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Long Islanders, at home and in Florida, wait out Irma's wrath

John Cronin of East Northport, with his parents,

John Cronin of East Northport, with his parents, Chester and Joy Cronin, on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017. He flew down to join them in Naples, Fla., after they decided to remain there during Hurricane Irma. Credit: John Cronin

As Hurricane Irma snaked its way up Florida’s west coast Sunday, Long Islanders with friends and family in its path nervously stayed glued to their televisions and phones for updates on the monster storm.

Leslie Cronin’s East Northport home was transformed into a makeshift Irma command post as she kept in contact with her husband John Cronin, who flew down to his parents’ Naples home Friday to help them ride out the storm.

From her perch at her kitchen’s island, she watched live news coverage on her giant flat screen TV while juggling phone calls, texts and emails from her husband, with Blake, her Pekingese Poodle mix, on her lap.

“They pulled down the ladder for the attic and they actually threw pool floats and stuff up there thinking if they have to get that high up they can grab the floats,” said Leslie Cronin, a real estate agent, who alternated between nervous laughter and a concerned tone as she described her husband’s and in-laws’ preparations.

“The phone’s been going nonstop,” she said. “We have different text threads going on, and the [news alert] updates, it’s just wait and see.”

Her husband, a union crane operator, took a mostly empty flight Friday night into Fort Myers, then drove to the Naples home where his parents, Chester and Joy Cronin, moved about 12 years ago after living in Dix Hills and Commack. His parents, who are in their 70s, weren’t in a mandatory evacuation zone and don’t like to fly, so he decided to get through the storm with them.

The Cronins had fared relatively well during Sandy’s catastrophic hit on Long Island five years ago, but they lost power for about two weeks and didn’t want John Cronin’s parents to deal alone with those inconveniences — or worse.

Despite putting the floats in the attic and emptying his parents’ backyard swimming pool in case of flooding, the scene John Cronin described in an interview and showed in a Facebook live post for worried friends was almost cozy: His mother was making her usual Sunday red sauce, and his father, who normally would be golfing, was watching the news when the flickering power permitted.

But not everyone was able to stay home.

Lori Leonhardt, a former 20-year Wading River resident, said she bought her dream home on the beach in Key West in July but had to evacuate on Sunday. She said she had enough gas in her car to drive north to Plantation, a few miles west of Fort Lauderdale, and stay with friends, rather than remaining alone in her home that is only nine feet above sea level.

“I’m not imagining I have a house to go back to and I literally just bought it,” said Leonhardt, a physician at Lower Keys Medical Center. “I mean, it is what it is. If I’m there by myself, I would have been buried alone. At least here, if I’m going down, I’m going with other people with me.”

Also in Plantation, Anthony Favata, who said he had lived in Deer Park but moved to Florida 29 years ago, did not evacuate. His home lost power just after 8 a.m. Sunday, he said, adding that he doesn’t have a generator.

Favata said he has plenty of food and water, and has no plans to leave.

“I just wanted to stay in my house,” he said. “We’ve got the hurricane shutters and propane in case we can only use the grill for cooking food.”

Pat Meyersfield spent 40 years living on Long Island before retiring to Lake Worth, Florida, last year. She, her husband, Sandy, mother, Eleanor Keller, 96, along with two family cats, both 8, in tow, decided to stay in their three-bedroom ranch home west of Fort Lauderdale. Everyone was safe Sunday morning, Meyersfield said.

Meyersfield said she prepped for the hurricane by taking in all outdoor furniture, closing the storm shutters, filling the bathtub with water and stockpiling nonperishable food.

“We decided to stay because the traffic going north was impossible,” Meyersfield said. “We had a neighbor who tried to leave and they said they couldn’t get through. And it just would have been too much for my mom and my two cats.”

Meyersfield, who retired from Great Neck Public Schools a decade ago, described a noisy, stormy mess outside.

“It’s pretty dark out there and there’s just a lot of tree debris on the ground,” she said. “We’re just getting the outer bands of the storm, but when they come through, it sounds like a tornado. We keep getting tornado warnings and we have to go into a safe space, which is my bedroom closet.”

Meyersfield said her biggest worry is winds toppling a tree onto her roof. Still, she and her husband plan to ride out the hurricane by relaxing.

“If we have power, we’ll probably just watch the men’s final of the U.S. Open,” she said. “And, if we don’t have power, we’ll be doing a crossword puzzle.”

With Nicole Fuller

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