Thursday, July 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Weather

Scenes from a nervous Southwest Florida

MARCO ISLAND — On a typical Saturday morning, Collier Boulevard, one of the main roads out to the beach, is so busy that Bill and Gena Sullivan can't even back out of their driveway.

But ahead of Hurricane Irma, the island is deserted, silent save for the swaying palms and speakers on police SUVs warning anyone still there: EVACUATE.

The Sullivans, married for 40 years, were among the few holdouts. They finished taking in everything from their lanai and prepared to leave Saturday afternoon if the forecast got worse.

Their home, Bill said, is about 11 feet above sea level. Their main concern was the storm surge, not the wind.

"If it's anything below 9 feet, we're staying," Bill said.

"We're from Chicago," said Gena, noticeably more nervous. "We're just two city kids who don't know what the hell they're doing."

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ESTERO

They didn't have much else, so they taped their windows, stuffed cardboard behind the glass and pieced together spare boards to block their doors.

The people who live in Covered Wagon Trailer Park say they are trying to get their lives back on track, but now Hurricane Irma is splintering those plans.

"I already know there's going to be nothing left when I get back," said Holly Doney, 42. She shoved clothes and pictures into her white sedan, but left behind all the furniture in the trailer she rents for $700 a month.

"I'm not usually scared of hurricanes," Doney said. "But this one? It's not nice."

A neighbor, Jose Diaz, ripped apart an old television, using the particle board from the console to block out the windows on his trailer.

"A lot of people out here don't have that much, so they work with what they have," said his fiancee, Angie Gonzalez.

Irma looks bad, said Diaz, 34, but he remembered growing up in a gang in Miami before moving away to set his life right.

"I lived in Liberty City, man," Diaz said. "After that? We're good."

PunTA GORDA

First Sgt. Dennis Godfrey said his mentality ahead of Hurricane Irma was similar to his mindset in the Middle East.

"I was in Iraq and Afghanistan and there, they tell you to go, so you go and do it," said Godfrey, 36, of Orlando. "You can't attach emotion to it, because otherwise I'd be at home with my wife and family."

Godfrey's Pinellas Park-based team of Florida Army National Guardsmen is assigned to staff and support evacuation shelters in Charlotte County. They left Pinellas County at 8:30 a.m. Saturday in a pair of humvees outfitted with gas cans, M&Ms and military meals ready to eat.

It's not the first time the team has been tasked with shelter work ahead of a hurricane. They assisted the American Red Cross passing out water last summer when Hurricane Matthew settled off Florida's east coast.

It's that experience, and a lifetime in Florida, that has Specialist Dilan Hobbs, 23, of Dover unfazed.

"Growing up in Florida, a hurricane's a hurricane," he said.

Naples

Don Wingard stood on the wooden ramp to Naples Beach and looked at the waves.

A little after noon, the surf was still tame.

But Hurricane Irma's path was growing more certain by the hour. Naples was in it, potentially the first major city in Florida's southwest coast to feel the effects. Wingard planned to ride it out in a hotel further inland than his house near the beach.

"Everybody thinks it's going to hit everywhere," he said. "Just think how many millions of people have been scared in the last week."

The owner of three homes, Wingard said he has been through hurricanes before, but Irma is huge and projections say it could linger for a frightening amount of time.

"I've never been through a hurricane for 24 hours," he said.

Comments
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