Preparedness & Recovery

Some South Floridians Flee Northwest Only to Have to Flee Again

In one of the biggest evacuations ever ordered in the U.S., about 5.6 million people in Florida — more than one-quarter of the state's population — were told to leave, and 540,000 were ordered to clear out from the Georgia coast.

by Tonya Alanez, Sun Sentinel / September 10, 2017
Senior Hurricane Specialist Lixion Avila, left, and Lt. Phil Manougian, a storm surge unit operations officer for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, watch radar and infrared satellite imagery depicting the eyewall of Hurricane Irma crossing the lower Florida Keys Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. AP/Andy Newman

(TNS) - Hurricane Irma looked sure to rampage across South Florida, so Penny Murray made a last-minute decision Friday to flee her Victoria Park apartment for the safety of a friend’s home in Sarasota.

Now, she sits squarely in Irma’s newest path.

“Oh my god, I’m crying. I can’t stop crying,” Murray, 69, said Saturday morning. “So we come all the way up here to be safe, and now it’s going to hit us even worse than you guys. I can’t handle this. I’m a nervous wreck.”

Murray, her bestie, nephew, three dogs and a cat now are planning to evacuate to Virginia.

Scores of others have found themselves in a similar boat, scrambling for safe haven only to find they’ve placed themselves in Irma’s cross hairs.

In one of the biggest evacuations ever ordered in the U.S., about 5.6 million people in Florida — more than one-quarter of the state's population — were told to leave, and 540,000 were ordered to clear out from the Georgia coast.

“This is a monumental effort, maybe one of the largest efforts in terms of evacuations,” said Miguel Ascarrunz, Broward’s emergency management director.

But generally, officials try to deter distant relocations, preferring that movement be reserved for people in mandatory evacuation zones.

“We prefer people to evacuate tens of miles out of the evacuation zones versus hundreds of miles,” Ascarrunz said Saturday.

Not only is there unpredictability to hurricanes that can have people fleeing directly into the ultimate path of a storm, but long-distance trips create more problems on the roads.

“You may have a medical condition on the roadways, you may run out of fuel,” Ascarrunz said. “All those types of issues create more of a problem for the evacuee and also for first responders since we would have to try to get out to them.”

See photos of Hurricane Irma's impact across South Florida.

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Others who fled Irma’s wrath found themselves making a round trip back home in under a day.

When Chandra Dio, 39, packed up and headed to Naples Friday morning with her 19-year-old niece and two cats she thought she was headed for another “hurrication” -- like last year when she fled there from the threat of Hurricane Matthew.

Instead, Dio found herself facing a possible direct hit. Within 24 hours she was on the road again, headed back to Broward County.

“I kind of laughed but my niece was terrified and crying,” Dio said. “I went through a pack of cigarettes this morning and a pot of coffee … everything that could go wrong has gone wrong, like Murphy’s Law, but what are you going to do?

“All is good. I feel much safer here,” she said from her Plantation apartment Saturday morning. “And I did get in a pool day yesterday and we had a bike ride, so there is that.”

Similarly, Jillian Evangelista, 24, of Loxahatchee, and a neighbor, scurried to Tampa Thursday night only to turn around and head back to Palm Beach County on Friday.

“We wanted to get away from the east coast and we wanted to get as far west as we could,” Evangelista said.

She initially set out for Tallahassee, but scarcity of gas and hotel rooms waylaid her in Tampa. When it became obvious that Irma was headed Tampa’s way, Evangelista said she figured “I’d rather be back where we’re from.”

All in all, she said she had no regrets. “We made it there and back unscathed and now we’re safe again.”

The race to flee Hurricane Irma became a marathon nightmare as more than a half-million people were ordered to leave South Florida on Thursday. With the storm seemingly barreling toward the tip of Florida, normally quick trips turned into daylong journeys on crowded highways amid a constant search for gasoline and lodging.

Complete storm preparation guide »

Wolfgang Pinther, 35, faced two mandatory evacuation in as many days.

He left his condo in downtown Miami Thursday afternoon to weather the storm with family in Cape Coral. But after a day at his brother’s home near the banks of the Caloosahatchee River, police drove the streets Friday, announcing through an intercom that a mandatory evacuation was in effect.

By 6 p.m., Pinther was again on the road, this time with his brother, sister-in-law and two nieces, headed for family in Orlando. And that’s where they’ll stay for now.

Pinther said he asked himself: “Should I have stayed in Miami? Did I jump the gun?”

His conclusion: “It was important to be with family no matter what. It’s just important for us all to stick together, and that’s why we came to Orlando

“You always want it to miss you, and you feel bad about saying that, because if it misses you, it’s going to hit somebody else,” Pinther said. “You just hope everybody is prepared right now.”

“I fled straight into the path,” said Laurie Woodward Garcia, 50, of Miramar.

Now in the St. Petersburg area after stops in Oldsmar and Odessa she’s headed to Springhill and there she’ll remain.

“I just don’t see how we can safely get across the state and down,” she said early Saturday afternoon.

With memories of Hurricane Andrew driving her departure from South Florida, Woodward Garcia said she fears for the less-experienced hurricane newbies where she is now.

“I don’t see a lot of shutters, I don’t see a lot of plywood on windows, I’m a little terrified about the folks up here not being prepared,” she said. “I don’t think this area understands what is about to hit them.”

David Tucker, 60, a lawyer, of Miami Shores, was feeling miffed as he traveled Interstate 75 Saturday morning on his way home to Miami Shores after spending a night in Sarasota.

“I waited until the very last minute to ensure that I knew where this hurricane was going, so we came up here yesterday afternoon with everyone else,” Tucker said. “And April Fool, April Fool, we forgot to tell you that there was an equal possibility that [Irma] would go west.”

Roseanne Perkins, 50, evacuated Fort Lauderdale with her 16-year-old dog Thursday morning to St. Petersburg. She’s done relocating, no longer willing to let Irma chase her around the state.

“I’m feeling anxious but I’m trying to remain positive,” she said. “In my opinion, this is the best place for me to be right now, because I wouldn’t get out of the state fast enough, and I honestly don’t know where I would go.”

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