Editor’s Note: If you’re a Mainer or former Mainer dealing with the destruction caused Hurricane Irma and are willing to speak with us, we’d like to tell your story. Email [email protected] and we will be in touch.


It’s been a nerve-wracking few days for Nick and Stacey Kimball as they watched Hurricane Irma bear down on the Florida Keys community where they live and work.

On Monday, Brunswick native Nick Kimball was shopping for a chain saw and generator roughly 1,000 miles away in Nashville, Tennessee, after heeding the evacuation advice. But the couple was also feeling fortunate after receiving updates from neighbors and seeing a video appearing to show that their house in Islamorada survived the storm even if many of the trees and the fence around it did not.

Stacey Kimball’s veterinary hospital also appears to have survived the storm that, according to early reports, has devastated parts of the Florida Keys.

“We’re waiting on word for when we can go back,” said Nick, adding that he’s heard some predictions that it could take weeks for areas to reopen. “We are hoping we can get back earlier than that, especially to re-open the animal hospital.”

Former Maine residents who fled or weathered Hurricane Irma were just beginning to assess the damage Monday after the storm destroyed houses, downed countless trees and flooded communities across Florida. Meanwhile, additional disaster-response volunteers and utility workers from Maine were headed south to areas ravaged by Irma, joining dozens of others who went to Texas and other Gulf Coast states just two weeks ago to help after Hurricane Harvey.

Some Mainers now living in Florida chose to ride out the storm.

Debris lines a street in Naples, Fla., on Monday in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, Monday. Florida Gov. Rick Scott said there’s damage across the state and it’s still too dangerous for residents to go outside or return from evacuation. Associated Press/Robert Ray

‘IT WAS UNBELIEVABLE’ IN NAPLES

Kate Foran, a Kennebunkport native now living in Naples on state’s west coast, took shelter in her bathroom Sunday as winds topping 100 mph tore through her community. But she and her son Wil eventually made their way onto Foran’s porch, which was shielded from the rain and wind.

“I videotaped the eyewall of the storm. It was unbelievable,” Foran said Monday.

Foran said she was lucky that her home appears to have suffered only minor damage such as siding being torn away. Others in her neighborhood were less fortunate, however, and much of Naples flooded and remained without power Monday.

“I’m amazed,” Foran said of the damage in her community.

‘QUITE A WEEK’ DAUGHTER ON ST. MAARTEN

Gray resident Marcia MacVane was waiting anxiously for her 41-year-old daughter to arrive in Chicago after being evacuated from St. Maarten, the tiny Dutch island nation located just east of the Virgin Islands in the Caribbean. St. Maarten was pummeled with winds estimated at 185 mph, forcing Lisa MacVane and hundreds of other students at the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine to seek shelter in a building designed to withstand a Category 5 hurricane.

Marcia MacVane said it took nearly two days after the storm struck for her to get word from her daughter, a former paramedic who is pursuing her life-long dream of becoming a doctor.

This Sept. 7, 2017 photo provided by the Dutch Defense Ministry shows storm damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, in St. Maarten. Gerben Van Es/Dutch Defense Ministry via Associated Press

“This Category 5-safe building shook, the winds were so strong,” Marcia MacVane said Monday, recalling her brief conversation and online contacts with her daughter. “She said she was OK. The building was damaged, but they had water and food. But she said the island was devastated.”

Lisa MacVane opted to stay in St. Maarten after the hurricane struck in order to allow others – especially the younger medical students – to evacuate first. She also helped provide medical care to others.

“It’s been quite a week,” Marcia MacVane said.

PUNTA GORDA DODGES BULLET

Back on the mainland, former Rangeley residents Bill and Jan Stevens were counting their blessings after feeling like their home in Punta Gorda dodged the proverbial bullet.

The Stevens evacuated Punta Gorda, which is about an hour north of Naples, but have received updates from neighbors who stayed behind in their condominium complex despite fears that the storm could hit the area as a Category 3 or 4 hurricane.

“Our property is still there,” Bill Stevens said. “When we thought it was the darkest time, the storm just dissipated … so we’re very, very pleased.”

The community lost trees and sustained some flooding, but as Stevens put it, “You can replace trees.”

Property damage is seen at a mobile home park after passing of Hurricane Irma in Naples, Florida. Reuters/Stephen Yang

HEADING SOUTH TO HELP

Meanwhile, some Mainers were Florida-bound or gearing up to head south to assist with the relief and recovery efforts.

A crew of 15 utility workers from Emera Maine – 12 line workers, two line supervisors and one mechanic – left Sunday to help their counterparts at Tampa Electric. Nearly 7 million homes and businesses – more than 60 percent of the state – was without power on Monday, according to news reports.

Emera spokeswoman Judy Long said the crew from Maine will go wherever it is needed in Florida. She expected the group to be gone for several weeks.

Twenty-three Maine residents had been “activated” by the Red Cross, meaning that they would likely be shipped south to help with Irma-related recovery, said Ann Kim, spokeswoman for the Maine region of American Red Cross. Another 18 Red Cross volunteers or staff are helping with Hurricane Harvey relief in Texas or other Gulf Coast states.

While Maine’s Red Cross program is providing training to volunteers willing to travel south, Kim said there also are opportunities closer to home for those willing to help process donations, handle inquiries and assist with other duties.

“We also need people to help here in Maine,” Kim said. “You don’t have to go to a place that has been struck by a hurricane to help people who are affected by these storms.”

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

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SUNDAY: MAINERS IN IRMA’S PATH

Former Maine residents living in the path of Hurricane Irma said they were worried and scared as the powerful storm hit the Florida Keys and slowly plowed north through the Sunshine State on Sunday.

Some decided to stay put even though they live in the direct path of the storm, while others sought shelter in areas that were still expected to experience hurricane conditions, but not as bad as along the west coast of the state. The fate of a Key West couple, Brian Coddens and Deena Eskew, who decided to ride out the storm, was unclear Sunday afternoon after the worst of the storm had passed close to that island.

Many reported they were without power and were trying to field calls from worried Maine relatives.

‘HOPING WE DODGED THE BULLET’

David Goodman said he allowed himself just the slightest sigh of relief Sunday night as he learned that Hurricane Irma was weakening on a low, slow trip up Florida’s west coast.

“We’re hoping we dodged the bullet,” said Goodman, a Tampa police officer who grew up in Portland and was on the Scarborough police force from 1983 to 1989 before heading south to join a larger police force.

Goodman is part of the Tampa department’s hurricane response team. That means he will be helping with any search-and-rescue operations Monday morning and then working to control access to parts of the city where mandatory evacuations were ordered, making sure they are safe for residents to re-enter when those orders are lifted.

Tampa hasn’t had a direct hit from a hurricane while he’s been there, Goodman said, although there have been some close calls. But, he said, people seemed to take Irma seriously and many left once the hurricane’s track became clear.

Sunday night, Goodman was at Raymond James Stadium, which the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers offered up for police to use as a staging area.

Goodman said he and other officers would be sitting tight Sunday night and for safety reasons won’t be allowed to head back out until sustained winds drop below 40 mph. And, he noted, while waiting he was wearing a University of Maine Black Bears sweatshirt.

A rough surf surrounds Boynton Beach inlet in Boynton Beach, Fla. Jim Rassol/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP

‘OUR FINGERS ARE CROSSED’

Like many who fled Hurricane Irma in Florida, Kristen Ockenfels and Scot Henry will have to wait to see if their home is in one piece.

In their case, they also have to wait to learn if it’s still afloat.

Since the end of 2016, Ockenfels – who grew up in Falmouth and managed the Sea Bags store in Portland – and Henry, who’s from New York, have been living and sailing in southern waters on the 37-foot sailboat Fool’s Gold, picking up the occasional job waiting tables or tending bar ashore if they needed cash.

This past week, they were in Boot Key Harbor on Marathon Key, when the order came for a mandatory evacuation of Monroe County, which covers the string of islands off Florida’s south coast.

Ockenfels and Henry packed up a car and headed northeast, to Ockenfels’ parents’ house in Boynton Beach, Florida. That town is on Florida’s east coast, but it still got a lashing from Hurricane Irma, which tore up Florida’s west coast after going through the Keys. Ockenfels said she figures Irma’s eye made landfall in the Florida Keys about 5 to 10 miles from where Fool’s Gold was tied up.

“Our fingers are crossed,” Ockenfels said Sunday night of the boat. “We haven’t heard anything yet.”

In Boynton Beach, she said, her car narrowly escaped getting hit by a falling tree. She said that part of Florida was hit by steady winds of 50 to 60 mph, along with an occasional 100 mph gust.

Ockenfels said the couple has no idea when they might be allowed back onto the Keys to check on their boat. She said their insurance covers damage from unnamed storms, but insurance for named systems – tropical storms or hurricanes – is prohibitively expensive.

“So now we’re waiting,” she said. “We’re really in a tough spot.”

HELPING THE RED CROSS

Jim Cyr, who lives in Brunswick and is the communications director for Maine Senate President Mike Thibodeau, was east of the storm center Sunday afternoon, helping to run a Red Cross evacuation center for residents looking to ride out Hurricane Irma.

The evacuation center is in an elementary school in LaBelle, Florida, about 30 miles east of Fort Myers, one of the parts of the state expected to be hit hard by the storm.

Cyr said power to the school had been lost, but evacuees were able to eat MREs – meals ready to eat – from the military. But the center isn’t a shelter, said Cyr, so many people have nothing to sleep on but a hard school cafeteria floor. It’s expected that most will stay until Monday morning and then leave to check on their homes, he said, and determine if they can move back in or have to got to a shelter.

Cyr is a Red Cross volunteer who was asked on Thursday to fly to Florida the next day. He said he flew to Orlando and then was sent to LaBelle, where the storm grew in intensity Saturday, with heavy rain and strong winds. But despite the chaos of the quick setup and arrival of about 200 evacuees, he said the experience has had its positive side for him.

“It’s really uplifting to see such a mix of people and most people stepping up and saying, ‘What can I do and how can I help?’ and rolling with the punches,” he said. “It really makes you feel better. People are good generally.”

Cyr said he volunteered to help with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey when that storm hit Texas last month. Instead of being sent there, Cyr said, he got training and then was asked to go help in Florida.

TEACHER TAKES SHELTER AT SCHOOL

Alexis LaChance, a 22-year-old formerly from Winslow who is now a teacher at a DeLand, Florida, high school, turned to the shelter in her school as Hurricane Irma hit the state.

LaChance, an anatomy and physiology teacher and trainer for the school’s athletes, just moved into her DeLand apartment last month when she started her job.

Former Mainer Alexis LaChance, center, with co-workers Greg Bowles, left, and Elizabeth Strople at a shelter in DeLand. Photo courtesy of Alexis LaChance

DeLand is just inland from Daytona Beach on Florida’s northeast coast.

On Friday, she packed many of her belongings back in the waterproof totes that she had used while moving and then left her apartment for the school Saturday morning. LaChance also had been considering spending the weekend with relatives in Lakeland, Florida, but she said school officials contacted her early Saturday and asked employees to volunteer at the shelter.

About 500 people are at the shelter and are being housed in the school cafeteria, LaChance said. She helped oversee operations Saturday night and was due to work again from 10 p.m. Sunday until 4 a.m. Monday.

The rest of the time, LaChance said, she and her co-workers have been playing board games or talking to residents in the shelter.

LaChance said it had been showery all weekend, but the intensity of the wind and rain were picking up late Sunday afternoon as the storm continued to move north, with its center along the state’s west coast.

 ‘IT IS IN GOD’S HANDS’

Kennebunkport native Kate Foran of Naples said she was heading into her safe room with her pets at her Naples home at 1:30 p.m. as 114 mph gusts ripped branches off her banyan trees and tore fronds from the palms.

She is without power and can’t get on the internet. Her daughter, Rose Brown of Auburn, is texting her on her cellphone and then posting updates for relatives on Facebook.

Foran said she does not regret deciding to stay in Naples, which is in a direct path of Irma, even though she is “scared to death.” Her son, Wil Lefebvre, is staying with her

“It is in God’s hands,” she said.

Her safe room is an interior windowless bathroom that she hopes will shield her if her house is damaged.

NO WORD FROM FORMER HOSS AND MARY’S OWNERS

There was no word Sunday from Brian Coddens and Deena Eskew, who decided to stay in Key West when forecasts early last week suggested Hurricane Irma would turn north and head up the east coast of Florida, largely sparing the Florida Keys.

The couple opened Hoss and Mary’s Tasty Grub, a Key West-themed restaurant in Old Orchard Beach, in 2008. In 2015, they decided to return to Key West, where they had met in the 1980s. They opened a food truck in Florida earlier this summer, also named Hoss and Mary’s – Eskew got her nickname when she worked at a place called “Hamburger Mary’s” and Coddens got his when he was “a big friendly guy in San Antonio. Everyone there is called Hoss.”

Coddens said Friday that he and Eskew planned to stay with a woman they know in Key West who is originally from Kennebunkport. Coddens said her house is one of the few that stayed dry in 1998, when Hurricane Georges inundated the island with rain and a storm surge.

Codden said early September is often the best time of year in Key West, after many of the tourists have left but the weather is still summerlike.

NO REGRETS ABOUT STAYING PUT

Robin Jewett, a former Brunswick resident, was standing outside her house in Fort Myers on the west coast Sunday morning and watching the wind and the rain as the storm’s eye headed her way.

“It is pretty calm,” she said.

She said she and her neighbors, who are not in any mandatory evacuation areas, did the right thing by staying put, even thought the eye of the storm was predicted to hit Fort Myers shortly.

Jewett believes her house is solidly constructed and inland, away from where the worst winds and a storm surge are forecast. She has shutters covering the windows, ice, food and 15,000 gallons of water in her swimming pool.

“We have been through this a bunch of times,” Jewett said.

On Sunday morning she and her husband, Dana Jewett, who has a large family in Bath and Portland, started getting phone calls from Maine relatives wanting to know the latest.

She said her neighborhood is close-knit. Everyone is checking on the elderly residents.

“After the storm we will all work together again to cut down trees and make sure everyone has transportation,” she said.

SURGE ZONE A ‘GAME CHANGER’

Tom Wriggins and his wife, Alana – who have a daughter 14, and son, 17, two dogs and two cats – had not planned to evacuate their home in Naples, on the west coast in the path of the storm, but on Saturday morning their neighborhood was designated a storm surge flood zone.

“It was a game changer,” noted Wriggins, who said they packed up and were out of the house in an hour.

They evacuated to the house of friends in West Palm Beach, on Florida’s east coast. Also staying at their friends’ house is Wriggins’ sister, who also lives in Naples with her family and their cat. Their friends also have two dogs.

“So it is an interesting time,” he said.

Wriggins and his family moved from Nobleboro to Naples in December. They still own a home in Nobleboro.

On Sunday the group was staying inside while outside the winds and rain whirled about and the ocean churned a half mile away. Wriggins said with the storm shutters up, it is eerily dark inside.

The group was watching television Sunday morning and expected to watch football Sunday afternoon, Wriggins said. On Saturday night they played board games while the storm raged outside.

DAUGHTER WORRIED SICK

Janet Nelson, a former West Bath resident, said her family back in Maine, including her parents, two daughters and five grandchildren, are worried sick about her and her husband, Bob Nelson, who evacuated their home in Tampa on the west coast Saturday night.

“My daughter has been throwing up since yesterday, she is so frightened,” said Nelson.

Nelson, who has lived in Tampa since 2015, said just a handful out of the roughly 40 families in her neighborhood decided to stay when they learned that their area was directly in the path of the storm. She and her husband spent Saturday trying to secure their house and moving items from the bottom floor to the second floor. She said her family back in Maine kept urging her to leave the state.

They ultimately decided to seek safety at her brother-in-law’s house 10 miles inland in Valrico. During their drive there they couldn’t find any gasoline.

“So we couldn’t have done it (evacuate out of state) if we wanted to,” Nelson said.

On Sunday morning it was windy and rainy, she said, but she was expecting much worse when the full brunt of the storm hit about 8 p.m.

‘FRANTIC AND CHAOTIC’ SINCE TUESDAY

Darcelle Jacobs left Maine in 2013 to live in Fort Myers. She said in an email Sunday morning that she has now been evacuated twice in the last two days because of Irma. She has decided to ride it out in St. Augustine, in the northeast part of the state, where “we will still have to contend with Irma but not the eye.”

“Spending our time watching the news knowing we may not have a home to go back to is a surreal thought, but my family is safe and that’s all that matters. The storm surge is what concerned us the most and will definitely take out our home on Estero Boulevard in Fort Myers Beach being that it is across the street from the ocean.”

“Things have been frantic and chaotic down here since last Tuesday dealing with limited to no gas, water, generators, plywood, canned goods, etc. I am a mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service and have been able to watch multiple communities prep for Irma and even though many are scared, frustrated, anxious and stressed, I have witnessed people come together, communities helping each other and humanity at its best and Irma hasn’t even hit us yet. It’s been a humbling experience and reminds us of what is most important. Irma hits us today and now we wait to see.

“I would still rather deal with a hurricane every few years then snow and cold every year!”

As Hurricane Irma moved over the Florida Keys on Sunday morning, a contingent of American Red Cross volunteers from Maine were heading to Portland International Jetport on their way to help with recovery efforts in the wake of the powerful storm.

The five volunteers and employees were flying to Georgia Sunday before heading to where their help is most needed. They are from Greater Portland and Aroostook, Hancock and Androscoggin counties.


SATURDAY: MAINERS IN IRMA’S PATH

STAYING IN KEY WEST, ‘I AM AS SCARED AS I’VE BEEN IN MY LIFE’

Brian Coddens and Deena Eskew, who used to operate Hoss and Mary’s Grub Shack in Old Orchard Beach before moving to Key West and opening a new food truck, planned to ride out the storm, and expressed their determination and fear dramatically on social media.

Brian Coddens and Deena Eskew, known as Hoss and Mary, are staying put in Key West rather than risk a stormy trip on the Overseas Highway. ‘I don’t want to use the word ‘stuck,’ but there’s no choice for us now,’ Coddens said. They operate a food truck in Key West called Hoss and Mary’s Tasty Grub. Photo courtesy of Brian Coddens and Deena Eskew

“I’d rather not get into why or how we didn’t evacuate,” they posted on their Hoss and Mary’s Facebook page late afternoon Saturday. “We’re as happy as we can be in regards to where we are in the city and we are not going anywhere. I can only speak for myself, but I am as scared as I’ve been in my life …. We have made our bed, we WILL NOT lie down for this storm, literally and figuratively. … We hope to feed you again someday. Thank you for everything.”

Coddens had said the couple stayed because they didn’t want to get caught in the open on the Overseas Highway, a combination of bridges and low-lying roads connecting the Keys to mainland Florida, when the storm struck.

OTHERS IN KEY WEST CHANGED PLANS: ‘WE BOOKED IT NORTH’

Brian and Julie Doe, from Waterville but now living in Key West, evacuated Friday evening, after originally planning to stay put. They arrived about 1 a.m. Saturday at a friend’s place in The Villages in central Florida, about a seven-hour drive.

Key West was in line for a direct hit from Irma.

“We booked it north,” said Brian Doe, 45, adding that most people had already evacuated and Interstate 95 was clear.

“The roads were empty, and the gas stations on the interstate all had gas,” Doe said in a phone interview Saturday morning. “It was eerie driving through Miami. There were no lights on, no people, no cars.”

Brian Doe, who grew up in Gardiner and now lives in Key West, Fla., screws pieces of wood over the windows on his home on Thursday Photo courtesy of Brian Doe

Doe said as the week wore on, more Key West residents decided to evacuate, and they also determined it was too dangerous to stay.

“The news just kept getting increasingly worse,” Brian Doe said. He said at first it looked like Irma would track east, away from Key West, but by afternoon, the Keys were expecting a direct hit.

“There’s a decent chance our house will be gone when we come back. It may not make this fight.”

Doe said their home is about 1 1/2 miles from the Gulf of Mexico and 3/4 of a mile from the Atlantic Ocean, but because the entire island is so close to sea level, it may not matter. Their house is on 3-foot stilts, but the storm surge may swamp it anyway. He said they spent a few days boarding up the house, moving some items indoors and tying down anything that couldn’t be moved.

He said they moved to Key West about three years ago after taking many extended trips there and falling in love with it.

“There weren’t many people left when we left. There was definitely a somber tone,” Doe said.

IN AN ‘EERILY CALM’ NAPLES, ‘WE’RE AS PREPARED AS WE CAN BE’

Jona Cole and her family own eight properties in and around Naples, including their business, Cole Gunsmithing, which is in the mandatory evacuation zone. Their home is 10 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, and outside the mandatory evacuation zone, she said.

They’ve spent “15 hours a day and then some” all week preparing for the storm, covering every window and door on all eight properties with plywood, metal or hurricane shutters, she said.

“We’re staying and hoping for the best. We’re as prepared as we can be,” Cole said early Saturday evening, when things were still quiet and “eerily calm.”

Originally from Gardiner, Cole has lived in Naples for about seven years. The family owns a gunsmithing business in Harpwell, Maine, as well.

‘A DECENT CHANCE WE CAN LOSE THE BOAT’ CALLED ‘NO REGRETS’

Steve and Colette Ricker recently retired, sold their home in Augusta and moved onto a newly purchased 44-foot sailboat with the intent of sailing around the world. The sailboat, named “No Regrets,” is in the water in Clearwater, he said, and is expected to bear the force of the storm.

“The track is a horrible track for us,” Ricker said Saturday night from Orlando, where he was able to get a third-story room in a resort, safe from the storm. “The boat has been prepped as well as it can. We’ve got 15 lines on it, the sails are wrapped, we’ve taken all flat surfaces off and the dinghy is deflated and tied down. If it hits a Category 4, I think there is a decent chance we can lose the boat, which is a bummer. We’ve only been living on it two months.”

His only regret? Not leaving Florida sooner. He and his wife planned to leave on their sailing journey after Nov. 1, when the threat of hurricanes diminishes. If the boat survives the storm, Ricker and his wife will be well-prepared for whatever comes next.

“The boat has everything we need to be moderately comfortable for an extended period of time. I am just worried about the storm surge and winds.”

NEW TRANSPLANT DISCOVERS HER ‘WELCOME TO FLORIDA’ MOMENT

Jamie-Lee Roach and Isaac Dugan took this selfie at Daytona Beach, Florida, where they went to avoid a direct hit from Hurricane Irma on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017. Photo by Jamie-Lee Roach and Isaac Dugan

Jamie-Lee Roach, 33, originally from Belfast but now living in Tampa, kept monitoring the forecast because her boyfriend, Isaac Duggan, lives in Daytona Beach. They figured one coast would get hit worse than the other.

“We were prepared to go in either direction,” Roach said. She said the drive was the typical 21/2 hours without much traffic because they were going east, while the heaviest traffic headed north.

Roach said she moved to Florida from Maine in January, so Hurricane Irma is her “welcome to Florida” moment. But despite the severe hurricane, she likes living in Florida and plans to stay, she said.

EVACUEES HAVE BEEN ‘WATCHING CNN FOR 3 DAYS STRAIGHT’

Bill and Jan Stevens, formerly of Rangeley, evacuated Wednesday from Punta Gorda on the Gulf Coast to a friend’s house in Black Mountain, North Carolina.

“I’m numb,” Bill Stevens said on Saturday morning in a phone interview. “We’ve just been watching CNN for three days straight.”

Punta Gorda is expected to be one of the hardest-hit areas in Florida.

The couple retired to Punta Gorda five years ago and live in a gated condo community. Their second-floor condo is about 100 yards from the ocean.

“We could have beachfront property when we get back,” Stevens said.

To prepare, they protected their windows with Kevlar shades and installed metal storm doors to cover the patio doors.

Stevens, 70, said about two-thirds of the condo complex evacuated.

“There’s nothing else we can do. Our biggest concern is our neighbors who are riding out the storm,” Stevens said.

TWO FLORIDA HOMES AT RISK

Jenna Goodwin, originally from Portland and a 2008 graduate of University of Southern Maine, went to law school in Orlando and now lives in the Tampa Bay area with her fiance, Rick, their son, Ricky, and their pug, Stanley.

They considered flying back to Maine or staying with family in Jacksonville but opted for a hotel in Orlando.

Goodwin said they were glued to CNN nonstop at the hotel and hoping for the best for their home in Tampa and the house they recently closed on in St. Petersburg.

She said the hotel in Orlando was going for $249 a night – up from $118 – and they were booked through Monday in case the storm lingers.

‘TOWN PRETTY MUCH CLOSED DOWN’

Kathy Card, 63, a Portland native who now lives in Mount Dora, Florida, near Orlando, said even though they are inland and the hurricane will weaken by the time they get hit, the winds could still be near 100 mph.

“It’s definitely still scary,” said Card, who moved to Mount Dora four years ago but still visits Maine frequently. “We don’t know how long we are going to be without electricity.”

Card said there’s no evacuation order for Mount Dora and she’s staying in place.

“They’re closing the streets at 5 p.m. (Saturday),” Card said. “The town is pretty much closed down.”

JUST ENOUGH ROOM AT THE INN

Mike Alexander, formerly of Cape Elizabeth but now living in Miami Beach, made the drive up I-95 to Orlando on Friday.

Alexander said they got a room, but his hotel in Orlando is now booked. He said they have enough supplies to last through the storm.

“It’s filled to capacity,” Alexander said by Facebook message. “I luckily got my 91-year old great aunt a room though after they evacuated her from West Palm Beach yesterday.”


FRIDAY: MAINERS IN IRMA’S PATH

Fear, trepidation and annoyance were the watch words for Maine natives living in Florida as they joined millions of residents, from Miami to Jacksonville, who are girding for the arrival of Hurricane Irma.

Mainers who relocated to Florida may have reasoned that they were leaving most of their weather worries behind, trading frigid blasts of Arctic cold and blizzards for balmy trade breezes in the Sunshine State.

But in recent days, they’ve been obsessing over and preparing for the worst, as Hurricane Irma promises widespread destruction and state officials issue evacuation orders for all of South Florida, and activate thousands of National Guard troops. Thousands of residents already have fled for points north, while others stock up on supplies, food and water to get ready for Irma’s potentially deadly path.

‘NO CHOICE FOR US’

Brian Coddens and Deena Eskew, known as Hoss and Mary, are staying put in Key West rather than risk a stormy trip on the Overseas Highway. ‘I don’t want to use the word ‘stuck,’ but there’s no choice for us now,’ Coddens said. They operate a food truck in Key West called Hoss and Mary’s Tasty Grub. Photo courtesy of Brian Coddens and Deena Eskew

Brian Coddens and Deena Eskew opted to stay in Key West when early forecasts suggested that Hurricane Irma was likely to head up the east coast of the state towards Miami, more than 100 miles northeast of the Keys, where they run a food truck.

“I don’t want to use the word ‘stuck,’ but there’s no choice for us now. We’ve got to stay,” Coddens, known as “Hoss,” said Friday after officials suggested that everyone in the Florida Keys who were going to evacuate should have already been on their way as the storm nears Florida. Coddens said the couple is staying because they don’t want to get caught out in the open on the Overseas Highway, a combination of bridges and low-lying roads connecting the Keys to mainland Florida, when the wind and rain pick up.

Coddens and his wife, Deena Eskew, ran ‘Hoss and Mary’s Tasty Grub’ in Old Orchard Beach from 2008 until 2015, when they decided to return to Key West, where they met in the 1980s. They opened a food truck earlier this summer, also named Hoss and Mary’s – Eskew got her nickname when she worked at a place called “Hamburger Mary’s” and Coddens got his when he was “a big friendly guy in San Antonio. Everyone there is called Hoss.”

The food truck has been moved to a safer location by an investor, where they hope it won’t be damaged, and they’re unlikely to reopen until late next week at the earliest, Coddens said. The couple plans to take their two cats to the home of a woman they know in Key West who is originally from Kennebunkport. Coddens said her house is one of the few that stayed dry in 1998, when Hurricane Georges inundated the island with rain and a storm surge.

The couple spent Friday bringing in items from their small yard and putting belongings already inside their house on shelves.

Coddens said Key West feels like a ghost town. The hospital is shut and officials have warned that any 911 calls will cease to be answered.

“For the last decade, Mary and I have dreamed about this,” Coddens said. “The best time of the year in Key West is September, when it’s quieter, it’s a little bit cooler and there’s not as many people around, but unfortunately, it looks like this storm is coming directly at us.”

‘WE’RE GOING TO RIDE IT OUT’

Tom Wriggins is pretty sure that Irma isn’t taking dead aim at him or his family in Naples, so they’re staying put as the storm approaches Florida.

Wriggins, who spent summers in Maine as a child and lived in Nobleboro from 2006 until last December, said his house in Florida is built to withstand all but the strongest storms. It’s made of cinderblock and the roof was replaced a couple of years ago and is guaranteed to withstand winds up to 140 mph.

“We’re going to ride it out,” said Wriggins, who is married and has two children. Irma “keeps moving a little bit west and a little bit right and we can’t figure it out.”

Wriggins, whose family got a taste of tropical weather while living in Charleston, South Carolina, before they moved to Maine, said about three out of five people in Naples have already left. But many of the year-round residents and long-time Floridians have decided to stay put, preferring to deal with the weather rather than face the uncertainty of not knowing what kind of damage they might return to if they evacuate.

He also said his sister and her family don’t live too far away and plan to stay as well, and Wriggins wants to be nearby if they need help.

Wriggins said he’s closed his storm shutters, and helped neighbors get theirs ready. His family has also stocked up on bottled water, hooked up the generator and filled the gas tanks in their cars, which they have pulled into the garage.

“We’ve weathered storms in Charleston and up in Maine, nor’easters,” he said. Those experiences taught him that the people in the most danger during bad storms are those who venture outdoors in the worst weather.

Wriggins said his teenage daughter asked him why they were staying put when some of her friends were leaving, but he explained that their house was solid, they were prepared and they needed to stick around in case relatives or neighbors needed help.

“That’s what storms and natural disasters do – they bring us together,” he said.

Former Mainer Alexis LaChance, center, with co-workers Greg Bowles, left, and Elizabeth Strople at a shelter in DeLand. Photo courtesy of Alexis LaChance

‘A PRICE TO PAY’ FOR THE SUNSHINE STATE

Alexis LaChance had just moved to Florida and was still settling in when she started getting word about a rite of passage for everyone who moves there: Preparing for a hurricane.

The 22-year-old from Winslow started her job as an anatomy and physiology teacher and athletic trainer at a high school in DeLand in August, not long before Hurricane Irma started to form in the Atlantic.

She spent Friday bringing in furniture and other loose items from the balcony of her second-floor apartment. She also returned some valuables to the same totes she had used to move them down to Florida last month.

She’s also stocked up on water and food and has been freezing water in baggies to keep her refrigerator cool if the power goes out –– and for more drinking water if she needs them after the storm passes.

LaChance, a University of Maine graduate, said she applied for the teaching job in Florida when she learned a friend who had held that position was returning to Maine. Although the storm has her and her family back in Maine worried, LaChance said she’s still excited about starting a new job in a new area.

“My family was happy for me to start this new experience and it (the hurricane) hasn’t dimmed anything at all,” she said. “It has definitely been stressful and worrisome but I have amazing co-workers and family members who have been by my side to help me with preparations. I know it’s a price to pay for being in a more tropical environment and my family knows that as well.”

LaChance said her school canceled a football game that had been planned for Thursday night and classes have been canceled for Friday and at least through Monday. The school is a hurricane shelter, she said, so she may go there or to stay with relatives in Lakeland – between Orlando and Tampa – over the weekend when the storm is at its worst.

‘GOT OUT OF DODGE’

Dan Corey, who owns a farm in Florida and several farms in Maine, returned from Florida a few days earlier than he’d planned because of the coming hurricane. This photo is from his farm in Monticello, Maine. Photo courtesy of Don Corey

Dan Corey said he “got out of Dodge Thursday” after paying a brief visit to Florida.

Corey owns farms in both Maine and Florida and said he spent a few days in St. Augustine this week to check on his house and property there before coming back to Maine a few days earlier than he planned.

He said he lost a dock and a deck from the Florida house last year when Hurricane Matthew hit, so he had hurricane-resistant windows installed. The new deck and dock meet tougher building standards that should help them withstand a hurricane if Irma remains strong after it travels north through the state.

“They told me it was coming last time, but I didn’t think it was that bad and I learned a lesson,” he said.

Corey said he also had his vehicles moved inland – he lost a pickup truck during Matthew – and also made sure his heavy farm equipment is in the fields on his farm in Elkton. He said they will fare better there than in some less stable farm building that could get blown down in the hurricane.

Corey said his whole family, including three grown children, is in Maine, where he owns 3,000 acres in Aroostook County. He said he’ll harvest grain once the fields dry out and then start to get the potatoes out of the ground. He plants potatoes in Florida in late December or early January, and doesn’t expect the storm to interrupt his smaller operation there.

AWAITING WORD TO EVACUATE

Janet Nelson had the day off Friday from her job as a banker. Her employer, Mississippi-based Hancock Bank, closed all its branches and offices to give employees time to get ready for the storm and Nelson, who is originally from West Bath, made the most of it.

She and her husband brought in larger items from outdoors, made sure the car was gassed up and packed a bag and put it in the car, along with a crate for her dog.

“We’re preparing as much as we can,” said Nelson. People with special needs in her part of Tampa had already been told to evacuate and they expected to get word Friday or Saturday whether they would need to leave themselves. If so, she said, they won’t fight the traffic jams on the highway that have already turned Florida interstates into parking lots –– a brother-in-law who lives on higher ground nearby has invited them to ride out the storm with his family.

Nelson said her children from her first marriage are in Maine and her husband’s children are also scattered geographically, so they didn’t need to worry about making sure the children got to a safe place.

“They wanted me to get on a plane to fly home (to Maine), but that’s not going to happen,” she said.

Nelson said she would take a Maine blizzard over a hurricane any day.

“I feel like the stress level is higher with a hurricane than a nor’easter,” she said. “With a nor’easter, you just have to hunker down for a few days and with this, you don’t know if your house will be there.”

Nelson said she dealt with hurricanes in Florida when she lived in the state between 2001 and 2011, particularly in 2004, when four hurricanes hit the state.

But none grabbed her attention like Irma has, she said.

“This one is probably the first one ever that got my attention,” she said, “probably because (Hurricane Harvey in) Texas was recent.”

NOT KNOWING WHEN TO COME HOME

Nick Kimball said it wasn’t a tough call for him and his wife, Stacey, deciding whether to evacuate their home in Islamorada, in the Florida Keys.

He said from the storm’s beginning in the Atlantic, forecasters had projected that it would come near or over their community in the northeastern part of the chain of islands off Florida’s southern coast.

The Kimballs closed up their animal hospital – Stacey Kimball is a veterinarian – made sure the owners picked up their pets, packed up some critical equipment, tried to secure the rest and headed out Thursday night.

By midday Friday, he said, they were in Tallahassee, still about seven hours’ drive from their destination – Nashville, Tennessee, where Stacey Kimball’s parents live.

Kimball said they managed to avoid the worst traffic jams by sticking to state roads and staying off the interstates. Despite horror stories about long lines and gas stations running out of fuel, he said, they had to wait only about five minutes to get gassed up overnight.

Kimball grew up in Brunswick and lived in Portland after graduating from the University of Southern Maine. One day, with winter coming on, he decided to go stay with a relative in Florida, where he met the woman who became his wife and started putting down roots in Islamorada.

Kimball said it’s unnerving not knowing what damage they might come back to Most of the residents of Islamorada have also left, except for some police officers and firefighters and a handful of residents. The local grocery store owner vowed to stay open, offering the building as a shelter for those who stay behind, he said.

Kimball said he’s not sure how long he, his wife and their four cats and a dog will have to wait until they can return. A lot will depend on the conditions of the roads, he said.

But he’s certain Islamorada’s residents will pull together, Kimball said.

“It’s an amazing community down there,” he said. “We’re going to rebound from this.”

‘I WASN’T ABOUT TO LEAVE JOANIE ALONE’

Joan Hoag and Dave Murdoch, who live part of the year in Starks and the rest in a beach community west of Tampa, say they will see what Hurricane Irma does before they move to higher ground. Photo courtesy of Joan Hoag and Dave Murdoch

A couple who live part of the year in the Somerset County town of Starks and part of the year at Indian Rocks Beach, west of Tampa, Florida, plans to wait until late Saturday to evacuate to higher ground.

Dave Murdoch, 75, whose family settled in Industry in Franklin County in the 1800s and who later ran the Kennebec Volkswagen dealership in Augusta while living in East Monmouth, said he’s seen storms come and go. He was at the cabin in rural Starks until Wednesday night, he said, but returned to Florida to be with housemate Joan Hoag, 78, amid news of the big storm approaching.

“I’ve been through these myself and I wasn’t about to leave Joanie alone,” he said by phone Friday. “The main thing you’ve got to do is make sure there’s nothing that can be blown away. You take everything that will move and make sure it’s secure or behind walls so it can’t get blown away.”

Murdoch said they are in a flood zone at the beach and are prepared to move “a little higher” when the storm hits.

“It’s about 3 miles from here, but we’re not going to go until the last moment. We’re going to get both cars out of here and make sure nothing gets floated away.”

Hoag, who first came to live in Starks in 1983, said the weather Friday was still “very nice” with a little breeze and high humidity, but she could feel the pressure dropping.

Murdoch expects moving to higher ground will be sufficient to avoid the  storm surge at at Indian Rocks Beach, a community of about 4,000 people in Pinellas County.

“I’ve been through so many,” he said. “I know I take them too lightly compared to other people, but I’ve been through the devastation and I lived through hurricanes, so I know what I’m up against.”

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Doug Harlow and Press Herald Staff Writer Joe Lawlor contributed to this report.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]