With Hurricane Ian approaching, she left school and headed back to NH

  • Riley Marsh has been picking up shifts at The Post on Fisherville Road since getting out of Tampa before Hurricane Ian hit this week. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Riley Marsh has been picking up shifts at The Post on Fisherville Road since getting out of Tampa before the Hurricane Ian hit this week. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Riley Marsh has been picking up shifts at The Post on Fisherville Road since getting out of Tampa before Hurricane Ian hit. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 9/29/2022 2:52:55 PM

Riley Marsh, her shift waiting tables finished at The Post Restaurant in Penacook, wrapped white napkins around freshly-cleaned silverware, preparing for the next day’s anticipated breakfast crush.

That’s Marsh’s MO. Prepare. As captain of both the lacrosse and field hockey teams at Bishop Brady, she readied teammates to put forth their best efforts, leading to a pair of state championships and a level of respect in the high school sports community reserved for leaders only.

She’s preparing for a medical career at the University of Tampa, certainly an endeavor that forces you to look ahead and prepare.

And last weekend, Marsh pieced together clues that told her to get out of town – in this case, Tampa – by sundown.

Or before. Ian was on his way.

“We felt kind of stupid for leaving,” said Marsh, a 19-year-old sophomore at UTampa, who became just one of the many New Hampshire natives with Florida connections who continue to keep a wary eye on news reports. “(My roommate) lives in New York and had to deal with Hurricane Sandy and her aunt went for a week without power. We thought it was a good idea to leave. People were asking, ‘Why are you going?’ Play it safe rather than end up being sorry.”

Marsh grew up in Franklin and has lived in Concord for five years. She’s there now with her parents and working at The Post, two ingredients in her life that were ever-present during her high school years at Bishop Brady.

This pre-Thanksgiving trip, however, came as a surprise, from nowhere. Sort of like a hurricane.

“Classes were canceled and it was like a week’s vacation, some people were celebrating, some people were booking their flights,” Marsh said. “It was pretty split. Some people did not believe it was going to be so bad.”

Reports say Ian made landfall south of the Tampa region on Wednesday afternoon, carrying Category 4 winds of at least 130 miles per hour. Residents had little time to evacuate their homes before high water rushed in.

Rain totals topped out at about 15 inches, and flood stages increased by as much as 10 feet in certain areas.

There was indeed a calm before the storm. Marsh said that forecasters began mentioning Ian’s potential for destruction as far back as last Wednesday.

“We knew about it coming, then Friday we got the first email from the school,” Marsh said. “I was on my way home from the beach.”

She looked out her dorm window on Saturday and saw nothing but a blue sky. Marsh said there was no wind. 

“You couldn’t really tell anything was happening,” Marsh said. “I think that’s why nobody was worried.”

But the dark forecasts continued, pushing Marsh to buy a one-way ticket to Logan Airport on Saturday night.

“We heard that it might be a Category 4, and obviously, in my whole life, I have never experienced a hurricane. Snowstorms, I’ll just shovel for days.”

She flew out of Orlando at 6 a.m. Monday because Tampa’s airport was in rough shape. She got home late that night. Meanwhile, friends back in Tampa had begun to follow the leader. They had trouble securing a ticket in the rushed climate.

Marsh’s one-way ticket cost $125. She said her friends paid as much as $1,000 for a round-trip ticket to leave the next day. The dorms on campus were shut down by then, leaving others to fight the rain and traffic and seek the relative calm of Miami.

Marsh phoned Post owner Victoria Johnson Monday night, seeking work. On Wednesday, with customers gone, waitress Sara Thompson swept under the tables while Marsh wrapped silverware in napkins, and Johnson worked behind the counter and in the back, preparing for Thursday as well.

“I would definitely say I like to be prepared and have a plan ahead of things,” Marsh said.

Said Johnson, the owner, “Good to go with your instincts.”

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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