Former East Rockaway resident Tina Ohman choked up as she talked about evacuating her Palm Bay, Fla., home last week in anticipation of Hurricane Irma.
“There’s nothing worse than knowing you’re scaring your poor mother, who’s 1,200 miles away,” Ohman said, fighting back tears. Her mother, Pat Ohman, still lives on Long Island, and constantly called to check on Tina last week, she said.
Ohman evacuated to a hotel in Georgia last weekend, after boarding up her house with aluminum panels. She said she learned from Hurricanes Francis and Gene, in 2004, that she should leave during a severe storm. She recalled losing power for nearly two weeks during Francis, and waiting out the storm in her bedroom closet. Gene hit two weeks later, she said, and caused power outages and gas shortages. “It was like we were a third-world country,” she said.
Irma hit Cuba on Sept. 8 and killed 26 people in the Caribbean before heading toward Florida, according to CNN. The storm reached the Sunshine State on Sunday as a Category 4 hurricane and battered the Keys and Naples, while causing flooding in many areas. It was downgraded to a tropical storm on Monday, but winds still gusted up to 70 mph. As of press time, Irma killed at least 11 people across five states, and left 6.7 million people without power, according to ABC News.
Ohman said her neighbors, who remained in Palm Bay, told her that a tornado had touched down near her house and office on Sunday, but she had not heard news about the extent of the damage. In an interview with the Herald before she left her home as the storm approached, she emphasized how vital it is to heed evacuation warnings. “It’s so important to pay attention to those reports and what’s going on,” she said. “[I’m going to] say goodbye to my house when I leave and hope it’s still there when I come back.”
Lorey Tinti, who lived in Lynbrook for more than two decades before moving to the Tampa area, described her anxiety leading up to Irma. “After everything that happened in Texas, everyone’s panicking,” Tinti said last week as Irma churned toward Florida, referring to the damage Hurricane Harvey caused in the Houston area. “This one scares me.”
Though she anticipated a bad storm, Tinti said she was going to stay at home with her son, Nicholas, who had come to visit her from Jacksonville. Reached on Monday via social media, she said that the next time she is warned about a storm, she will evacuate.
“The sound of the wind and thoughts of unknown potential damage created anxiety-filled hours of anticipation,” Tinti wrote on Facebook. “We sat in the living room listening to noises and waiting for peace. [There were] wind gusts that were so strong we felt them, things hitting the house and not knowing if something was about to come flying through a window or crash through the roof. It was torture.”
She said that her house wasn’t heavily damaged, but she lost power. She added that lines for coffee were out the door at the only gas station with power near her home on Monday.
Two days before the storm hit, she said, stores were already running out of basic necessities, and gas station lines were 50 cars long. She added that schools were transformed into shelters, and highway tolls were suspended across the state so residents in flood zones could seek shelter.
Tinti said that the Salvation Army was providing people with food and water, and requested that everyone work together to help those in need. “If you have family down here, open your doors and open your hearts,” she said.
Rhonda Glickman, of Lynbrook, the Herald’s vice president of sales, said that some of her family members had to evacuate Florida. She noted that her father, Mike Aronson, remained at the Veranda Club, an assisted living home in Boca Raton.
“My father is 90,” Glickman said. “My dad said that the Veranda Club called a meeting and met with all the residents. … It’s a very anxiety-driven situation and it’s tough.”
While many Floridians evacuated last week, Tom Jordan, a 1973 Lynbrook High School graduate, was busily preparing to offer shelter to hundreds of people. Jordan lives in Boca Raton and manages the Del Ray Dunes Golf and Country Club in Boynton Beach. There is a generator at the club, which is within a gated community, he said, and club officials intended to provide meals to those affected by the storm if they lost power. “It’s like having a family of 400,” Jordan said.
Jordan put hurricane panels up on his home and at the club, and stocked up on nonperishable foods. He said he is always prepared for hurricane season because he managed the Inwood Country Club during Hurricane Gloria in 1985, and has seen a number of storms since moving to Florida in 1992.
Though he and his neighbors were bracing for the worst, Jordan said Monday that they never lost power, and were better off than many others.
“The wind and rain bands were rough for about 16 hours here on the East Coast,” Jordan said. “[But] the gated community my club is in never lost power. We have about 100 trees down on the golf course, but that’s no problem. We’ll open the course on Wednesday. … We got very lucky.”