To put it bluntly: We got lucky.
Hurricane Ian slammed into southwest Florida this past week. Early projections had it coming ashore north of us and then Tampa Bay was in its cross-hairs before it finally came ashore in the Ft. Myers / Naples area.
As you look at the devastation to our south, keep in mind that those pictures could well have been of West Pasco, if the storm hadn’t shifted south.
Ian was strong enough that little would have been left west of US 19. 150 mph winds would have turned my home and thousands of others into splinters. Our downtown would have been flooded by the storm surge.
My wife and I live in a Level A evacuation zone, only a couple of miles from the Gulf of Mexico. It was placed under a mandatory evacuation order.
As the city council was conducting the second budget meeting last Monday evening, my wife was looking at possible places for us to ride out the storm. During Irma, we went to my mom’s place east of Little Road. She passed away in early 2020, so that was not an option this time.
Our first choice was my in-law’s place in Palatka. Carolyn saw a report that widespread flooding in the St. Johns River basin was expected. Scratch that option.
We thought briefly about heading for the east coast, south of Cape Canaveral. As the projected storm track moved closer to Tampa Bay, the odds of the storm rolling through the Cape became more likely, so we scratched that idea.
My cousin Suzanne lives in Macon, Georgia. She posted a note offering shelter to any family members who needed a place to ride the storm out. We took her up on the offer.
The first thing Tuesday, we packed up some clothes and our cat and headed for Macon. Given the fact that hundreds of thousands of other folks would likely hit the Interstate, we headed north on the Suncoast Parkway and picked up US 19 again in Crystal River. We stopped to charge the car and grab lunch in Live Oak. We made Macon mid afternoon.
I stayed in contact with our city manager. She is normally responsible for the day to day operations of the city and that doesn’t change during an emergency. She kept me posted as things developed.
Our city staff did an amazing job. Our public works, police, and fire department employees all went well above and beyond to keep our city safe during and after the storm. Even our parks and recreation and other staff pitched in to clean up after the danger had passed.
I did a live interview with John Dickerson of CBS News Tuesday night, encouraging anyone who was still in an evacuation zone to head to higher ground.
My cousin is a professor at Wesleyan College. She asked if I’d be willing to talk to her class Thursday afternoon about what it is like to be a mayor and what drove me to run for the position in the first place. Naturally, I couldn’t say no. The class was great and I had a fun time talking to them and fielding their questions.
This was my first time on the Wesleyan campus. A woman I knew had gone to school there and a man I also knew used to hitchhike the nearly 500 miles from his college in Lakeland, Florida to visit her. They married and raised a family, but that is a story for another time.
We retraced our route Friday, stopping for breakfast in Warner Robbins and lunch again in Live Oak.
As much as we enjoy spending time with my cousin, I hope our next visit doesn’t involve a hurricane evacuation. Suzanne and her writing group are planning a visit next spring to stay in a certain Pink Hotel that they recently read about in Travel and Leisure. We’ll be sure to offer them the same warm welcome we got this past week.
There are several take-aways from the past week:
If a hurricane threatens our area and you are in a mandatory or recommended evacuation zone, head to higher ground and stay somewhere safe. This should preferably be with family or friends and NOT at a public shelter. Stuff can be replaced. Your lives are the most important thing. Do NOT try to ride out a storm in an evacuation zone. Storms like Ian get stronger fast and you may find yourself stranded if you wait too long.
Prepare your hurricane kits and storm supplies early. Don’t wait until the weekend before to go hunting for emergency supplies. Be prepared for the potential that you may not have power for a while afterwards.
Fill up your gas tank and keep it close to full for the duration of hurricane season. You don’t want to have to sit in long lines looking for gas a day or two before the storm is slated to hit. If you have an EV, keep the battery at the recommended charge and charge the rest of the way up to 100% the night before you expect to leave.
If you can, stay off I-4 and I-75 when leaving the area. They can be a mess during normal times and thousands fleeing a storm only makes things worse.
I’m pleased that we had so little damage here from Ian, but the hurricane season isn’t over and there is another system headed into the Caribbean in a week or so. Stay vigilant.
Rob Marlowe, Mayor