Nada Hassanein, Tallahassee Democrat
Gayle Sweet didn’t get to say goodbye to the love of her life.
She sits in her dad’s red truck, her blue eyes welling with tears, staring at the home she’s lived in for the past 13 years. On Wednesday, Hurricane Michael left it in shambles.
It also took her husband Steve Sweet with it.
As Hurricane Michael roared through the Panhandle and Big Bend Wednesday afternoon, Gayle and Steve walked onto the front porch of their home in Gretna, a small town of about 1,400 residents west of Quincy. They heard a tall pine tree crash down across the street.
They quickly shuffled back inside to shelter from the wind that was picking up, when a large oak tree smashed through their roof, taking them down with it.
“The wind came whipping across,” she said, “and the next thing I know it went black.”
Steve, 44, was pinned under the tree, his torso sprawled on her lap. Her left leg twisted underneath the trunk. She cried for help and was able to phone her dad, who lives nearby. He came with her brother-in-law and pulled her out.
She made it out alive. Her husband didn’t. Her dad and brother-in-law weren’t able to pull him out from under the weight of the tree. He died in her lap.
“It’s a nightmare,” Gayle, 53, said, shaking her head. “Just a nightmare. And I keep trying to wake up.”
Steve Sweet is one of four reported deaths in Gadsden County from the passage of Hurricane Michael, which came ashore in the Panhandle as a Category 4 storm Wednesday afternoon. Most residents were without power in Gadsden County, which is less than 100 miles east of where the storm made landfall. In Michael's aftermath, downed power lines and oak trees split at the bases of their trunks are a common sight in the county-seat, Quincy.
On Thursday, more than 18 hours after Michael brought her tragedy, Gayle appeared still dazed, streaks of dry blood stain in her blonde hair. She hit her head when the tree crashed. Red cuts line her left shoulder and foot. Michael not only stole her husband. The storm's aftermath frustrated attempts to recover his body. Steve’s body was still inside as of 1 p.m. Thursday. Gayle refused to go to the hospital until he is out.
She closes her eyes and whispers, “I just want him out. I just want them to get him out.”
She says a Federal Emergency Management Agency representative stopped by to assess damage around 8 a.m. A Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office investigator also stopped by. She was told there were other fatalities around the county and wasn’t given a time frame as to when he could be pulled out. CNN reported Thursday that five people have died as a result of the hurricane.
Steve Sweet was a sales manager at the Chevrolet-Buick Quincy dealership, where Gayle is an office manager. They just celebrated their 15th anniversary last Valentine’s Day. The soft-hearted man with the silly sense of humor would always give his wife bracelets and necklaces. He had her name tattooed onto his arm.
“He was one of a kind,” she said.
Before the storm, he bought ice for a woman who didn’t have the money, Gayle said.
Gayle’s brother Joey Livings, 49, said Steve was the kind of man who would do all he could to help someone.
“He's done everything for everybody,” Livings said, resisting tears. He remembered the time Steve spent all day and night fixing Livings’ truck.
“I can get that for you, Joey,” he’d always say. “There wasn’t a time you could not call him that he wouldn’t drop everything and come help you.”