More than 1,000 miles from the storm’s path, Pittsburghers braced for Hurricane Irma last weekend. Some had memories of Hurricane Andrew, the 1992 storm that last decimated Florida; others had recollections of prior weather related disasters. But for those in the Steel City with family and property in the Sunshine State, each successive Facebook post or weather report brought more than a little anxiety.
“We’re just watching with bated breath,” said Stanley Levine, who along with his wife, Patty, have wintered in Florida’s Sanibel Island for nearly 40 years.
“Right now, it’s wait and see,” echoed Anita Kornblit, a Squirrel Hill resident who along with her husband, Morris, owns a condominium in Boca Raton.
In the end, both coasts of the Florida peninsula were not spared, although early reports of destruction did not approach what the National Hurricane Center and National Weather Service had pinged as worst-case scenarios.
“I’m scared. … I’m on the internet and looking at the latest situation there and it’s not good,” said one Pittsburgher, who wished to remain anonymous. The potential devastation to his Miami-based property could cost millions of dollars, he said. “It’s going to get nasty. I have expensive art there in a $3 million unit. If it is going to be trashed, I am going to be very disappointed.”
Apart from anticipating storm-related costs, there are a rush of emotions that people are experiencing, said Akiva Sutofsky, whose parents have lived in West Palm Beach for roughly 15 years. “Ever since they moved there, they are very weather aware. My mother is always checking the weather.” Such constant concern stems from an incident that occurred years ago in which “they actually stayed,” and a particularly large storm damaged their home; so now, “whenever there is a warning, they get out.”
On Sept. 7, Sutofsky’s parents left Florida and flew north to their daughter’s home in New York; however, despite reaching a safer location, fear still lingers. “My mother is very scared that the wind will rip off the roof and destroy her memories, like her wedding album.”
It is a sentiment that Gayle Kraut understands. Kraut, a Squirrel Hill resident and Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle board member, explained that her sister, who lives in Miami, has similar worries. She is “fearful that she has an older roof.” Apart from bringing everything inside, the family’s important items were “bagged up” and the windows were “boarded up.” Whenever they return to Miami, they are unsure of what they will ultimately discover, explained Kraut.
More pressing though than the storm’s aftermath has been its anticipation, said several Pittsburghers.
Evan Indianer, a CMU graduate and Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle board member, said that he spent days working with his five siblings to get his 79- and 87-year-old parents out of their home and somewhere safe.
“It was so complicated to buy tickets,” said Indianer.
Every time a ticket would come up on screen, someone else had purchased it before the transaction could be completed, he explained. Ultimately, through a collective endeavor, Indianer was finally able to get his parents out of their Palmetto Bay home, into an Uber, to the airport and eventually to the Boston area, where his sister lives.
Indianer isn’t entirely certain as to how much the flights, which had a four-hour layover in Washington, D.C., ultimately cost, but he thinks that it was around “$700 a ticket to get them out.”
It was money well spent, he explained. “You may feel like an idiot to pay $600 or $1,600 last minute to get them out of town, but you’ll feel like a bigger idiot if you didn’t get them out and you deal with the consequences of a storm similar to Andrew.”
Beth Goldman agreed. She and her husband, Jeremy, had scheduled a two-week road trip from Pittsburgh to West Palm Beach. They had intended to introduce their 3-month-old daughter, Hannah, to Goldman’s 88-year-old grandmother, Bernice. Because of Irma, the visit was slightly altered — the couple helped pack up Bernice and brought her back to Pittsburgh.
The ensuing drive north was hilariously detailed on Facebook and picked up by several media outlets.
While Irma’s ultimate effects will take time to tally, there are lessons to be learned at any stage, said Indianer.
When storms like these come, “there’s different things you have to do at different points. Before the storm you have to try and get accurate information and not overstate the risk of what’s going on.” Once the storm strikes, “you need to be helpful and not panic.” After the storm is gone, for those who did evacuate, it is imperative to make sure that “it’s a safe environment for them to go back to.”
That’s sound advice, but for those Pittsburghers who were anticipating Irma’s every move, few options existed, said Levine.
“Other than going to shul tonight and praying, we’ll keep our fingers crossed,” Levine said last Friday. “That’s all we can do.” pjc
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.