What it's like to live in the path of a hurricane

Posted: Updated:
(Source: CNN) (Source: CNN)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Kim Quintero and Emily Awbrey in Miami in January 2017. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Kim Quintero and Emily Awbrey in Miami in January 2017. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(3TV/CBS 5) -

I think it's safe to say a good majority of Arizonans have never had to evacuate their homes because of a major hurricane barreling down on them.

Many of us have family, friends, colleagues, former classmates, know someone living or who had been vacationing in Florida. Many of us reached out to them, concerned for their safety, when hurricane Irma exploded in the Atlantic and forecast models painted a grim picture for the sunshine state.

While it may seem easy to "just leave" when a monstrous storm is threatening devastation, it's not.

About a year ago, one of my best friends moved from Phoenix to Fort Lauderdale. She graduated from Arizona State University, called the Valley of the Sun home for a decade, and had only lived in Missouri before that. She got her first taste of the chaos that goes with living in a hurricane zone with hurricane Matthew last year, but Matthew was no Irma.

I first reached out to Emily on Sept. 3 to make sure she was watching Hurricane Irma. By Wednesday, it was "go time." Irma had already strengthened to a Category 5 storm. The governor of Florida had already declared a state of emergency to allocate resources ahead of Hurricane Irma's arrival. Arizona Task Force One, a group of 80 Phoenix firefighters who had just returned home from Texas after helping with search and rescue in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, had just been deployed by FEMA to help in Florida. I called Emily again to make sure she had a plan to leave Fort Lauderdale.

"Between conversations with my co-workers about how Wilma knocked out power for nearly a month, and seeing the news of what happened with Harvey and Houston, and just realizing you have to fend for yourself, get enough supplies, prepare for power outages, and just be a sitting duck for days, it's better to be safe than sorry, so I think I'm going to get out of here tomorrow," she said.

She wasn't the only one.

"I looked at flights and they're all booked," she said. "The only few that are available leave in a few hours and cost around $1,400," she said.

Emily was thinking she would fly to Kansas City to stay with her sister. When that wasn't a realistic option, she turned to plan B.

"On a quest to find gas right now," she said in a text message.

Since the track looked like it would bring Irma up southern and eastern Florida, Emily planned on driving northwest Thursday morning.

It turned out, everyone else who couldn't catch a flight had the same idea. After going to several gas stations, she finally found one that actually had fuel.

"I waited in line for gas for 30 minutes," she said.

Once she got home, she loaded her car. 

"I packed enough clothes for a week, my roommate gave me 2 gallons of water and snacks. I expect to be gone for at least four to five days," she said.

With the governor ordering 5.6 million people to evacuate Florida, traffic was at a standstill Thursday morning.

"Instead of it taking four and a half hours to get to Jacksonville from Pompano Beach (near Fort Lauderdale), it took eight and a half," she said.

The plan was to stay in Jacksonville and pay for several nights in a hotel, but now Irma's track was shifting west toward the panhandle of Florida.

"I thought well shoot, I'm by myself, I don't have any food, everything's going to close down, so I'll have to go get a cooler and enough provisions," she said.

With this in mind, she looked up flights in Jacksonville, found one that was leaving eight hours later to Kansas City and paid the pricey fare.

By Saturday, Irma had ravaged the Caribbean and left a trail of destruction.

"After seeing what the storm did to those islands, I am so glad I left," she said.

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