MEXICO BEACH, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - The decision to stay or go, is never easy when you're in the path of a hurricane. Many wonder why anyone would stay, but for sisters Susan and Martha of Mexico Beach, they had their reasons.
Two sisters from Mexico Beach ride out Hurricane Michael from Mexico Beach. (WJHG/WECP)
"Everybody's screaming at us, 'Why did you stay?' Well, you would have stayed too," Martha Lee said.
They stayed because they couldn't leave their 93 year-old mother, who was on hospice, bedridden and dying. They knew moving her would be too difficult.
"The storm was not a Category 5 yet or anything. We said, she's dying, we'll keep her here because transferring her, where were we going to take her? What if she was in a shelter and died? What were we going to do?" Susan Thiel said.
Their elderly mother was living on the first floor of Susan's home since 2015.
"She'd been doing very well and then she really declined in her health and she was dying and we knew it, and it's hard to talk about," Thiel said.
The sisters decided to ride out the storm, keeping careful watch on their mother.
"We knew through the storm we weren't going to have caregivers and everyone was going to help care for mom, well that plan changed quickly," Thiel said.
Everything changed as Hurricane Michael got stronger and took direct aim at Mexico Beach.
"Oh my God water! I looked and coming in under the front door, it was like a little puddle had started and it just got bigger and bigger," Lee said.
Water started to pour in to Susan's home so the sisters had to carry their mother up these stairs to safety.
"We looked at each other and said, 'Mother!' Both of us, and we ran in there and I said we'll carry her like in a hammock, and that's the only way I knew how to get her up the stairs, and we did," Lee said.
Then they waited as their world starting coming apart.
"I had been diagnosed with breast cancer the year before, and I looked at my sister and said, 'I didn't survived breast cancer to die in a hurricane,' and I really felt that way," Thiel said.
They watched as cars, a mobile home and debris floated down the street.
"It looked like the Colorado River flowing by the house," Thiel said.
"We came downstairs and it was to a world you wouldn't believe. Nothing was here, and I can remember looking and thinking good god this is like an atomic bomb," Lee said.
The second floor of Susan's home where they kept watch over their mother amazingly withstood the storm. Just next door at Martha's house, it was total devastation.
"It was like a washing machine inside my house, everything was ruined," Lee said.
As rescue teams made their way to Mexico Beach the search for survivors began. Many lost their lives, but Susan and Martha's family survived, against all odds.
"They were looking for survivors, and dead bodies and we came downstairs, and they're going, 'Where were you?' 'Upstairs,' and they said, 'Do you know how lucky you are?' 'Yeah," Lee said.
Paramedics rushed their mother to a hospital, but the sisters didn't even know where until days after the storm. Their mother died a few weeks later peacefully under hospice care.
Susan is still living in the upstairs of her home that protected them from Michael's winds. Martha is living in a camper while she rebuilds her house.
"As bad as it was, things have really improved. Are there things that still need to happen? Yes, but from where we started, amazing," Thiel said.
The sisters stay positive, though their lives are in limbo, they celebrate being survivors.
"Things can be replaced, I don't try to dwell on it, I just try to move forward," Thiel said. "Better days are ahead and better days are ahead for our community and our people."
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