Mich. man's daughter, newborn rode out Michael in tub

George Hunter
The Detroit News
Homes destroyed by Hurricane Michael are shown in this aerial photo Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018, in Mexico Beach, Fla.

Greg Kopicko's daughter Brianna rode out Hurricane Michael huddled for six hours in the bathtub of her home in Panama City Beach, Florida, her six-day-old daughter Kelly in her arms, and her other young children, ages 2 and 3, pressed against her.

Brianna Kopicko, 22 and her children survived the storm, her father said.

Her house didn't.

"She lost everything," said Greg Kopicko, 47, of Owosso. "Their house was destroyed. So was the hospital where Kelly was born. They're headed to North Carolina to stay with my other daughter until they can figure out what to do next."

The hurricane, with winds reaching up to 155 mph, is the first category 4 hurricane to hit Florida’s Panhandle and the fourth-strongest storm in U.S. history. Greg Kopicko said it was tough waiting it out Thursday, 1,000 miles away and unable to reach his daughter because of bad cell phone reception.

"I had told her 'if you're ever in a hurricane, the safest place to go is the bathtub,'" he said. "Then I couldn't get in touch with her. I was ready to drive down there, I was so worried. I didn't get to talk to her until about 9 (p.m.).

"She got out of the hospital with the baby just in time to go home and get into the eye of the storm," said Kopicko, who joked his daughter should have named the child "Kelly Michael."

"My daughter may have PTSD after going through that," he said. "They all survived it — that's all that matters to me. But they lost everything. They have no home to go back to. I told her to make sure she stays on the insurance company to see what was insured. It's hard now, though, because they're trying to get situated."

With Brianna Kopicko and with millions of others in the South struggling in the aftermath of the hurricane, the leader of an Oakland County nonprofit is heading to the disaster zone in hopes of helping victims.

Greg Martin, director of the Waterford Township-based nonprofit Disaster Relief at Work, lived in Jacksonville, Florida, from 2001 to 2005, and also wants to connect with friends who aren’t answering their phones in the storm's aftermath.

“It’s hard getting a hold of people, because many places don’t have cell service,” he said Friday. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to connect with them when I’m down there.”

Martin said he plans to send a truck full of supplies to help hurricane victims, and then meet the truck in Florida. 

“We have a plan right now, but any time there’s a disaster of this magnitude, the plans can change from hour to hour,” he said. “(Saturday), we’ll fill up a semi to send down to Florida, and then I’m going to meet the truck down there. It’s tricky to coordinate, though, because they don’t have cell phone service or electricity in many places. We usually connect with the local agencies, but right now they’re kind of spinning their wheels.”

Martin said his resources are stretched thin. “Our warehouse is pretty depleted because we just sent a bunch of supplies to the Carolinas after Hurricane Florence.”

Search-and-rescue teams spent Friday searching through ravaged neighborhoods, looking for victims dead or alive. The death toll stood at 13 across the South and was expected to rise.

Martin’s agency sends out “buckets” that are tailored to specific needs. He said he’s sending 400 of the buckets to Florida.

“We have different buckets for different situations. We have a family bathroom bucket, which is bathroom supplies for a family of four. We have a post-flood cleaning bucket, with cleaning supplies. There’s a valuable salvaging bucket, which is if you’re sorting through rubble and searching for your valuables; and a roof patching bucket. They’re all customized.”

The agency is collecting donated materials at the Coffee Bucket at 3549 Airport Road in Waterford. The shop is open Monday-Friday 6:30 a.m.-8 p.m.; Friday from 6:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; and weekends from 8 a.m.-2 p.m.

Needed materials include: Five-gallon buckets with lids, large tarps, heavy-duty trash bags, scrub brushes, Rubbermaid-style bins with lids, clothesline (25 to 100 feet long), clothespins, cotton cleaning cloths, dish soap, (16 to 28 oz. bottle liquid only), insect repellent spray, liquid laundry detergent  (25-42 oz.), and rubber/latex palmed work gloves.