Hurricane Irma’s surprise last-minute shift toward Florida’s west coast is upending some former Long Islanders’ plans.
“Things change minute by minute,” said John Cronin, 53, of East Northport, who flew down on Friday to aid his travel-averse parents after they opted to stay in Naples.
“They were evacuating Fort Lauderdale yesterday; today we’re looking to go there,” Cronin said by telephone. He has begun looking for hotels, just in case.
Though his parents’ poured-concrete home is about 10 miles inland, it is just across from the mandatory evacuation zone — and there is little to stop what could be a 12-foot storm surge.
“We’re as set as we can be, with plenty of food and water,” he said. The cars have full tanks and the 12-year-old house has hurricane shutters and meets stiff building codes, Cronin said.
His wife, Leslie, 50, a real estate broker, had to stay behind because she works weekends.
At first, she tried to persuade her in-laws “now might be a good time for a visit.”
As the forecasts grew more dire, “We said ‘Johnny, maybe you ought to go down to them,’ ” she said, as it would be more worrying for them if his parents were alone.
Warren Kroeppel of Huntington, chief operating officer for Sheltair Aviation, who flew to Florida on Tuesday to make sure clients — including the military — are fully served before and after the storm, admitted his decision has been questioned.
“I came down, and everybody said, ‘Are you crazy?’”
Lisa Hiller, who left Roslyn Heights for Florida’s Gulf Coast just 18 months ago, was staying put in Bonita Springs — until she was overruled.
“My daughters literally dragged me out of bed last night and said ‘We’re going to Wellington,’ a little west of Palm Beach, to a friend’s house.”
After watching the news, her 22- and 27-year-old daughters decided to drive to the east coast, urged on by their father back in Roslyn Heights.
Hiller credited her family’s foresight, as her community was ordered to evacuate on Saturday — and the shelter they had looked at did not open until Saturday — and soon was full.
Red Cross volunteer Craig Cooper, 63, of Smithtown, said the shelters he had visited were notable for their calm, though as many as 1,000 refugees shared a “massive, open space.”
“There truly is a sense of camaraderie and support. ‘Hey, I have a couple of extra cookies,’ it’s that kind thing.”
That spirit and order also prevailed at shelters that welcomed 400 to 500 pets, including lizards, he said.
“Here’s this 80-year-old diabetic lady cuddling her puppy in her arms, asking me in Spanish ‘Where can I get food for my diabetes?’ next to a girl with a kitten” and her boyfriend, he said.
“They could not be more grateful” to be safe, Cooper said.
For Hiller, a triathelete and swim coach, Florida remains paradise though one of her first purchases will be hurricane shutters. “I have no regrets; I just hope I have home to go to.”