hunker down and ride out the storm.

But how does someone ride out a category 4 or even category 5 storm?

Bill Johnson -- the man in charge of protecting Palm Beach County in an emergency -- is a Hurricane Andrew survivor.

He lost everything in that storm and more than 25 years later, he shared the mistakes he hopes others can learn from.

"My heart goes out to all the folks in the panhandle," he told WPTV in an interview on Wednesday, just an hour after Michael made landfall. "It's an experience that I probably never want to go through again."

Johnson moved to one of the hardest hit neighborhoods just a month before the storm in 1992.

"We were not in an evacuation zone. This was before the 92' building codes," he said.

His family rode out the storm in a closet, then in the bathroom. His house was gutted from the inside out from the ferocious winds.

"Very frightening experience. Very loud, exhausting, you can hardly wait for it to get over with," he described. "Once the windows went, everything else went." 

A recent study showed a majority of Floridians surveyed wouldn't evacuate if a Category 4 storm threatened their home.

"If you live in an evacuation zone, you should leave when you're told to leave," he said. "But it's an expensive endeavor. We found out after Irma that families were paying on average over $1,000 to evacuate."

Johnson said if anyone decides to ride out the next big storm, find a safe room in a sturdy structure.

"Everyone should locate a safe room in their house if they're hunkering down. Get the best interior room that you can, in the center of your house, away from windows if possible," he said. "That's where you're going to be parked for the next maybe 8 to 12 hours."

And have enough food, water and other supplies to last you several days, not just a few days.

The Palm Beach County EOC is coordinating requests from the Florida Panhandle. They’ve already sent a staff member to the EOC state headquarters iTallahasseeee... as well as more people to support the state’s incident management team.