Kerriann Otano and Dane Suarez were always sure they’d have their wedding on the beach on Topsail Island, North Carolina.
Otano’s family vacationed there each summer for more than 20 years. It was where they spread her grandmother’s ashes. It was where Suarez got down on one knee and proposed. And it was also roughly an hour's drive north from where Hurricane Florence made landfall Friday.
An evacuation order forced them to scrap two years of planning, Otano told her wedding guests in an emotional Facebook post Tuesday morning. But friends and family were determined to save the wedding. They shared Otano’s post and called acquaintances. Within 12 hours, the couple had a new ceremony and reception scheduled on Long Island.
“A lot of people say rain on your wedding day is good luck,” said Otano, 31, a San Jose, California, resident from Wading River. “There’s a hurricane on our wedding, that’s a whirlwind of good luck.”
A high school classmate Otano hadn’t seen in years offered up the restaurant her husband owns, A Lure Chowder House and Oysteria in Southold, for Sunday afternoon. Otano's former teacher volunteered as an officiant. Others opened their homes to host wedding guests and put together flower arrangements at Riverhead’s Zilnicki Farms.
“We’re still getting married on the same day we wanted, it’s just hundreds of miles away,” Otano said. “I’m just so grateful and humbled.”
Otano and Suarez drove from California and arrived on Topsail about a week before their Sept. 16 ceremony to prepare. The couple and their parents watched Florence’s forecast grow more dire, feeling uncertain as they tried to finalize the last details of their wedding.
When they found out they had to evacuate, the news was numbing, Suarez said.
“We were on our way back from getting our marriage license and Kerriann got a call from our caterers. She just started crying. She couldn’t even tell me what was wrong,” Suarez, 31, said.
Otano and Suarez are both professional opera singers and move frequently for work. They had been expecting 100 of their closest friends and family from as far away as Paris for a “vacation wedding.” To miss out on that quality time was devastating, Otano said.
They packed up their wedding attire and decorations Tuesday morning and headed for Long Island, hoping to spend time with Otano's parents and try for a courthouse wedding.
Otano said she cried for much of the drive, but not all those tears were sad ones. After a few hours on the road, the couple was bombarded with messages and calls from friends and family responding to the wedding’s cancellation. Otano had initially asked if any friends were available for a small celebration in New York.
"People were calling up crying like it was their own wedding being canceled," said Karen Otano, 60, of Wading River, the bride's mother. "People were calling me saying, 'I have two free bedrooms if you can get people to New York; I have three free bedrooms.' "
Liz Werkmeister, manager and event coordinator at A Lure, said the restaurant didn’t hesitate to book the event, even with a busy wedding season.
“It’s been a very hectic few days, but it was never a question about whether we were going to do it,” she said. “I don’t know if we’ve ever done anything this last minute.”
By the time the couple arrived in New York, the only thing left to do was get a new marriage license, which they did Friday. Suarez’s relatives had driven overnight from Illinois to bring him his birth certificate — a document New York requires for marriage licenses.
As of Friday, 75 of the original wedding guests had been able to change their travel plans.
Otano said she credits social media for helping “make a miracle happen.”
“People could have just kept scrolling. Instead hundreds of people stopped what they were doing,” she said. “I can’t believe we’re so fortunate.”