For some evacuees, the journey home hasn’t been easy



Drivers wait in line for gasoline at the Costco in Altamonte Springs, Fla., ahead of the anticipated arrival of Hurricane Irma on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

By Johnny Diaz | Sun Sentinel

As power gradually returned to South Florida homes and businesses, folks who evacuated the region for Hurricane Irma began to return home, too.

For some, however, the long journey home has gone south.

It’s been extra-long for some, and a nightmare for others, as they have wrestled with traffic congestion on the interstates, a lack of working gas stations, delays at the airports, and problems with connecting flights or bus and train schedules. Many took to social media to vent and post updates about their journey.


Wilton Manors resident Tim Swift said he has to wait until Friday to get home.

On Sept. 6, he hitched a ride with a friend and left Broward County for Atlanta. There, Swift caught a flight to Philadelphia, where his family lives.

“I did a one-way ticket because I didn’t know when I was coming back,” said Swift, 38, a writer with the Humane Society of Broward County. “You can’t plan around Mother Nature.”

He had opted to take a train back, which was originally scheduled to leave Friday and return him to South Florida on Saturday.

But on Wednesday, Swift received a notification from Amtrak that his trip had to be rescheduled for Sunday.

He canceled that trip and managed to get a flight back to Fort Lauderdale for 6 a.m. Friday.

Lorraine and Jim O’Connor were among the evacuees trapped in traffic gridlock Tuesday as they drove south on Interstate 95 trying to return to Vero Beach. They also evacuated on Sept. 6 to ride out the storm in Greenville, S.C.


“We heard it was going to hit straight for the southeast coast,” said Lorraine O’Connor, 61, a retired mental health counselor. “It would probably be best to leave and come back.”

Once Irma had passed, they decided to leave South Carolina at 10 a.m. Tuesday and head east on Interstate 26 to hook up with I-95 South. They said it took them about seven hours just to get out of South Carolina.

“My GPS was saying that 95 was completely backed up,” she said.

They couldn’t exit the highway because police and national guards were stationed at the exit ramps, she said. “For the whole state of Georgia, everyone had to stay on [I-95]. We couldn’t get off.”

By the time the couple reached Jacksonville, “it was clear sailing.”

At 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, they rested up at a hotel in Daytona Beach. “We were so exhausted at that point.”

They resumed their drive again a few hours later Wednesday.

“It was totally clear this morning and wonderful,” said Lorraine O’Connor, now relaxed and comfortable back in Vero Beach, where her condo complex had little damage.

Overall, the trip back took about 15 hours, she said. “I have never been so happy to be home.”


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