Wednesday, October 17, 2018
Tampa Bay Hurricane Guide

Hurricane 2018: Evacuating? Drive tens of miles — not hundreds

ST. PETERSBURG — The three-car caravan stalled in traffic as thousands of cars crawled northward along Florida’s roads while Hurricane Irma closed in on the state.

While I stayed and reported about the biggest storm to hit Tampa Bay in years, six of my friends and their collective four dogs and six cats decided the Friday before Hurricane Irma struck to board up their homes and drive north.

HURRICANE GUIDE: Emergency information, tracking map and storm resources

None of them lived in an evacuation zone, but all of them felt the pressure to leave Tampa Bay. A combination of concern for their pets, pleas from out-of-state family members and the predictions of a direct hit motivated them get on the road that night. At 8 p.m., they joined the exodus.

Experts and emergency management officials often tell those who must evacuate to drive tens of miles, not hundreds. If people don’t live in an evacuation zone, they’re encouraged to shelter in place instead of risking a road trip and adding to already dangerous levels of traffic.

2018 TAMPA BAY TIMES HURRICANE GUIDE: LESSONS FROM IRMA

CHARLIE FRAGO: How to (barely) survive a week without power

COLLEEN WRIGHT: I took shelter from Irma. Here’s what I learned.

WAVENEY ANN MOORE: How I took care of my mother during Irma

MOLLY MOORHEAD: How to hunker down when you’re not evacuating

CAITLIN JOHNSTON: Evacuating? Drive tens of miles — not hundreds

This caravan of friends set their sights set as far from Tampa Bay as they could get, with one car heading to Marianna in the panhandle and the other two to Alabama.

"This was a big, ole hurricane, a Category 5, barreling down and coming straight toward us," said St. Petersburg resident Keeley Sheehan, 31. "We decided to just hedge our bets a little and go."

What should have been a 5-hour drive to the panhandle turned into a 13-hour ordeal. The two cars going to Alabama didn’t reach their destinations until about 3 p.m. Saturday, approximately 19 hours after they left.

The group hit two major traffic jams that each tied them up for about two hours, said Dan Goonin, 33. They stopped a couple times to stretch their legs and take care of their pets. His wife, Natalia Galbetti, recalled one particularly harrowing bathroom line that stretched outside and wrapped around the building. She waited an hour and a half. Others, too impatient or unable to wait, instead relieved themselves in a field.

DOWNLOAD: Get the tbo Weather App and see where storms are headed

ALERTS: The latest advisories from the National Weather Service

LIVE RADAR: Interactive storm track, hourly outlooks, 10-day forecasts and weather alerts

They drove through the night, keeping in contact using the radio app Zello that became popular during the storm. And then, when their gas tanks started to get low and none of the stations they passed seemed to have any gas, the group decided to join the throngs of cars in Perry desperate to fuel up at one of the few stations with working pumps. The line crept forward slowly, under the guidance of local law enforcement. It would take two hours before they reached the pumps.

"It felt like the apocalypse," said Josie Caglianone, 27, of St. Petersburg. "There’s this mass of people and you’re all crawling along the road with limited gasoline and resources, not knowing if you were going to make it where you wanted to go. That sense of dread is all encompassing."

• • •

Stories like these were all too common among evacuees, many of whom, like Caglianone and her friends, didn’t live in evacuation zones.

"There’s a high risk for the people who really need to get out of these storm surge zones and might not be able to be, because people who don’t need to evacuate are clogging up the roadways," said Preston Cook, emergency management director for Hillsborough County. "It’s not always a given that you’re going to be safe. When you’re out on the road, that in itself is more dangerous than if you’re in a safe home."

2018 TIMES HURRICANE GUIDE: GET READY FOR STORM SEASON

Forecasters predict an active Atlantic storm season

Heed Irma’s lessons to protect your stuff

Gear up to gut it out. Prepare your kit now.

Don’t wait for the storm to protect your pets

Cook said people could have their homes inspected to see what kind of wind speeds it can sustain. If it’s safe to stay, then they’ll need to collect the necessary supplies to shelter in place.

• But those who do live in evacuation zones should heed evacuation orders, Cook said, they just shouldn’t try to drive hundreds of miles to reach safety.

• They should prepare well in advance by checking their evacuation zones, then come up with a plan if they have to leave — before the stress of an impending storm is looming.

Caglianone said she can’t imagine ever trying to drive that far again during an evacuation.

Goonin, however, stood by his decision, saying it was the best call for him and their pets. Irma taught him some important lessons, though, such as leaving earlier to avoid the gridlock and to gather supplies and board up windows ahead of time.

"There’s no question, it was the right decision for us to leave," Goonin said. "I think experts are looking at these big picture statistics, where every person’s situation is just so much different."

Contact Caitlin Johnston at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.

Comments
Michael’s most vulnerable evacuees make Pasco shelter their new home

Michael’s most vulnerable evacuees make Pasco shelter their new home

HUDSON — Linda Wood lay on a metal cot, closed her eyes and tried to get some sleep Monday night. Pictures of her Panama City apartment some 300 miles away kept flashing through her mind. The nearly blind 71-year-old envisioned her chocolate-c...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Niece spots ‘HELP’ while inspecting photo for hurricane damage, calls for family rescue

Niece spots ‘HELP’ while inspecting photo for hurricane damage, calls for family rescue

Amber Gee had evacuated from her home in Callaway, a town of about 15,000 in the Florida Panhandle with her two children last week and she assumed her relatives who lived northeast of her had done the same.They hadn’t.Gee learned that they were in di...
Published: 10/16/18
FCC says Hurricane Michael victims in Florida deserve a month of free cell service

FCC says Hurricane Michael victims in Florida deserve a month of free cell service

The Federal Communications Commission slammed the nation’s wireless carriers Tuesday for failing to quickly restore service to Hurricane Michael victims - and demanded that the companies compensate Florida residents with a month of free cellular serv...
Published: 10/16/18
Hurricane Michael: From atop bridges, those inside the destruction talk to the world

Hurricane Michael: From atop bridges, those inside the destruction talk to the world

PORT ST. JOE — Bridges span voids. Traditionally, the gaps are physical barriers, be it rivers, railroads or ravines.After Hurricane Michael, the bridges near Mexico Beach have become portals of sorts, the only place where communication is possible w...
Published: 10/15/18
Updated: 10/16/18
Hurricane Michael: From Texas to Florida, with barbecue love

Hurricane Michael: From Texas to Florida, with barbecue love

BLOUNTSTOWN — The idea of his hometown going hungry after Hurricane Michael was too much for Kyle Dalton to bear.So he did what anyone would do — he packed $5,000 in food, drove two smokers from Texas and gave everything away for free to the resident...
Published: 10/13/18
Updated: 10/14/18
Hurricane Michael: Mexico Beach locals banding together to survive

Hurricane Michael: Mexico Beach locals banding together to survive

MEXICO BEACH — Robert Baker Jr. shoved his paralyzed father onto a queen-sized mattress as water rushed into his childhood home.He floated to the ceiling, with his mother and wife, until their faces were the only parts of them above the water. The su...
Published: 10/13/18
Hurricane Michael: When search and rescue leads to no findings, no relief

Hurricane Michael: When search and rescue leads to no findings, no relief

MEXICO BEACH — It’s difficult to draw conclusions when Rit doesn’t find anything.The yellow lab, trained to find living people under rubble, was active Friday with his handler and team on what used to be a plot of homes half a block inland from the G...
Published: 10/13/18
Leslie weakens from hurricane as it nears Portugal, Spain

Leslie weakens from hurricane as it nears Portugal, Spain

LISBON, Portugal — Hurricane Leslie weakened slightly into a post-tropical cyclone late Saturday as it closed in on Portugal and Spain, bringing heavy rain, high winds and dangerous surf to western parts of the Iberian Peninsula.Portugal’s weather se...
Published: 10/13/18
Romano: Why is Florida risking future hurricane misery?

Romano: Why is Florida risking future hurricane misery?

No one should know better than Florida, right?When it comes to storms, we’ve got the best experience misery can buy.We’ve been hit by major hurricanes in the Southeast (Andrew) and the Southwest (Charley). We’ve had hurricanes slowly creep south to n...
Published: 10/13/18
Hurricane Michael: Life at the end of the road on Alligator Point

Hurricane Michael: Life at the end of the road on Alligator Point

ALLIGATOR POINT — Wearing a bright yellow volunteer firefighter T-shirt and a weary smile, Corinna McEwen trudged past a group of Florida National Guard soldiers.They were sent Friday to help clear Alligator Drive, the road leading to her beachfront ...
Published: 10/12/18