'Like a war zone': Mainers in Florida await Irma

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Hurricane Irma, roaring at full strength toward the U.S. on Thursday, presents a nightmare scenario. For former and current Mainers now in Florida, it’s a nightmare with few options available for escape.

“As the storm gets closer, the anxiety level seems to be rising for everyone,” said Amanda J. Dunham, who grew up near Bethel before moving to Central Florida in 2012.

“Store shelves are emptying out,” Dunham said. “I waited in line for a 2.5-gallon jug of water at Wal-Mart yesterday for about 30 minutes. Lines are getting long for gas; no shortage in my area yet. Propane is selling out.”

For Floridians, the scene was becoming more dramatic by the hour as predictions call for the historic and powerful storm to make landfall this weekend.

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“This is our first big storm,” said Dundee Pratt, from Norway and living in Sebring since 2013. “We’ve had a couple tropical storms that were a little scary, but nothing like what they are predicting for Saturday night, Sunday and Monday.”

Like others, this week found Pratt scrambling for the most basic items, including water and gas.

“It’s incredibly hard to get gas,” said Pratt, who works at a hospital. “There were six or seven stations near me today that had absolutely no gas at all.”

Pratt, in Sebring with her boyfriend, had no luck getting her hands on bottled water, either — until Thursday afternoon when she walked into a store just as they were receiving several fresh cases of it.

“At first I said, ‘How much is it,?'” Pratt recalled. “Then I said, ‘That’s the stupidest question I’ve ever asked. I’ll take two.'”

Heather White, formerly of Norway, got married July 15 and moved to Florida a few days later with her husband and mother.

The family had a few months of calm and Florida sun, but over the past week, it has been all about Irma.

“We are in Sebastian on the east coast currently right in the predicted path of Irma,” White said Thursday. “We are hoping for a miracle but are taking every precaution we can. We’ve been here only six weeks!”

Just days ahead of Irma’s arrival, White and her family were working to secure their home.

“Right now we are making our fourth trip to Home Depot,” White said Thursday afternoon, “trying to get everything we need to board up the house.”

Desiree St. Cyr and her boyfriend, Jason Jonitis, moved to Melbourne, Florida, from Dixfield a year ago. The beach community 2 miles away was evacuated Thursday, St. Cyr said, but as of Thursday night, there had been no evacuation order in the area where she and Jonitis live in an apartment complex.

St. Cyr said she was trying her best to keep her sense of humor as Irma continued to plow toward them. She was also hoping that her years of living through Maine weather had prepared them somewhat.

“I survived the ice storm of ’98,” she said Thursday night. “I’ll survive this.”

St. Cyr, a social worker, said area shelters were expected to be open Friday for those forced to flee their homes. She hopes it doesn’t come to that.

“I have two cats and a dog I refuse to leave,” she said. “We’d have to find an animal-friendly shelter.”

While watching for news of Irma’s latest movements, St. Cyr said she and her boyfriend had made as many preparations as they could.

“We’ve got our water jugs, our food, our animal food, our prescriptions,” she said. “We’ve done everything we can afford to do. We have backpacks ready in case we need to high-tail it. I don’t know where we’ll be going, but we’ll go if we have to.

Christopher Leiva, formerly of Auburn, was heading inland, fully aware that no part of Florida will be completely safe if the storm stays on its predicted track.

“I’m preparing for a direct hit here in Hollywood, Florida, just south of Fort Lauderdale,” Leiva said. “It’s going to be bad. My windows are boarded up and I’m packing up my pets and going to my mom’s (place) 8 miles inland where it will be safer from the storm surge. They are estimating the storm surge is going to be between 5 and 10 feet.”

Joyce Williams was in Port Orange on Thursday with her husband, seven cats and two dogs. She described a desperate scene.

“We are on the central east coast,” Williams said, “in an old trailer and no generator. Can’t leave, the highways are so jammed. There’s no way out … Things wiped out in stores everywhere. Water, bread, batteries, candles, among many other items. If you’re lucky enough to find a generator, it’s about a grand … Many, many hurdles here.”

By late Thursday afternoon, Irma was three times as wide as the entire state of Florida and it was still considered a Category 5 hurricane — the highest category —as it moved toward the U.S.

For Mainers newly arrived in Florida, the coming storm was like nothing they’d experienced before.

“We’re in Palm Coast (east coast north of Daytona), just moved here beginning of August from Lewiston,” wrote Tanya Townsend Lippke. “We’re prepared for a week-ish without power — from what we’ve been told. Got our hurricane shutters up and prepared to ride it out with the twins and their grandparents. The wind seems to be the most concerning here. All stocked and plan on lots of corn-hole games in the house.”

“It’s like a war zone here,” said Robin Carr, formerly of Wiscasset. “Gas lines are two-plus hours (away) if you can find it. Grocery stores are wiped out. It’s just awful and the worst is yet to come.”

Tianna Audet was in Tampa pursuing a master’s degree in social work after moving there from Auburn. Like others, she described a frantic scene full of fear and uncertainty.

“This is the first time I have ever been in a hurricane and of course, it has to be a hurricane as big as Irma. I can survive a blizzard, even the ice storm of ’98. But this? This is by far the scariest thing I have ever seen.”

Audet on Thursday described desperate attempts to get prepared for the coming storm.

“Living in such a big city as Tampa, one would assume there is plentiful amount of resources for the community; this isn’t the case,” she said. “Almost all gas stations are completely out of gas, there is no bottled water in sight, and people are traveling hours to find it. I attempted to travel north up I-75 yesterday, but because everyone is trying to evacuate the state, the traffic was at a standstill and I had to turn around. I also had to travel 40 minutes out of Tampa to get gas for my car. There are RVs and U-Hauls everywhere, mainly filling up the rest stops because families are packing all their belongings in them.

Several others weighed in on social media as they awaited the storm that meteorologists say may bring record-breaking winds and cause unprecedented destruction.

Shelly Brewer, formerly of Lewiston:

“We are in Jacksonville and going to be heading out. I’ve been here four months and this is all new for me.”

Sarah Serle, formerly of Auburn:

“Originally I’m from Auburn and moved to Daytona Beach about five years ago. Funny story, I bought and moved into my new home two weeks ago and my parents are now stuck as well, as they flew down to help us with the move.”

Briana Berry, from Dixfield:

“We live in Florida. however we are currently evacuating and on our way to Maine. My brother’s wedding is in a few weeks and we decided to take the trip early.”

Rebecca Brackett Bradstreet, formerly of Rangeley:

“We are in Sebring and cannot leave, no gas anywhere. I have a house in Wales, Maine but grew up in the best town in Maine which is Rangeley. I think I would have a snowstorm over this, please keep us all in your prayers.”

 

Near-empty store shelves are seen Thursday at a Wal-Mart in Clermont, Florida.

At a Super Target in Palm Coast, Florida, on Thursday, shelves were stripped bare of bottled water, bread and canned food.

The Port Orange home of Joyce Williams, formerly of Lewiston, where she and her husband are bracing for the arrival of Hurricane Irma.

Near-empty store shelves are seen Thursday at a Wal-Mart in Clermont, Florida.

Bare shelves are seen at a store in Port Orange, Florida, on Thursday.

Desiree St. Cyr stands near the beach in Melbourne, Florida, on Thursday night.

The home of Heather White, formerly of Norway, Maine, in Sebastian, Florida, is in the process of being boarded up in preparation for Hurricane Irma.

A familiar scene this week in and around Palm Coast, Florida. This photo was taken on Tuesday. “Some gas stations had already run out of gas as well as bottled water,” said Brian Hodges, a former Mainer now living in Florida. 

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