From bucking evacuations ordered ahead of Hurricane Irma to fully preparing for it, Long Islanders — Florida transplants and those with relatives in the historic storm’s path — responded to it on Thursday with divergent emotions.
“My neighbors are staying,” said Dr. Lori Leonhardt, a Wading River native who moved to Key West, Florida in July.
Their explanation, she said in a phone interview, is that officials “always make this big hype, and then nothing happens. A lot of people don’t even have their houses boarded up or anything.”
Not Leonhardt. She boarded up, stored valuables in the dishwasher and microwave — and long before dawn — headed north to the mainland on the Keys’ sole causeway.
Her neighbors could turn out to be a tiny minority among the nearly 27,000 residents. Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday said at least 25,000 people who live in the 7-square-mile community had evacuated.
While Leonhardt shelters close to Miami so she can swiftly return to her hospital when it reopens, Long Islanders with Caribbean relatives expressed relief that Irma seemed to have partly spared the more populated islands.
Smaller islands, such as Barbuda, however, felt the full force of the Category 5 hurricane.
The overall death toll stands at about a dozen.
Jose Oquendo, 62, of Freeport, whose mother, two brothers and a sister all live in Puerto Rico, said:
“People are happy to an extent that it wasn’t a catastrophic event to the degree everyone expected.”
But hardships abound.
“What I’ve heard up to now is that people are without running water,” Oquendo said, “that people are getting in line to buy ice, and that they’ve lost power.”
Ricardo Reyes, 65, a Hempstead church pastor whose three brothers and four sisters live in the family’s native Dominican Republic, said the survivors were unvanquished.
“The wind is blowing and it’s strong but all seems to be under control right now . . . people over there don’t seem to be too worried.”
Some Long Islanders, whose families lived through Hurricane Harvey, now fear for their Florida kin.
Ellen Cheeseman, 74, of East Setauket, whose grandson was evacuated from Houston, has daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren in Florida.
“Just pray that the people in Florida are safe for the duration of the storm — and have all their needs met,” she said in a phone interview.
Having heard what her Houston relatives went through, Adeela Barlas, of Holbrook, ensured her daughter, Sofia, 17, a freshman at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, came home.
“I was going crazy,” she said at MacArthur Airport. “She didn’t really care — but I was going crazy.”
Structural engineer Luke McGregor, of Del Ray Beach, accompanied on his flight from Florida to MacArthur by his service dog, Korbin, was glad he bought his ticket three months ago.
The Port Washington native, who has weathered hurricanes in New York and Florida, said:
“This is the first time I’ve been really scared.”
With Sophia Chang, Víctor Manuel Ramos and AP