This past Sunday, a group of Jeep enthusiasts came to the aid of Panama City, Florida couple Dereck and Andrea Clifton, whose prized possessions were left scattered inside their upside down house. The Cilftons home had been knocked onto its roof three weeks ago by Hurricane Michael ’s brutal 150 mph winds. The Jeep club’s members hooked their winches to the Cliftons’ house, and pulled. And pulled. And pulled. The resulting video is remarkable.
As Hurricane Michael barreled toward their home, the Cliftons evacuated to Mississippi, leaving many of their belongings behind. When they returned to Panama City, they found their home flipped on its roof, leaving them with the task of having to pay someone to set it back upright. That was, until a member of the Bay Area Jeep Association, or BAJA, learned about the Cliftons’ problem, talked with his club about it, and came up with this brilliant solution:
In the video, you can see roughly a dozen Jeep CJs and Wranglers using their bumper-mounted winches to yank straps looped around the home’s frame. Slowly but surely, the Jeeps work together to bring the trailer upright in an operation that only took about eight minutes.
“I had been searching for companies to flip it back over,” Dereck told me, saying he was focused on retrieving irreplaceable sentimental items like pictures and family heirlooms, and also preparing the house to be removed from the property so he could rebuild. He estimated the total cost of flipping and then removing the house would have been $12,000.
Dereck had mentioned his dilemma to a friend, who reached out to his fellow BAJA Jeep club members asking if anyone wanted to attempt to winch the house back onto its foundation. He shared with the club this photo that Dereck had posted to Facebook:
The response was swift. Roughly 30 people showed up last weekend in over a dozen Jeeps, the club’s president Johnathan Jones told me over the phone. The former police deputy sheriff said he and a number of other members in the organization had been working for weeks to help people affected by the hurricane. They had even set up shop inside a warehouse offered up by one of the members’ employers, using the location to coordinate operations to use their Jeeps to bring people food, water, toiletries, clothes, and other supplies.
“We all put our efforts into helping the community right away,” he told me, saying some members have been winching trees from roads and driveways, and some have been housing other members who have lost their homes. Among people in the latter group is Johnathan himself and about a dozen other members; they lost their own abodes in the storm, but they’re still out there helping out. “We believe [that] Jeep life is that you help each other, you have a value system,” he told me.
Johnathan told me that as soon as the team heard about Dereck’s mobile home, they “all jumped on board immediately.” They did a safety brief, and then about a dozen Jeeps lined up, and started pulling. It actually went quite smoothly. “I’ll tell you, with all the combined pulling power of all the 10 or 12 jeeps, it pulled really easy,” Johnathan told me. “I was super impressed with our capabilities.”
Johnathan says the success of that endeavor meant a lot to him and the club, which had seen lots of devastation over the prior weeks. “For us to be able to have a successful even like that...It was just a big relief for all of us to have a good moment in so much devastation,” he told me.
But nobody appreciated the moment more than Dereck. “I will always be grateful for the BAJA,” he told me. “They hold a place in my heart now. It was emotional.”
“I ain’t gonna lie, I lost it when it hit the ground. Because I knew then I was getting my stuff out.”
It wasn’t all great for him, as he and his wife did lose quite a bit in the storm, including their marriage license and family pictures. On the bright side, they did get approved for a new house, which they may have erected in as little as three weeks. Dereck paid $2,500 to have his old house removed after the Jeep club stuck around from 10 a.m. late into the night helping him move things to his storage shed, and just hanging out over a meal.
“When they came together they said they didn’t want a dime from me, they were doing it out of the kindness of their heart,” he said. “They knew the risk they were taking, but they done it. And they succeeded with it.”
The experience left Dereck wanting a Jeep. “Me losing everything I’ve got, I can’t afford a Jeep. But I do want one,” he said. “That right there is brotherhood together. That’s a big family.”
Dereck and his wife are staying in motels for now, and they’re not entirely sure what they’re going to do next. In my initial call with Dereck, he seemed adamant about getting his new house erected, and cleaning the place up. “I’m not letting Michel break me,” he declared. “This storm ain’t’ gonna stop me from rebuilding.” But now he says he and his wife are considering moving back to his home state of Tennessee, because of just how much devastation there is in his area.
“It looks like a nuclear bomb got dropped over there.” he told me. “Everything is destroyed. There’s more laying on the ground than there is standing.”