By Billy Ludt
and Justin Wier
Dan Mikus described the mood in his Florida community as a “quiet uneasiness” as Hurricane Irma approaches the state.
The Category 5 storm is expected to hit the southern coast of Florida at 8 a.m. Sunday and maintain hurricane-force winds into Georgia on Monday morning, according to the National Hurricane Center.
“They’re putting on a good face, but you can see underneath everybody’s scared,” he said. “Even people who have lived down here for years, you can tell they think this one is different.”
Mikus, a retired Youngstown police officer, lives 40 miles south of Tampa in Parrish, Fla., with his fiancee and her 16-year-old son.
As a security guard at Manatee Memorial Hospital, Mikus needs to stay and help.
He tried to encourage his fiancee to leave even though his house is outside of mandatory evacuation zones, but she also will weather the storm.
The hospital, which is on a river, expects flooding, and maintenance workers and engineers will be staying at the hospital throughout the storm.
Mikus moved to Florida in 2014, and this is his first major hurricane.
It’s difficult to find gas, and he said the lines to purchase plywood are long at the stores that haven’t sold out.
Given the seriousness of Hurricane Harvey, Mikus said the people who haven’t evacuated are prepared, or at least as prepared as they can be.
“I’m a little bit scared, but again, you just gotta pray that everything comes out OK,” he said.
Tiffany McQuaid of Naples said it was hard to believe a storm was on the way, because of how beautiful it was outside Friday afternoon. McQuaid has lived in Youngstown and worked for the Debartolo Corp.
Naples’ fire chief told city residents Friday that evacuation was no longer an option, and McQuaid hunkered down for the storm.
In spite of the calm, she said everyone still in Naples is sick to their stomachs.
McQuaid & Co. Real Estate Services spent the past week preparing listings and offices for Irma.
She plans to endure the storm in a closet with her dog and, hopefully, a bottle of wine.
“The thought of not being here to be able to help out and to be able to see my company and what I’m dealing with – I think that would kill me more than actually potentially being killed,” McQuaid said.
The weather was calm, too, in Jacksonville, Fla., on Friday.
Former Austintown resident Will Miller said the sky was slightly overcast with the sun occasionally making an appearance. Interstate 95 was busy but not gridlocked.
“I’ve spent more time in the last few days looking at a weather map than I have in my entire life,” Miller said.
His home, off I-95, doesn’t fall in a mandatory evacuation zone, so he, his wife and pets will weather the approaching storm.
But Miller’s no stranger to hurricane season. His rental home in St. Augustine was lost to Hurricane Matthew in fall 2016, so they’ve made some preparations for Irma.
He said there’s been an overreaction to Irma due to Matthew’s impact last year.
What strikes Miller about Irma’s arrival is the divisiveness in his community and on social media. Everyone seems to have a different stance on preparing for Irma, and he said everything from methods of holing up at home to whether residents should evacuate is causing heated debates.
Miller took trips to an area Costco and Publix out of curiosity, and the stores already were out of water. Getting access to a gas pump is very difficult as well.
He hopes Irma doesn’t change course again.
“I’m just glad I’m not a weatherman,” Miller said.