With deadly Hurricane Irma bearing down on Florida, some of the Mainers who transplanted themselves to the Sunshine State are hunkering down and hoping for the best, despite mandatory evacuation orders. Others are fleeing northward. And some say they already are stranded.
“Things are getting crazy down here. Fights at gas stations for food, water. It’s just insane,” boat captain Michael Quantrell, who is originally from Camden, said.
Quantrell said he plans to ride out the fierce Category 4 hurricane on his 65-foot yacht, Mrs. Lane, in West Palm Beach with his father, Tom, a 30-year veteran of the Camden’s fire department.
“There is a lot of panic and chaos as folks who could not leave try to prepare for the certain uncertainty,” said Joanie Barton Simpson, who is originally from the Houlton area but is living in Lehigh Acres, a town east of Fort Myers.
More than three dozen Mainers contacted the Bangor Daily News from Florida about how they are preparing for the strongest hurricane on record in the Atlantic basin. At least 19 people were killed by the storm as it smashed through Caribbean islands.
“To me it’s scary, because this can actually ruin your home,” said Leah Johnson, formerly of Freeport, where her father still lives. “It can be pretty devastating with flooding and no electricity and people not having a place to live.”
Most of Florida is under a hurricane watch, with Irma’s projected to make landfall early Sunday somewhere near Miami. The mayor of Miami-Dade has ordered everyone along his city’s coastline, more than 1.2 million people, to evacuate, according to the Miami Herald.
Some people who have been ordered to evacuate, including former Bangor resident Stefanie Malvin, have decided to stay in the danger zone.
“I felt that my apartment was safer than being stuck in the horrendous traffic during the storm or in a shelter with strangers,” Malvin, who lives on Ocean Drive on South Beach, said. “I live in an old concrete art deco building next to the Clevelander club. Its survived this long. As long as I stay put I should be fine.”
Others expressed concerns about leaving only to run out of gas on the packed highways.
Former Northport residents Shannon and Benjamin Buxton and their two daughters say they have no choice but to stay put in Cape Coral, which is on the Gulf Coast about halfway between Tampa and the Everglades. Ben Buxton had foot and ankle surgery Wednesday, and the couple said they can’t afford to leave.
“Right now we’re hunkering down because we don’t have the money to evacuate,” Shannon Buxton said. “Currently, there is no water, no bread, no food in the grocery stores. We’re just making sure we’re getting what we can of gas in our vehicles, water and food.”
She said Thursday they were able to get three cases of water.
Cape Coral residents David and Dawn King, formerly from Caribou and Limestone, also said they are planning to stay — “unless they they say there is a storm surge of 25 feet,” Dawn King said.
As of Friday morning, the storm surge was projected to be 6 to 12 feet in the Florida Keys, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Irma’s winds were topping 175 mph Thursday, well above the 157 mph threshold for a Category 5 hurricane. They dropped to around 150 mph by Friday morning, making it a Category 4.
Chuck Shuman, a founding father and first international president of the Bangor-based Blue Knights International Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club, lives in a mobile home park in Largo about 10 miles from Tampa. He and his wife, Chris, spent this week packing valuables into their vehicle as they planned their escape to a hotel that is, under normal conditions, a 45-minute drive inland.
Hoss Coddens and Mary Eskew, owners of the former Hoss and Mary’s Tasty Grub in Old Orchard Beach, moved to Key West just two months ago and are worried about their brand new 30-foot food trailer, Hoss and Mary’s Grub Shack. They spent Wednesday handing out “Free grub made with love.” On Thursday they posted pictures on their Facebook page of a deserted Key West. Their message: “Feeling anxious.”
“The last week has been the most stressful of our lives,” Coddens said.
Irma spurred Biddeford resident to go to Miami to try to help. Gershon Rabinowitz and his aunt, Bertha “Ida” Rabinowitz, a former Biddeford resident who lives in Miami, are volunteering with the Greater Miami Jewish Federation and have set up a pet shelter.
“We saw a lot of people had to abandon their pets in Houston [because of Hurricane Harvey], so we’re going to hold on to pets for as many people as we can,” Gershon Rabinowitz said.
Peter Fortine, who moved to Sarasota from Lincoln just two months ago, said everyone in his region is leaving.
“I’m staying. Someone needs to help the elderly that can’t leave,” Fortine said.
Dana Littlefield, who is from Bath, is another Maine native who is staying to help. He moved south to Jacksonville, which has evacuation orders for much of the coastal community, 18 years ago for college.
“I will be staying regardless, as I am a Red Cross volunteer and may be needed for sheltering,” he said. “It’s already starting to get a bit crazy down here. [Last year’s Hurricane] Matthew was pretty intense, and this one aims to be even more massive.”
Meanwhile, Mike Quantrell, the boat captain planning to ride out the storm on his ship, said, “my vessel is 70 gross tons, so it’s gonna take a lot to flip her over. I plan on staying the entire time no matter what. Us captains who have a spine don’t leave boats in situations such as we have now.”
The former Mainer said he also has a massive battery, two generators and plenty of water.
“I hold 400 gallons in my freshwater tank, so I’ll be helping those in need after [Irma] passes,” Quantrell said “Our plan post-storm is to try and help as many people we can and start getting things back in order.”