Advertisement

Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at tampabay.com/coronavirus. Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

Shelters fill with impatient refugees

The snowbirds couldn't catch a break.

Barely three weeks after Frances turned the Lakeside Mobile Manor in Brooksville into a wading pool, damaging Marilyn Money's recreational vehicle, she and her husband drove more than 1,000 miles from Kokomo, Ind., to repair it Friday.

They figured Jeanne would hold up long enough for them to fix the RV before winter. They brought two of Lakeside Manor neighbors, who live most of the year in Columbus, Ohio, along to speed up the process.

Instead, they found themselves cooped up inside the Hernando High School shelter for their first hurricane.

"I guess we're lucky we have somewhere to go," said Marilyn Money, 71. "This is a new experience. It is just part of life, another adventure."

For full time Hernando County residents, seeking refuge in a shelter has been anything but a new experience.

Public school facilities were turned into shelters at 2 p.m. Saturday, as officials ordered a full evacuation of all mobile and manufactured homes, and coastal communities in preparation for a significant storm surge and powerful winds.

About 1,450 people went to the shelters at Moton Elementary, Hernando High, West Hernando Middle (special needs) and Nature Coast Technical High, according to county community relations coordinator Brenda Frazier. A few hundred more evacuees sought refuge in churches, such as the Brooksville Assembly of God.

The relatively small number of evacuees at some of the shelters suggested that many ignored the warnings to leave _ about 250 mobile home residents chose to stay put at Cloverleaf Farms.

Others made alternate plans _ local hotels reported being booked full.

"I think a lot of people made other arrangements, which is what we wanted them to do," Frazier said.

The Hernando High shelter was almost full as some mobile home residents who did not evacuate for Frances chose to do so for Jeanne.

At 10:43 a.m. Sunday, as sustained winds of 75 mph whipped flagpoles and turned trees in the student parking area into winds socks, the lights dimmed inside Hernando High's gymnasium. The evacuees didn't seem to notice as they reclined on queen-sized inflatable beds and watched television.

"I bet 50 percent or so were here during Frances," said Tom Jones, a Red Cross volunteer who is also a member of the Hernando County Emergency Response Team, or CERT.

After a record-setting four hurricanes striking Florida over the past six weeks, Jones said that the frustrations of shelter life have already set in.

"Some people would like more light or less," he said. "Some people say the air-conditioning is too cold and want it warmer. Others complain about it being too hot. What's here is what you get."

About 19 veterans to shelter dwelling sat on folding chairs outside the gym's entrance. For now this would have to do, they said, especially since the dry refuge along the curb was the only place to grab a smoke.

Inside the atrium, Katherine Tucker, 74, finished a cellular phone call with her son.

"He said I must be crazy to be in Florida right now," Tucker said. "He said, "Mom, you are nutty.' Well, we are not used to hurricanes. Tornadoes, yes, but no hurricanes. I wonder what is worse?"

Tucker and her husband had tagged along with their friends as a neighborly gesture. "They were going to put us to work," she joked.

But when the Moneys deserted them for the confines of Hernando High on Saturday, the Tuckers decided to sleep in their pickup truck. By Sunday morning when the storm intensified, they joined their friends at the shelter.

"I would rather not be here," Tucker said.

Nevertheless, both Tucker and Money said they spent the "experience" watching the weather advisories, their lounging husbands or just standing around. They did not come prepared with air mattresses, so they have not gotten much sleep.

"That floor is hard," Tucker said.

They planned to start their drive back to more drier places once Jeanne passed and the roads were clear. Staring out of the window, there was no way of telling. The uncertainty, though, inspired levity.

"We are headed whatever route is driest going north," Money said.

While the work on Money's recreational vehicle will have to wait, both couples still plan on returning to Hernando to avoid the Midwest's winter doldrums.

"We will be here in November," said Tucker, "only if you don't have any hurricanes."

Duane Bourne can be reached at (352) 754-6114 or dbournesptimes.com.

EMERGENCY PHONE NUMBERS

HERNANDO COUNTY EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT PUBLIC INFORMATION CENTER: 754-4083 or visit the Hernando County Emergency Management Web site at www.co.hernando.fl.us/em. For recorded updates by phone, call 754-4111.

RED CROSS HERNANDO CHAPTER: 799-3237

SHERIFF'S OFFICE: 754-6830

FIRE RESCUE DISPATCH: 688-5045

FEMA DISASTER ASSISTANCE TELEREGISTRATION: 1-800-462-9029

Tune to cable Channel 19 for live updates from the Emergency Operations Center and other useful information on evacuation and shelters. Do not call 911 for hurricane information. The 911 line is reserved for life-threatening emergencies only.

BROOKSVILLE: Debra Bennett of Spring Hill, who moved to the area from Michigan last year, waits out Jeanne on Sunday morning at the Nature Coast Technical High School shelter. "The Michigan snow is looking better all the time," said Bennett, who is on her third stay at the shelter. The shelter was filled with more than 600 people who slept on the gymnasium floor and along the hallways.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Advertisement
Advertisement