Wilmer Capps has a home that is now full of soggy furniture and mosquitoes. He was desperate to find shelter for his wife and their son, Luke. He was born just three days after Hurricane Michael left a trail of destruction in the Florida Panhandle.
Capps, his wife Lorrainda Smith and little Luke chose the best spot they could find, the parking lot of a Walmart store shut down by the storm. Lorrainda sat in the bed of the family’s pickup truck and Baby Luke sat in a car seat beside her. Wilmer sat in the dark and questioned how it could be possible that his son’s first night out of a hospital was spent outside a big-box retailer with no one to help.
“It really upset me, man, because I’ve always been the type of person who would help anyone,” Capps said in an interview with The Associated Press. An AP photographer accompanied them on a journey from the lot to a hospital and met them again at a hotel where donors later provided them a room.
“We had everything. Full-time job, a place to live. One day we had it all, the next we had nothing,” said Smith. “This is not what I thought I’d be bringing him back to.”
With the hurricane coming fast toward their home in Panama City, Capps and Smith sent their three other children to stay with relatives.
Labor pains started after Michael hit, so Capps drove Smith to a hospital about 80 miles to the north in Dothan, Alabama. It was flooded with coastal refugees from Michael. She gave birth at 1 a.m. last Saturday, three days after Michael’s landfall.
Discharged from the hospital and unable to find a hotel room nearby, the couple drove back to Florida.
Unable to stay at their storm-damaged home amid oppressive heat and bugs, Capps settled on the Walmart parking lot because they were low on gas and were fearful of driving at night with a curfew in place. The store was known for letting travelers sleep in the parking lot overnight, and Capps knew it.
“I had no choice, (Luke) would have had a heatstroke. When he started acting like he was getting sick from the heat and wouldn’t eat, that’s when we went to Walmart,” Capps said. “There was kind of a breeze there, there was no bugs biting us. I said ‘We’re all right now.”