Hurricane Irma is forecast to hit Florida this weekend, and Aquidneck Island natives who have since moved to the Sunshine State, retired or go to school there are reacting to and preparing for the storm’s arrival in a variety of ways.
Vaughan Dugan was born and raised in Newport; he graduated from Middletown High School in 1990 and went on to study business at Florida Atlantic University. He currently lives in Boca Raton, Florida.
The Daily News spoke with Dugan on Friday afternoon as he was driving home from one of the several restaurants he owns in Palm Beach County.
“We’re the last place to stay open,” Dugan said of his restaurant Kapow Noodle Bar, located in downtown West Palm Beach. All other shops and eateries had closed in the downtown Boca Raton and West Palm Beach areas, according to Dugan.
Dugan said the sky was clear, bright and blue on Friday and the temperature hovered around 90 degrees.
“If you were a tourist you would think nothing is two days away from demolishing half the state,” Dugan said. He kept his business open because most of his employees wanted to work and businesses at that point had the option of staying open.
“We feel this is sort of a community service,” Dugan said of keeping Kapow open in the midst of boarded windows and barren streets.
Dugan said he wanted to “give people an outlet to get out.”
“I think the anxiety of waiting for a hurricane is probably the worst part of it,” he said.
DIANNA SAUNDERS of Coconut Creek, Florida, just south of Boca Raton, grew up in Newport and Middletown.
Saunders had until Friday at noon to evacuate her modular home at Deerfield Lake, a modular and mobile home community. She moved in with friends to ride out the storm.
“They just live about five miles south of me, but it’s a solid house,” Saunders said.
She brought along her 4-year-old Yorkshire terrier, Winnie.
“I know people who are staying in the park because they can’t leave their dogs,” Saunders said, referring to the Deerfield Lake community.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott mandated that all hotels must allow pets in the face of the impending hurricane and mass evacuations, Saunders said. But some people can’t afford hotels, she pointed out. There’s a need for more pet-friendly shelters in the face of natural disasters, she wrote on her Facebook page.
SHARON MARGOLIS was co-owner Sig’s Market in Newport and then Fifth Ward Liquors before she retired to Delray Beach, Florida, almost four years ago. She currently lives at Abbey Delray South, a retirement community.
“I’m going to stay right here,” Margolis said when asked about her hurricane plans.
The independent living facility is not located in an evacuation zone and “we’re very well taken care of,” Margolis said.
CHRIS PAIVA of Middletown is a senior at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. Forced to evacuate campus the week classes began, Paiva touched down at T.F. Green Airport on Thursday.
The fall semester began on Labor Day at Eckerd, and on Tuesday the students were notified that the last classes would wrap up Wednesday morning in order for students to evacuate campus by Thursday, Paiva said.
With the local Walmart out of bread and water, “everyone knew it was kind of getting serious,” Paiva said.
“My dorm’s 100 yards from the water and it’s on stilts,” Paiva said, so he wasn’t too concerned; some dorms are closer to the shore.
“It was pretty crazy for a lot of people who had to pack up,” Paiva said of the evacuation notice that came on the heels of move-in day.
Paiva will continue his studies online in the meantime, with readings and assignments from his instructors.
JAKE BAUER, grew up in Portsmouth but is now a senior at the North Miami campus of Johnson & Wales University, where he plays on the golf team.
He and his teammates left Thursday afternoon on a flight out of Fort Lauderdale, after driving up from Miami, before flying to JFK Airport in New York for a match with St. John’s University.
“It was quite an adventure to get out of there,” Bauer said.
At the airport were thousands of people who showed up without tickets, trying to book a flight on any plane they could, he said.
“It’s the craziest I’ve ever seen it at an airport,” he said. “We were lucky to get out of there when we did. If our flight were today (Friday), we would not have made it. There’s been so many flight cancellations.”
JACK ELLIS, a nephew of Newport Mayor Harry Winthrop, lives on a canal off Biscayne Bay in Miami. His house is nine feet above sea level and the predicted storm surge is 12 feet, he said late Friday afternoon.
“I’ve been tying up boats here, my boat and the neighbors’ boats,” he said. “We’re using a lot of line, but it doesn’t look promising for us. We’re going to stay in the Miami area, but we’re not going to stay in the house. It’s far too dangerous.”
Ellis and his wife were planning to drive inland a couple miles and stay with friends, but they will still be within Miami-Dade County.
“There are more than 3 million people in Miami-Dade — it’s not possible for everyone to evacuate,” Ellis said.
There are limited escape routes north, up I-95 or the Florida Turnpike on the east coast and I-75 on the west coast, he said. Friends and neighbors decided to drive though and he has been in contact with them.
“From what I hear, it’s just wall-to-wall cars,” he said. “They were stopped dead on the highways or moving very slowly. Some were trying to get to airports like in Orlando to catch flights.”
While his house is expected to take a hit, Ellis was calm on the phone.
“We’ll lose stuff, but it’s all replaceable,” he said.
Ellis owns a market research firm for the boating industry. He would not have to stay in Miami long-term and deal with hurricanes, he said. But he has no plans to move.
“It’s the price of living in paradise,” he said. “I love Newport and if the weather were like it is there June to September all year round, I’d stay there. Here, I can boat all the time.”
TERRY SYNNOTT, a former Newport Daily News reporter who grew up in Portsmouth, is now living three houses away from the St. John’s River in Jacksonville, Florida, within an evacuation zone. He lives there with his wife, Jenna.
The Jacksonville mayor ordered mandatory evacuations in two zones, A and B, that are in coastal areas near the Atlantic Ocean or along the river.
“We are technically in Zone B, but we haven’t decided yet whether to leave,” Synnott said Friday afternoon. “We have all day Saturday to decide whether to go to a nearby public school that has been set up as a shelter.”
He moved to Jacksonville last October, shortly after Hurricane Matthew struck, so this will be his first hurricane in Florida. He works in the development office of North Florida University, but got the day off Friday. That gave him a chance to successfully buy sheets of plywood and sandbags that arrived in new shipments at local stores.
“I made three other attempts,” he said. “Go into any Home Depot or Lowe’s and it’s like a madhouse in there — people scrambling for plywood sheets, loading them, stocking up with other supplies.”
The Synnotts’ 16th wedding anniversary is today and the storm is expected to hit Sunday.
“We didn’t make any plans,” Synnott said. “We’ll celebrate the anniversary putting up plywood and preparing in other ways for the storm.”
Staff writer Sean Flynn contributed to this article.