As Dr. Lebron Lackey watched security camera video feed of the walls of his vacation home on Florida’s Mexico Beach bowing from the force of Hurricane Michael’s winds, the increasing fury of the …
As Dr. Lebron Lackey watched security camera video feed of the walls of his vacation home on Florida’s Mexico Beach bowing from the force of Hurricane Michael’s winds, the increasing fury of the historic storm’s 155 mph winds eventually had the camera spinning like a weather vane.
“It was surreal,” Lackey said, who added that he could later see the storm’s eye wall.
But as the fast-moving storm passed, the house — dubbed the Sand Palace — he built and co-owns with his uncle, Chattanooga attorney Russell King, remained as others around it were swept away by the massive storm surge.
Speaking to the Cleveland Daily Banner on his cellphone Tuesday, Lackey, currently in Florida to salvage his home, said the entire neighborhood is wiped out.
“All I see is destruction around me,” Lackey said as he choked up at the realization that so many lives have been affected by the storm’s wrath.
He shivered at the thought of neighbors who have been missing since the hurricane made landfall at Mexico Beach last week — the most powerful storm to hit Florida since Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Search parties are still searching building wreckage for victims.
Lackey then lowered his voice as he spoke into his phone.
“They’re still searching the area with dogs,” Lackey said.
Michael is so far responsible for 18 deaths in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia, according to media reports. Dozens of residents of Mexico Beach reportedly remain missing.
Despite the incredible power of the storm, Lackey and Russell’s home withstood the onslaught of a massive hurricane, or what he termed “the big one.”
“We built it to withstand surge and wind,” Lackey said. “There’s a lot of interest in how we did it.”
According to The New York Times — whose breaking Monday story launched a its own storm of news media reports nationwide about the Mexico Beach miracle — Lackey and King built the house to withstand 250 mile-per-hour winds, reinforcing it with steel cables, rebar, as well as reinforced concrete.
“We went above [building] code,” Lackey told the Banner.
In addition, Lackey said the house was built atop 40 foot pilings, 28 feet of which were buried in the ground.
“That’s a pretty solid foundation,” Lackey told the Banner.
He added that portions of the structure, such as an outside stairway and lower floor walls, were designed to break away during a powerful storm.
“They successfully failed,” Lackey said. “It was all by design.”
Lackey is still horrified by what he witnessed on camera.
“There was a break in the clouds when the eye wall came over, and I could see water where houses were located,” Lackey said. “I thought it was storm surge, but when the water receded, all I could see was concrete slabs,” which used to have houses on them.
He said many of the homes surrounding his were constructed during the 1970s and ‘80s, long before stricter building codes were passed.
Although the house is structurally sound, a hole in the structure allowed seawater to spray into the house, which is open to the elements. He also said the high humidity and lack of electrical power may lead to mold.
“We may have secondary problems,” Lackey said.
Lackey commended the first responder community for providing help in the area.
“They cleared the road so everyone could get to their houses,” Lackey said.
He also said he has received tremendous support from the community.
Although his “Mayberry by the Sea” is a scene of destruction, he said the nights offer him some respite from the horrors that surround him.
“I listen to the ocean at night,” Lackey said. “And the sunsets are beautiful. I’m hopeful this area will make a comeback. This town needs to come back.”
“This house is resilient,” Lackey said. “I want my neighbors to see it, and feel resilient, too. That’s the message – and I want people to take heart. I want them to come back.”
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