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Wednesday, September 20, 2017
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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

Former Fort Wayne residents bracing for or evacuating from Hurricane Irma

Kati Miser, left, and her husband, Nathan, and their daughters, Madelyn, left, and Hailey, all of Fort Myers, Fla., currently plan to take shelter during Hurricane Irma at St. Michael Lutheran School in Fort Myers, where Kati is principal. This photo shows the family on a summer vacation in Maine. (Courtesy photo)
Kati Miser, left, and her husband, Nathan, and their daughters, Madelyn, left, and Hailey, all of Fort Myers, Fla., currently plan to take shelter during Hurricane Irma at St. Michael Lutheran School in Fort Myers, where Kati is principal. This photo shows the family on a summer vacation in Maine. (Courtesy photo)
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press

Bottled water, gasoline reportedly are in short supply.

Thursday, September 07, 2017 12:01 am

Wednesday was the Hurricane Harvey relief drive at St. Michael Lutheran School in Fort Myers, Fla., where Fort Wayne native Kati Miser serves as principal.

While adults scrambled to stock up on food, water and other supplies to get their families through approaching Hurricane Irma, Miser said students donated similar items to help people trying to recover from the damage and catastrophic flooding Harvey caused in Texas and Louisiana.

"It was really heartwarming," she said during a phone interview late Wednesday afternoon.

As of that time, Miser and her family planned to ride out Irma, most likely at her school rather than at their home. She and her husband, Nathan, have two daughters, Hailey, a seventh-grader, and Madelyn, a fourth-grader.

At home, they have some large trees on the property, which could strike the house if the monster storm topples them, Miser said.

School and church staff and their families are invited to take refuge in the school, she said. She also believes they will be safer as a group than if they are stuck in their homes.

"Hopefully, it will keep going into the Atlantic and not hit anything, and we all will just be having hurricane parties," the Concordia Lutheran High School graduate joked.

The Misers have been through several hurricanes since moving to Florida in 2004, including enduring damage from Charley in 2004 and Wilma in 2005, she said.

"It sounds like a tornado, except that it lasts for a very long time," she said. "It's frightening when you are in the middle of it, but we know God is with us. It's all good."

Former Fort Wayne vocal music director Suellen Kipp, who now teaches dance at San Carlos Park Elementary School in Fort Myers, was among those driving north to escape the storm, she said in a text message.

"About half of our teachers are staying and the other half driving out," she wrote. "Hopefully, traffic will keep moving and we can get to gas — pumps in Fort Myers have been out of gas for two days."

Miser said that, as a Midwesterner, she finds hurricanes less scary than tornadoes because people usually have ample time to prepare for a hurricane to hit.

Forecasts Wednesday evening, for example, predicted the storm would go up the east side of Florida, with its impact reaching the Fort Myers area Sunday.

As a precaution, schools in Fort Myers were ordered closed today and Friday so school staff and families could evacuate the area, Miser said.

Before they left school Wednesday, staff asked students to store their desks and chairs in one area of their classrooms to minimize the potential for damage, she said. They moved educational materials away from windows and covered them with a tarpaulin in the middle of the room. Computers also had to be placed in plastic bags to protect them from water damage.

Middle school-age students brought in the small plastic toys young students use on the playground, she added. Third-graders also carried inside as much as they could of the school's hydroponics plant growing system at the back of the property.

Out in the community, people have been putting up hurricane shutters or plywood to protect their windows from damage, Miser said. Others were evacuating, trying to drive a safe distance away from the storm.

"The highways right now — the interstates are pretty much gridlock," she said. "There is pretty much only one way out (Interstate 75)."

Stores had sold out of bottled water, and gas stations all were out of gasoline, she said. Miser was hopeful more fuel would be delivered to the Fort Myers area today or Friday so people can fill up their vehicles and extra gas tanks.

When she went to the grocery store this past weekend, she bought their usual groceries and also a lot of extra canned goods and foods that keep well and can be cooked on a grill. In addition to saving tap water to drink, they also have filled up plastic bottles with water and stuck them in the freezer, hoping the frozen water will keep items in the freezer cold until power is restored.

That is the biggest question — how long will the electricity be out after the storm, Miser said.

She said her anxiety about the storm fluctuates with the weather forecasts.

"One of my biggest fears is trying to evacuate and getting stuck" in traffic or running out of gas, she said.

But if the forecast shows Irma will slam directly into Fort Myers, or if government officials order a mandatory evacuation and a pullout by all emergency personnel, Miser said her family will consider leaving.

"It's a huge decision to make," she said. "How are you going to guarantee you are going to get to somewhere safe?"

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