Pedro Menendez High principal puts his own home aside to run storm shelter

Dr. Carmichael serves community instead of worrying about Matthew-destroyed home

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – Storm shelters opened in St. Johns County before Hurricane Irma hit Florida kept people safe until the storm passed and then stayed open until people could return home.

For the man who ran one of the largest shelters in St. Johns County, it was more important to stay put and serve his community than worry about a home that had already been destroyed in Hurricane Matthew last year.

Campus life is back to normal at Pedro Menendez High School in St. Augustine. But two weeks ago, the school served as a storm shelter during Hurricane Irma. The shelter was packed with people, and all of Dr. Clay Carmichael's family. 

"It's very rewarding to know that they trust you and they count on you for safety," Carmichael told News4Jax on Thursday. "It's rewarding being able to find places for them to help in a meaningful way."

Carmichael has served as the principal of Pedro Menendez High School for 11 years, and has run shelters for the county six times.

But in October, following Hurricane Matthew, he went home to what he called “a mess.”

"I lost my home in Matthew -- about waist-deep water in the home," Carmichael said. "As soon as Irma comes up, you literally just drove your last nail over Labor Day weekend. Irma's here. The possibility of losing your home again even before you move back in because, after construction like that, you have to do a lot of cleanup and some fine-tuning of the home. So I was concerned about that."

Carmichael organized his team and got the shelter ready to open two weeks ago, and then prepared his own home. 

"Fortunately, my daughter and I, the Wednesday night before the storm, did 300 sandbags around our house, and she's a real trouper," Carmichael said. "She's 12 years old."

The sandbags made a difference. But the big deal to Carmichael is the people he helped protect.

"You just simply go back to what's important, you know. Is it a house? For the flower pot that we lost? The tile work and wood work that was lost -- or your children and your family in the community? And that's what's most important," he said. "I think sometimes these hurricanes are a reminder to us, God's way of reminding us, (what) is important."

But he said he's been reminded enough after two hurricanes in a less than a year.

"I think so. I think I'm ready to run a blizzard shelter," Carmichael said.

Carmichael pointed to the staff across the school district pitching in and serving the community while he ran the shelter at his school. 

Dr. DeArmas Graham -- the principal at St. Augustine High School, which is Pedro Menendez's rival -- even helped out. 

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