N.H. transplants to Sunshine State weather Irma

  • Stephen Miccio, 27, walks over downed tree limbs in the backyard of his home along Gulf Road in Monday, Sept. 11, 2017 in Tarpon Springs, Fla. Miccio along with his family were not at their Tarpon Springs home when Hurricane Irma slammed into the Tampa Bay region. (Chris Urso/Tampa Bay Times via AP) CHRIS URSO

  • A tree lands on a house near Lake Magdalene in Tampa, Fla., where Brynne Rardin stayed with family during Hurricane Irma. Courtesy

  • The neighborhood near Lake Magdalene in Tampa, Fl. where Brynne Rardin is staying with family to wait out the storm. Rardin, 21, flew into Florida on Tuesday from Concord to start a job on a dive boat headed to the Turks and Caicos islands from Fort Myers. She said that the close proximity of the houses in her neighborhood helped the community to avoid too much damage from wind. On Monday morning, there was minimal flooding and a just a few trees down.

Monitor staff
Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Brynne Rardin had a plan.

If the storm got bad, Rardin and her family would clear the lawn of items that could fly away, board up the house’s front windows and block others with a truck. If it got really bad, they would move into the one-story home’s windowless hallway and crouch under a mattress to avoid debris.

“The hardest part is not knowing what to expect,” she said Sunday from Tampa, before the hurricane hit. “And knowing that most of what happens is out of our control.”

It turned out Rardin and her family were mostly spared as Hurricane Irma traveled up the state’s coastline. It wasn’t the welcome to Florida she was expecting.

Rardin, 21, departed her Concord home last Tuesday for her first post-graduate job as a chef on a dive boat headed from Fort Myers, Fla., to the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Even though Irma eventually broke records as the strongest Atlantic basin hurricane ever recorded outside the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea with winds as high as 135 mph, Rardin said she didn’t hear about the storm until the night before she left New Hampshire.

Almost a third of Florida was ordered to evacuate the state in the lead-up to the storm.

Rardin called one of her new co-workers, unsure whether she should stay or go.

“They were like, ‘We’ll figure it out when you get down here. We’ll be safe, we’ll be fine.’ So I said, ‘Okay,’ and I headed down there,” she said. “Then, it escalated.”

When Rardin arrived in Florida, she worked only one day before people began to worry the storm might be more intense than expected. When some began to talk about leaving the area, Rardin got in touch with a cousin she’d never met, who offered to pick her up and let her stay with him, his wife and his son.

On the drive from Fort Myers to Tampa, Rardin saw gas stations with their windows boarded up and lines of traffic extending for miles.

She said these powerful images made her realize some of the challenges people face when trying to flee a major weather emergency.

“I realized it isn’t always about being smart,” she said. “Sometimes you just don’t have the resources to get out.”

From thinning stores, her family rushed to purchase water, canned goods, crackers and chips – anything that wouldn’t go bad once they lost power.

On Sunday morning, it started raining, and by 6:30 p.m. the power had gone out. They continued to track Irma’s progress on their phones, and for a while, the family sat outside in a place that was safe from the wind. Occasionally, the sky would turn green, and an electrical transformer exploded in the distance. Sheets of rain pummeled the house’s exterior, Rardin said.

Other New Hampshire to Florida transplants shared similar experiences.

Deedee Maratea, 74, who moved from Loudon to Tampa with her 79-year-old husband, Sal Bossi, in 2009, described the storm as a “terrifying experience.”

The couple had to evacuate their 480-person trailer park in the Citrus Park area of the city on Friday.

“We had major wind; we would look up and see the trees bending,” she said. “The wind was howling.”

Maratea and Bossi eventually got a room in a motel with a power generator. Maratea said she was most comforted by the calls she got from friends and relatives – many in the Concord area.

“It’s a bad thing to go through, but with that kind of concern from other people, it just lifted our spirits,” she said.

Rardin said she was lucky to be in an area where the houses sat close together, and could easily block wind. Hurricane Irma was lowered to a Category 1 hurricane by the time it reached Tampa. Rardin said it still might take a few days for the power to return.

The storm itself didn’t end up being too scary, Rardin said, but it made her concerned for our planet’s future.

“We don’t think a lot about global warming and climate change because we feel that it’s not really something that affects us now. But being in a hurricane did affect me in a very immediate way,” she said. “It made me realize more than ever that we need to really do something or we’re going to have a big impact on the earth – and not in a good way.”