PANAMA CITY, Fla. -- For six years, Charles Burgess ran Pawaday Inn, building up a loyal customer base that brought him their beloved dogs and cats for grooming and boarding.
As Hurricane Michael approached, customers entrusted Burgess to care for their pets as they left town.
So Burgess holed up with 12 dogs, two cats and several employees in the squat concrete building building on East Sixth Street, figuring it was strong enough to endure whatever was coming. But Michael, whipping to the top of the Category 4 scale just before landfall near the Panhandle city, proved too powerful.
As the winds howled, much of the building collapsed around them. Burgess and his employees whisked the dogs into a small, stronger inner room holding the wash tub for dogs. Two of the animals escaped as sheets of driving rain lashed the building.
"We thought the building would hold up but it didn't," Burgess said. "The roof caved in. Then, the walls caved in."
After midafternoon, as Michael moved deeper into the state and the sun peeked out from behind gray clouds, Burgess and his workers picked their way out of the tangle of concrete blocks, air-conditioning ducts and foam insulation. The remaining dogs barked in their cages, sopping wet but wagging their tails.
They were loaded into trucks and vans to head to Burgess' home but the rescue effort wasn't done.
"We got to go find the two that ran off," Burgess said.
"We got one," one of his employees said.
Then another employee, Brian Bon, emerged from behind the shattered building with a leashed bull terrier.
"That's Star," Burgess said. "We got you now, baby."
Star looked shell-shocked and confused, but sat down, her tail wagging slightly. They led her into a SUV, the last of the rescues.
There was one casualty. One of the caged felines, named Tomcat, got stuck behind rubble and drowned.
"When the wall caved in, it blocked us from getting to him and the water just kept coming in,"Burgess said.
Burgess shook his head.
He said: “I’ve got to start over. I had a good client base, but it’s hard finding a good decent building in this area.”