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Hurricane Irma traffic: They tried to flee, but had to go back home

Cars sit in traffic as they evacuate heading North on Overseas Highway in the Florida Keys on Septeber 5, 2017 in Islamorada, Florida. Residents are evacuating ahead of Hurricane Irma, a powerful storm expected to make landfall this weekend. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
Cars sit in traffic as they evacuate heading North on Overseas Highway in the Florida Keys on Septeber 5, 2017 in Islamorada, Florida. Residents are evacuating ahead of Hurricane Irma, a powerful storm expected to make landfall this weekend. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
Published Sep. 8, 2017

SEMINOLE — Angie Bunch, 79, thought she and her husband Rob were doing the right thing when they hit the road Wednesday at 12:15 p.m. and headed north to Valdosta, hoping of dodging Hurricane Irma.

LIVE BLOG: The latest on Hurricane Irma

They never expected traffic to be so bad that it would force them to turn around and drive back to their two-story Seminole home on a bayou.

Getting to Tampa wasn't too bad. But things slowed down quickly once they hit Interstate 75. By the time they reached Busnell, everything was backed up.

"We couldn't even get to Ocala," Angie Bunch said. "We were at a standstill. We looked at each other and said, 'There's no way we're making it to Georgia. No way.'"

After five hours on the road, the couple had only managed to travel 90 miles. The return trip took an hour and 15 minutes.

HURRICANE IRMA: Pinellas orders mandatory evacuations for mobile home, Level A residents

LOCAL EVACUATIONS: What you need to know

They weren't not alone trying to get out of the way of the Category 5 storm. Interstates across Florida were packed as residents in South Florida and the Florida Keys fled north.

But after Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas issued the first evacuation orders on Thursday, Bunch fears traffic can only grow more hellacious.

"I don't think the state is prepared fort this," she said. "It's very frustrating. I think we're just going to have to stay where we are."

But Bunch could still be ordered to evacuate her home, which is in Pinellas' Zone B, if the storm continues to develop.

A decision on Levels B and C residents will be made Friday night, which could mean 500,000 residents would be ordered to evacuate their homes in the next 48 hours or so.

If that's the case, Bunch said she plans to stay within Pinellas County, likely going to her granddaughter's house in a non-evacuation zone.

"I can't handle that traffic again," Bunch said.

Contact Caitlin Johnston at cjohnston@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.

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