With bread in hand, Mr. Perryman and Ms. Long, 32, were headed back to their home in Panama City, about a 30-minute drive south. They lived near a bayou, he said, which they feared would overflow with the storm surge. But they were still on the fence about leaving. The plan was to keep waiting and watching the news. If by Wednesday morning Michael still looked like it was going to slam straight into Panama City, then maybe they, too, would head to Dothan to bunk with relatives.
As he waited to buy a 20-pound bag of ice, Mike Sanville, 64, puffed on a cigarette and said that he was also going to try to ride the storm out in Fountain, in the small house he shares with two other men. He was expecting the town to get punched hard. “It’s coming right at us,” he said. “We’re dead center.”
Mr. Sanville, a retired construction worker, said he worried that the roof would blow off his house as the winds picked up Tuesday night. If that happened, he said, he might ride out the rest of the storm in an outhouse he had built out back. He said that it had survived a blow from a falling tree a few years ago.
But would all three residents fit in an outhouse? Maybe, he said. No question it would be a tight fit.
And as both the hurricane and nightfall neared, the big Florida beach towns in the storm’s sights were not yet empty. A few cars crawled down the wide boulevards off the beach, but there was a stillness to the deliriously tacky tableau that is Panama City Beach: No lines at the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. No crab eaters at Dirty Dick’s Crab Shack. No putters on the town’s elaborate fantasias of novelty golf.
One of the few places still open was a bar called Foghorn’s, a strip-mall bar a couple of blocks inland. On Tuesday afternoon, drinks were flowing, pool was being shot and somebody had put “Rock You Like a Hurricane” on the digital jukebox. Bill York, the owner, had already boarded up his house, but he saw no reason to close up Foghorn’s if landfall was not until Wednesday.
That left a lot of downtime, he said, for locals who weren’t going anywhere: “Some people got nowhere to go and nothing to do.”