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Steinhatchee Family Finds Strength And Tradition In Riding Out The Storm

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Fred Mitchell, 85, entertained friends at his riverside home in Steinhatchee while debris floated across his flooded lawn during Hurricane Michael. Four generations of the Mitchell family currently live on the Steinhatchee River, so coping with hurricanes has become a tradition.

“We stayed here through the rest of them, why stop now,” he said.

The outer bands of Category 4 Hurricane Michael hit Steinhatchee Wednesday, Oct. 10, leaving many roads flooded. At high tide, locals and military personnel responding on the scene estimated that in the most affected areas the water level had risen as much as five feet.

Residents were relieved that waters didn’t reach the same heights they did in the aftermath of Hurricane Hermine two years ago. But for Fred, Hermine and Michael were nothing compared to storms that have hit the small fishing town over the past 73 years.

“In ’93, I was living in (his previous home). I had been living there for 28 years, never got water in the yard,” Fred said.

“At least the water’s not going to get in my bed in this house.”

After a storm in 1993 that brought four feet of water into his home, Fred re-built his current house to avoid a repeat of that situation.

“I built this house 13-feet up in the air,” Fred said. “At least the water’s not going to get in my bed in this house.”

Fred Mitchell’s son, Mitch, lives catty-corner to him along the river. Mitch, 61, also decided to wait out the storm in his home just feet from the river’s edge.

“They beggin’ me to leave, all of them. But I won’t leave,” he said.

Like his father, Mitch has experienced many storms, but he won’t leave the river.

“When it’s all gone and it’s cleaned up there’s nothing like it,” Mitch said.

Mitch’s son Todd, 35, lives across the river from his dad and brother, but he chose to ride out the storm at his brother’s, Trey Mitchell, house on higher ground before the waters flooded his property.

Todd Mitchell’s, 35, Steinhatchee home suffered extensive water damage from Hurricane Hermine. Rather than rebuild, he tore out the damage and left the bottom floor empty, making way for future flood waters. (Cat Gloria/WUFT News)

When Hermine hit the town, Todd’s home suffered damage in three bedrooms, a bathroom and the kitchen.

“The bottom of the house was completely destroyed from it,” Todd said. “There was three feet of water from it.”

Instead of remodeling, he decided to tear out the damages and leave the first floor empty. He lives in the quarters above.

When flooding from Hurricane Michael crept up the streets surrounding his home on Wednesday, Todd and his neighbor, Dixie County Commissioner David Osteen, drove around town to check out the damages.

Fred said the water would recede quickly, as soon as the tide turned out again, but cleaning up after it could take weeks.

For the Mitchell family and many others, hurricanes are a part of life in Steinhatchee, but its the people who make it home.

“What makes the house, this town, special to me is the people we have down here,” Fred Mitchell said. “We just got some good folks here.”

Todd Mitchell (Left) and David Osteen (Right) talk with local officials while assessing flood damage after the storm. (Cat Gloria/WUFT News)

About Cat Gloria

Cat is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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  • Katherine McKinney

    This is extremely irresponsible. Sure, encourage people to ignore mandatory evacuations because it’s a “family tradition.” Some editor should have killed this story.