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Evacuating Rotonda with no place to go.

09/19/2005

I've often wondered what I would do if a mandatory evacuation order was issued since I had no place to go. Now I know.

My brief moment of panic occurred Friday. My neighbor tipped me off that a mandatory evacuation order encompassing Rotonda and large areas of Englewood was about to go into effect.

That just about ruined my day. I had just returned from Kimball Lumber with 10 sheets of plywood and was preparing to board up the castle. Forget that. I wasn't worried about Ivan anymore. My fear was spending 3 days sitting on the highways in stop and go traffic. Being a coffee drinker doesn't help.

I called my girlfriend, Deb, and told her we need to be packed and gone within an hour if we are to beat the traffic and find a room. I relayed to her radio reports that we may have to go to Georgia before we find a room. If that doesn't work, we'll just keep going to North Carolina to visit my son who just started college (cha-ching!).

Big problem. Deb's 26-year-old son, Jason, doesn't think we need to go. Deb won't leave her son and his family behind. I won't leave Deb behind. Deb's in tears at this point. I got a message through to Jason: "Your mom, wife, and child might die because they won't leave you behind. I might die because I won't leave your mom behind. My son might suffer the emotional and financial loss of his dad and drop out of college because one person won't go". Jason quickly reversed himself. Green light.

Within an hour, we are northbound on I-75 with no place to go. I remember confronting Wayne Sallade 8 years ago after a hurricane seminar. I was very disappointed that Wayne had not been more specific on where to run during an evacuation. He made an excellent point. Wayne said if he had done that, the specific routes and destinations he identified would become hopelessly clogged. If Charlotte County has a guardian angel, it's got to be Wayne. Can you imagine what it's like to be responsible for the lives of hundreds of thousands of people?

I remember something else Wayne had said as we're charging up I-75. The vast majority of hurricane deaths are due to flooding, not wind. So my mindset changed. I suggested to Deb that we not flee the hurricane. Let's simplify this and just flee the floodwaters. At that point most of Florida was a possible target. But we know there will be no surge in Orlando because it's too far inland.

There was still an unknown. The radio report said there where no rooms south of Georgia. We decided to put that to the test. Deb called the "Magic Castle" in Kissimmee. Thank God for cell phones. We stayed there a couple years earlier. $45 got us a nice room with a continental breakfast. No luck. Sold out. Deb asked the clerk if she knew of any vacancies in the area.

Bingo! Within a few minutes we had reservations for 2 rooms at $45/day. Yes! Safe and still close to home. Best of all, our lodge was located on Hwy 192 (exit 64a). That's a main highway leading directly into the Disney complexes. The lobby had free Internet access so I was sparred the painful withdrawals I had anticipated.

For those of you facing initial panic as I did when you are in the process of evacuating and have nowhere to go, here's a tip. Kissimmee has hundreds of budget hotels. These were probably built for us frugal people who think it's crazy to pay for an expensive hotel in Orlando when all you really need is a bed, shower, and TV. The ones I saw are all located on Hwy 192. To get there, take I4 east, and then head south on Exit 64a.

We had a great time. There are thousands of things to do in Kissimmee and Orlando that cost little or nothing. We explored Downtown Disney, checked out the ESPN Sports Bar at the Disney Boardwalk Resort, and were totally blown away by the $450 million dollar Gaylord Palms Resort. The unique architecture of this resort puts Las Vegas to shame. Wow!

I met some interesting characters on our brief journey. Joe is a claims adjuster for Met Life. I asked Joe if constant exposure to devastation and bent lives took a toll on him. "Not at all", he said. "It's the greatest job in the world. People are thrilled to see you. They know help has arrived."

We returned Sunday afternoon. Jason declared it was safe. His logic? Jim Cantore, the star Weather Channel reporter who had been roving Punta Gorda for 2 days, was gone.


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Note: Brett Slattery is owner/broker of Brett Slattery Realty llc.

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