BEAR CREEK, Fla. (WMBB) — Bear Creek Feline Center sits a little over 15 miles northeast of Panama City.
The owners, Jim and Bertie Broaddus, weathered the storm along side their 20 large rescue cats– including African Servals, Bobcats, Lynx, Panthers, and Jaguarundis. They said those cats could tell something bad was coming, and they didn’t react well.
“They were, you know, hissing at us and running at us,” Bertie said. “Some were trembling, some were very scared.”
Bertie Broaddus says they started preparing heavily just 48 hours before the storm, getting tranquilizers and dart guns ready just in case.
There was a laundry list of things to get done before they considered themselves prepared, and on Tuesday morning Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) called to make sure they had everything they needed.
They said the amount of time it would’ve taken to move their 20 animals, combined with the fact their evacuation plan wouldn’t have kept them out of the path of the hurricane Michael, is the reason they stayed.
“We cannot leave the cats here.” she said
Seeing the place now, you may not have guessed the eye passed over the sanctuary, but Broaddus says they’re lucky to be alive.
“It was nice and sunny, so we went outside to see the damage. It wasn’t raining at all, and walked all the way around,” she said, ” [We] got caught on the other end by the Bobcats and we only made it back to the Lynx house.”
Hurricane Michael’s winds forced them to ride out the second half of the storm in the Siberian Lynx night house, nestled right between two of their cats.
“The center hall is where we stayed for the hour and half after the eye went over.” she said.
This all happening as the roof of their home less than 100 feet away was being ripped apart, and they said they tried not to focus on it.
“You’re just kind of nervous and scared, but we’re so concerned about the cats that that kind of kept our focus on ‘the cats have got to be okay’.”
Thankfully, no cats were killed during the storm, and none escaped either, despite the fact that many cages were badly damaged.
Chastin Mitchell has been a care taker at Bear Creek for the last 5 years and said she was in shock when she finally made it back to the sanctuary the day after the storm.
“I was devastated.” She said, “I was very worried about the cats. They were on my mind even leaving and before, and I was just worried hoping that everybody was okay– the people, and the cats.”
She said trees were down everywhere across the property, but all the cats were okay and that’s what mattered the most.
Bear Creek was able to take the next steps to clean up, beginning with debris removal. Cranes came in to lift the big trees which allowed staff and volunteers to secure cages and perimeter fencing.
“Some of the cages we couldn’t even get up to unless you crawled on your belly, under trees and other things.” Bertie said.
Then even more volunteers showed up to help to rebuild the feline center.
“They came in and were trying to straighten up cages, and secure cages,” Bertie said. “Some of them had to be worked on and tied back because trees busted and ripped things.”
She said people even started bringing their whole freezers to the center.
“When the power goes out then [people] feel I guess it starts to thaw, that it’s not any good. So they brought their freezers and we had freezers hooked up to generators all over the place, and we had tons of beef and chicken.” she said, “The cats ate great.”
As more and more people brought supplies, the Broaddus family still gave whatever they couldn’t use to those who needed it more.
Now a year after Hurricane Michael, they still continue to get help from volunteers and do whatever they can for their cats.