Hurricane Michael One Year Later – A Friendship is Born

Charles and Tonya have been best friends ever since they met for the first time after Hurricane Michael.

Oct 9, 2019

 

Charles Roberts and Tonya Hall were neighbors for four years, both living on the same dead-end street. Prior to Hurricane Michael, they’d never spoken.

Charles Roberts, 65, is the salt of the earth. Born in Apalachicola, he has spent his entire life in the area. The house he was living in when Michael hit was his grandmother’s house, and then his uncle’s house. Now it’s his house. 

“They both died in the house, and it’s my turn now,” he says with pride. But Charles thought his demise was going to come a little too soon when Michael struck. 

Charles sitting on the front steps of his home where he rode out Hurricane Michael.

Two doors down the street from Charles lives Tonya Hall and her 11-year-old grandson. She has three more grandchildren who spend every weekend with her. Tonya was born and raised in Panama City and works as a residential care nurse. She’s been working in the nursing care profession for 37 years.     

On October 10, 2018, when Hurricane Michael made landfall, Charles and Tonya were both in their separate homes. Charles was accompanied by his two dogs, holding them tight as he pressed his body against the front door to keep it shut. He then curled up with them next to his bed, waiting for the storm to relent. Two doors down, Tonya was praying for her life with her grandkids, son and sister as they sat listening to the massive trees falling all around them. 

Once the storm had passed, Tonya and Charles separately surveyed the damage. The power was gone, their phones dead. Much of Charles’ roof had been ripped right off. Trees had fallen on his home and all around the property, while water had destroyed all of his furniture and appliances inside. Tonya’s roof was still intact, but there was now considerable leaking. Several trees had also fallen on her home. Charles feared for the worst before the storm had hit, and had sent his partner of seven years to stay with her daughter in Colorado until the storm and its effects had been dealt with. Tonya and her son decided that he and her grandkids would stay with family in Alabama so she could focus on the recovery. Tonya and Charles were separately alone – the only ones left on their tiny street.   

 

Tonya Hall (middle) and her 4 grandkids sitting on the steps of her home two doors down from Charles.

The distance between Charles’ and Tonya’s homes seemed even greater now, as trees had fallen all around them; Charles couldn’t even see the home next door. Fortunately, he had a chainsaw and some gas, so he spent the next two days clearing the way. Tonya, meanwhile, remained alone at home, wondering how she was going to get the trees off her roof. She was able – barely – to get out of her house, but there really wasn’t anywhere to go with so many roads blocked. Tonya could hear the sound of the chainsaw but couldn’t tell which direction it was coming from. It seemed to be running all the time. Then, all of a sudden, it stopped. From out of the trees that blocked her home from the rest of her street, came Charles. He was ragged and tired-looking – but she suddenly didn’t feel so alone. Despite the fact that they’d never spoken, they instinctively embraced in a mutual hug when they saw each other, comforted by the mere presence of another human being.

“I’m just so happy to know someone else is with me on this block,” Tonya said.

The two have remained close friends ever since.

Despite the fact that they’d never spoken, they instinctively embraced in a mutual hug when they saw each other, comforted by the mere presence of another human being.

Shortly thereafter, Tonya reached out to The Sonder Project and connected us to Charles as well.   We worked to remove a few massive trees from both properties, and we repaired some drywall and the air-conditioning in Tonya’s home.

Charles sitting inside his home on his lone piece of furniture after the drywall had been replaced

At Charles’ home, we reconnected his electricity, and replaced his roof and the drywall throughout the residence.

Still, one year later, Charles is working to secure the furniture he needs to welcome his partner back. In the meantime, he can be found hanging out with Tonya and her grandkids – or you may just spot them on their weekly trip together to Dairy Queen.

Please consider supporting our Hurricane Michael Anniversary Campaign by making a donation so we may continue to support people like Charles and Tonya.