Try 1 month for 99¢

Tech. Sgt. Levi Kester and his family fled their home at Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City, Florida, the day before Hurricane Michael made landfall. 

When they returned a week later to check on their house, they found the damage to the base from the Category 4 storm was "100 times worse than what you see on TV," said the former Winnebago County resident during a phone interview with the Summit-Tribune.

"I can't even explain it," said Kester, the son of Karen Stenzel of Forest City. "It's bad." 

Although he'd been stationed at Tyndall for almost two years, he found it difficult to find his way around because so many familiar landmarks were gone. 

The house he and his wife, Amanda, had been renting is now uninhabitable. 

"Everything was water damaged, even the clothes in our closets," Levi said. 

None of the furniture was salvageable. 

Fortunately, some family photos and other items of sentimental value the Kesters were worried about were still intact.  

Levi, a 2003 graduate of Lake Mills High School, said when he and Amanda first heard Tyndall was in the path of Hurricane Michael, they weren't sure they wanted to evacuate because it was only supposed to be a Category 2 storm. 

However, when Michael was upgraded to Category 3, the Air Force gave official evacuation orders. 

Everyone was told to go at least 100 miles away but no more than 500 miles. 

The Kesters and their children -- -- Noah, 11; Charlee, 9; and Saylor, 3 -- left Tyndall the morning of Oct. 9.

Levi said at first they thought they would just be gone a few days, but it's now been nearly a month and they are still without a permanent home.

Their first destination when they evacuated was Biloxi, Mississippi.

They spent a week in a hotel room there, but with two adults, three children and two German Shepherds, it was cramped. 

"We had to get out of there," Levi said. 

They went to an Airbnb in Pensacola, Florida, and enrolled the two oldest kids in school in Navarre, which is a 45-minute drive away. 

The school district is the same one their children attended when the Kesters previously were living at Hurlburt Field, an Air Force installation not far from Navarre. 

Levi said the sense of familiarity for the kids makes the long drives back and forth from Pensacola worth it. 

"People have been so kind," Levi said. 

He noted the proprietors of the hotel in Biloxi hosted Hurricane Katrina evacuees 13 years ago, so they had experience with people fleeing hurricanes. 

The other guests also also very supportive, according to Levi. 

The Kesters have now made two trips back to Tyndall, but have not heard if Levi will be able to return there to work or will be reassigned to another base. 

The couple is hoping Levi will be transferred back to Hurlburt Field, where they spent nine years before his re-assignment to Tyndall. 

For now the Kesters are still at the Airbnb in Pensacola, but will soon be renting a home in Navarre so they can at least be closer to their children's school. 

Even with the uncertainty of their situation, "It could be worse," Levi said. 

Subscribe to Breaking News

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.


Load comments