The morning after Hurricane Michael, the tiny town of Gretna in central Gadsden County became the western front for some trying to head home.
But hundreds of cars trying to travel toward Marianna or Pensacola were turned around. Authorities closed eastbound Interstate 10 just outside Greensboro, where trucks lined up for nearly a mile to fill up with gas, and redirected cars trying to head in the same direction on Highway 90 before noon.
For several miles east of Highway 90’s roadblock, motorists had to weave through the cracked tree trunks that had crashed onto the roadway and narrowed the highway to single lanes, causing long lines and delays. Many of those branches were also tangled in power lines that snaked across the road, having been whipped about by Michael’s gusts.
Those trying to find loved ones or check on homes in Chattahoochee or Marianna — where Michael’s eyewall reportedly ripped roofs from houses, a hospital clinic, even the sheriff’s office — were out of luck.
Friends of Elijah Passmore, 27, had tried back roads all morning to get to Chattahoochee, only to return to Gretna to wait out the road closures, he said.
Passmore, his 17-year-old sister, Esha, and her friend Diamond had been watching cars drive west, then circle back for the better part of an hour, as they walked down Highway 90 surveying the toppled trees and impassable roads. Both girls had traveled from the Georgia border, just eight miles away, to spend part of the week with Passmore, unaware that a hurricane would soon barrel through the Panhandle.
“I can’t believe this,” Esha said, looking at the downed power lines.
Passmore, who went by the nickname Nephew, cursed colorfully as he noticed more trees had been wrenched from the earth, roots and all. “That’s nasty.”
Gretna, a tiny town of less than 1,500, is several miles inland — and like the rest of the Panhandle and Gadsden County, rarely brushed by hurricanes. Even Hurricane Hermine, the Category 1 storm that struck Tallahassee in 2016, largely dealt it a glancing blow.
But the first fatality to be reported from Michael was in Greensboro, just four miles from Gretna, when a man was killed after a tree crashed into his home, authorities said. The second was a girl in Georgia, but officials are still pushing search and rescue teams into affected areas, they said Thursday morning.
Tyran Grant, 21, said his 43-year-old mother, who had high blood pressure, died suddenly during the storm, but that authorities had not picked up the body until the following morning.
His relatives “were calling , they were blowing them up,” he said. He said he did not know yet how she had died.
Near where Grant rode out the storm, Michael’s winds knocked metal sheeting from a shed roof next door into the yard.
But other parts of Gretna made it through the storm with minimal damage.
Down the street, John Garcia, 19, was starting the process of picking up after the storm. His family had shuttered the windows with plywood the day before, and hoped the tall trees around their single-story home wouldn’t crash into the roof. Michael tossed branches all around the house, but left it otherwise undamaged.
As his 12-year-old brother dragged branches and trash into a pile in their front yard, Garcia drenched the leaves with old oil from his family’s car lot and set it aflame.
“The aftermath is bigger than I expected it to be,” he said, as heavy plumes wreathed him and his siblings in smoky scent. “This is the first time a storm’s impacted us like this.”
Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau reporter Samantha Gross contributed to this report.