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Former Long Islanders in Florida keep eyes on Hurricane Dorian

Shoppers prepare ahead of Hurricane Dorian at The

Shoppers prepare ahead of Hurricane Dorian at The Home Depot on Thursday in Pembroke Pines, Fla.  Credit: AP/Brynn Anderson

Buddy McGirt is no stranger to a fight.

Nonetheless, the man who grew up in Brentwood to become a world champion boxer was staring down a very different opponent on Friday, one that goes by the name Hurricane Dorian, a force of nature that packs a wallop.

He’s not afraid.

“I’m preparing,” said McGirt, now 55 and living about two miles from the shore in Vero Beach, Florida. “Am I concerned? No.”

The former WBC welterweight champion is among many Long Islanders who have moved to that state and who spent Friday warily watching the approaching storm. The National Hurricane Center said the hurricane may well hit the United States on Tuesday with winds of nearly 140 mph.

But where it will land remains unclear, with forecasters saying it could strike anywhere from the Florida Keys to southern Georgia.

Many of these Long Island transplants spent Friday searching for water and food at bustling supermarkets where shelves were sparse, waiting on gas lines where desperate drivers were not necessarily comporting themselves with etiquette, and battening down the hatches of their homes.

McGirt has a strategy. He’s made sure to stock up on propane for the grill, thinking it will come in handy if he loses power. 

“You charge up the phone, get a flashlight and hope for the best,” he said.

He’s keeping a close eye on his potential adversary, studying Dorian’s moves by watching a lot of TV weather reports.

When you talk about Long Islanders who’ve moved to Florida, you have to consider the Grummanites, those men and woman who worked at the Bethpage plant that built the lunar module that landed on the moon 50 years ago.

Bill Steenson and his wife, Camille, both worked for the aviation giant. They belong to a kind of alumni group of 180 former Grumman workers and their spouses based in Melbourne. They have monthly meetings, and Camille gets together with the women workers and wives every Wednesday.

Reached on the phone at his two-story home five miles from shore in West Melbourne, Bill Steenson, 91, said: "The sound you're hearing in the background is them putting up hurricane shutters. I can't go safely up a ladder now. I'm a shuffler. I can't go up stairs, let alone a ladder."

The Steensons have stockpiled water and food. They took in the chairs from the yard so they don't blow around.

"We'll ride it out," said Bill Steenson, who worked in real estate for Grumman. "Our house is far enough above sea level."

He recalled the first hurricane he experienced as a boy on Long Island, the 1938 New England Hurricane.

"I was only 10 years old. There were fallen trees to play with, and no school," he recalled.

Having been through several hurricanes in Florida, he's learned other lessons, such as the way a devastating storm can bring people together.

"Neighbors meet each other, they come outside and somebody holds a ladder for somebody," he said. "One guy has a better saw and lends it. You become one big clique."

Janice Byrne, 99, had been a secretary at Grumman, and now lives in an independent living facility in Melbourne.

"This is a big building, and I think we're pretty well prepared," Byrne said. "I'm trying to keep myself calm, cool and collected."

She has something else that calms her.

"I have two wonderful sons, and two wonderful daughters-in-law," she said. "They keep in great touch."

As for Buddy McGirt, who was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame this year, he's hoping the storm is manageable enough to remain at home. If not, he's willing to switch strategies.

"I'll go to my daughter's house in Orlando," he said.

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