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Driving home

Mandi Jackson watched her camera feed helplessly as waves surged into the front yard of her home in St. George Island, Florida. She was 250 miles away in Auburn, Alabama, and there was nothing she could do when Hurricane Michael hit.

Posted: Oct 16, 2018 1:12 PM
Updated: Oct 16, 2018 1:45 PM

It looked as if the ocean had come ashore. Large swells of sea water crashed into residences, inundating neighborhoods.

Mandi Jackson watched her camera feed helplessly as waves surged into the front yard of her home in St. George Island, Florida. She was 250 miles away in Auburn, Alabama, and there was nothing she could do when Hurricane Michael hit.

She and her husband Frank dreamed of retiring in the house by the ocean. Months' worth of renovations were destroyed.

She feared she may not have a home to return to.

"I knew it was going to be a total loss," Jackson told CNN after watching footage of waves busting through the windows of her house.

"That's when I knew it was real when I watched the sofa float by."

Two days later, on Friday, the 47-year-old retired elementary school teacher started the drive back to Florida to check on her home. This is her journey.

7 a.m. ET

Jackson packed up her full-size Ford pickup truck, along with a 16-foot enclosed trailer of supplies for friends who may need them in the coming weeks. She set off from Auburn, Alabama.

The trip to St. George Island should take 4.5 hours, she said. She planned to unload supplies, gather what possessions she could salvage and then head back to Alabama before dusk.

10 a.m.

"I am on my way now with a trailer loaded with supplies for friends down there, as they will be without power for weeks. Passing several power trucks and storm recovery teams, so that is promising!" she said.

She hoped to make it to the island by early afternoon after checking on three people before getting to her home.

"This will be our first time to see it in person," she said. "I'm sure I may finally cry for a minute, but even with this loss of home we are way better off than some others' situation and that keeps me going!"

12:40 p.m.

Everything south of Marianna, Florida, is bad. There's no power, no gas, no ice and no stores open.

Stopped and stuck, Jackson waited on Florida State Road 73 after she crossed Interstate 10. She waited 45 minutes for trees to be cut and removed from the road, she said.

"Whoever goes down there, I sure hope they have four-wheel drive for the sand, the mud and just everything," Jackson said. "All of highway 73 is like off-roading the whole time. I was so scared our trailer was going to flip over."

2 p.m.

Jackson and her husband saw stark destruction in the farm lands around them. A tree farm was nearly flattened on the right, and down the road on the left, it looked like cotton bales had exploded.

"The bales of cotton, the farmers rushed to get the cotton harvested up and it just looked like a white Christmas going through there," Jackson said.

2:15 p.m.

Jackson and her husband detoured from their usual route because of road issues and headed east on State Road 20 into Blountstown.

"Gosh, those poor people," Jackson said. "There were people sitting there outside with a sign asking for food and sitting outside in shock."

FEMA had been in the area handing out ice and water, and the National Guard was also bringing in supplies, Jackson noted.

2:30 p.m.

Tate's Hell State Forest in Carrabelle looked like it had been hardly touched. Only a tree here or there had fallen, and it looked a lot better than what the Jackson's had just driven through, they said.

"It was just odd, the track of the hurricane," Jackson said. "Tate's Hell is usually the spookiest thing when you go down there but it was actually peaceful. It was the only true clear shot we had down through there."

3 p.m.

When they got to where State Road 65 dead ends into US Route 98 east of Apalachicola, the Jacksons found the road destroyed. They detoured through a neighborhood.

"The road is just crumbled. It looks wavy and crumbled," she said.

3:30 p.m.

The Jacksons pulled up to their house, the home they been renovating to be their retirement home.

The cinder-block base stood and so did the overall structure, but several windows had shattered. Jackson had seen the waves burst through the windows on her security camera days before.

The dishwasher and sink sat on the floor, ripped from the wall. Kitchen cabinet doors lay in the other room. Cushions from a blue-and-white striped couch were strewn about.

The storm tore out the drywall. All that's left are the wooden frames of the would-be walls. A layer of mud covered the tile floor.

"It's just unbelievable, it's totally gutted. It's just a mess. It looks like a bomb went off," Jackson said.

"You forget about little things you leave behind and you're just like awww. But then you have to remember how lucky you are and just suck it up and keep going."

Jackson and her husband spent almost four hours salvaging what possessions they could before checking on other peoples' properties and delivering supplies to those who needed them.

6 p.m.

Curfew was coming with dusk on the horizon. It was time to leave.

"I didn't cry until we had to leave on Friday afternoon," Jackson said. "It was just total numbness and surreal."

Each time Jackson brings up something that happened to her home, she quickly changes the subject to all the other people who have it much worse.

"I dried my tears because we're pretty lucky. We're very lucky with the fact that we have insurance and we have somewhere to go to," she said. "I'm more concerned right now with my friends who have no insurance there, who have no power or water still."

She planned to return again this week, bringing insulin, prescription medication, fuel and other supplies to her friends and neighbors.

7:15 p.m.

With trees blocking a full lane on Florida State Road 69 before Interstate 10, the Jacksons cautiously drove into the darkness. Headlights appeared suddenly in the oncoming lane. The other cars reversed so the Jacksons could pass in the single lane.

"We should have left an hour earlier," Jackson later told CNN.

8:38 p.m.

The pair had no cell reception until they had almost reached Dothan in southern Alabama.

"From the Florida state line, coming back at night, it was pitch black dark until we got to the Alabama state line," said her husband Frank.

11:30 p.m.

Fifteen hours after they left their home in Auburn, they made it back safely.

The damage they saw in their home is not going to deter Jackson from going back, first to help her neighbors and later on to rebuild.

"We will be in St. George Island no matter what happens," Jackson said. "That's where my ashes will be spread. It means that much to me."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 296154

Reported Deaths: 6764
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto19700230
Hinds18851392
Harrison16736281
Rankin12757265
Jackson12623228
Lee9694161
Madison9480203
Jones7990147
Forrest7234138
Lauderdale6837226
Lowndes6032140
Lamar589680
Lafayette5740113
Washington5220130
Bolivar4616124
Oktibbeha441593
Panola431995
Pearl River4178131
Warren4134115
Pontotoc410571
Marshall403592
Monroe3990127
Union396174
Neshoba3817169
Lincoln3552104
Hancock348975
Leflore3380118
Sunflower318986
Tate303174
Pike301296
Scott294570
Alcorn292263
Yazoo290565
Itawamba290175
Coahoma281169
Tippah279265
Copiah278758
Simpson276280
Prentiss270258
Wayne254341
Leake252871
Marion252778
Covington249580
Grenada247878
Adams234678
George232145
Newton230852
Winston221877
Jasper213645
Tishomingo212665
Attala206669
Chickasaw201453
Holmes182370
Clay179251
Stone172429
Tallahatchie171239
Clarke169371
Calhoun158028
Smith153033
Yalobusha145036
Greene127833
Walthall124340
Noxubee122831
Montgomery122639
Perry122135
Lawrence120321
Carroll118625
Amite111734
Webster110832
Jefferson Davis102231
Tunica99323
Claiborne98829
Benton93824
Humphreys92927
Kemper90323
Quitman77414
Franklin76119
Choctaw69817
Jefferson62727
Wilkinson62426
Sharkey49117
Issaquena1676
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 497154

Reported Deaths: 10029
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson714001387
Mobile36252736
Madison32573462
Tuscaloosa24289414
Montgomery22708519
Shelby22112215
Baldwin19856285
Lee15021155
Calhoun13755288
Morgan13742252
Etowah13379320
Marshall11439210
Houston10110262
Elmore9451185
Limestone9413136
St. Clair9003225
Cullman8979182
Lauderdale8610212
DeKalb8486175
Talladega7582165
Walker6571259
Jackson6542103
Autauga631391
Blount6229127
Colbert5998120
Coffee5259103
Dale4657107
Russell406433
Franklin399778
Covington3989106
Chilton3891100
Escambia378772
Tallapoosa3613143
Clarke343953
Chambers3423111
Dallas3419142
Pike293372
Marion288895
Lawrence284683
Winston258668
Bibb245960
Geneva240270
Marengo238357
Pickens225055
Barbour212951
Hale211969
Fayette201357
Butler201166
Henry182941
Cherokee177739
Monroe166639
Randolph164640
Washington156635
Macon147243
Crenshaw146254
Clay145554
Cleburne139741
Lamar133733
Lowndes132551
Wilcox122525
Bullock117236
Conecuh107024
Perry105927
Sumter99432
Coosa89624
Greene88532
Choctaw55123
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