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updated: 9/8/2017 8:28 PM

Too late to leave Florida, suburban transplants prepare as Irma bears down

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  • Retired Elk Grove Village police officer Tom Sturgulewski prepares the hurricane shutters of his home in Naples, Florida, where his current law enforcement job is keeping him from evacuating before Hurricane Irma.

    Retired Elk Grove Village police officer Tom Sturgulewski prepares the hurricane shutters of his home in Naples, Florida, where his current law enforcement job is keeping him from evacuating before Hurricane Irma.
    Courtesy of Tom Sturgulewski

  • Former Naperville resident Jill (Lakner) McGarry, her 5-year-old son Finnegan, 3-year-old daughter Isla, and husband Josh in front of the garage refrigerator packed with drinking water in their Brandeton, Florida, home.

    Former Naperville resident Jill (Lakner) McGarry, her 5-year-old son Finnegan, 3-year-old daughter Isla, and husband Josh in front of the garage refrigerator packed with drinking water in their Brandeton, Florida, home.
    Courtesy of Jill McGarry

  • The front of former Naperville resident Jill McGarry's home in Brandeton, Florida, on the west coast of the state. She and her husband, Josh, will shelter in a walk-in closet during Hurricane Irma's winds.

    The front of former Naperville resident Jill McGarry's home in Brandeton, Florida, on the west coast of the state. She and her husband, Josh, will shelter in a walk-in closet during Hurricane Irma's winds.
    Courtesy of Jill McGarry

  • Many businesses in Naples, Florida, have been boarded up in preparation for Hurricane Irma's arrival.

    Many businesses in Naples, Florida, have been boarded up in preparation for Hurricane Irma's arrival.
    Courtesy of Tom Sturgulewski

 
 

When Tom Sturgulewski retired from the Elk Grove Village Police Department and moved to Naples, Florida, he imagined he and his wife would always be free to evacuate in a hurricane.

But having joined the Naples Police Department as a beach patrol officer, he says staying in the path of Hurricane Irma is his duty.

"I'm definitely here because of the job," Sturgulewski said Friday, as some forecasts placed Naples at the heart of the coming storm. "If I didn't have to be here, I probably would leave ... more so for my wife's sake."

His house where his wife, Sue, her disabled brother Dennis and three dogs are taking shelter from the storm is made of steel-reinforced concrete blocks and equipped with state-of-the-art hurricane shutters. They have a generator and ample food and water.

With tropical storm force winds expected to begin Saturday morning in South Florida and the full force of Irma coming late Saturday or early Sunday, it's too late to second-guess a decision to stay, say people who recently moved from the Chicago suburbs to Florida and are facing their first severe storm.

They've stockpiled supplies they fear they will need: A gallon of water per person per day for a week, plenty of nonperishable food, candles, a lighter, charged up cellphones and laptops, games and books, in the case of Jill McGarry, a Naperville native living near Bradenton, on Florida's west coast, with her husband and children ages 3 and 5.

They're sheltering in the walk-in closet of the many-windowed house built to maximize golf course views.

They're not boarding up glass but have taken in outdoor furniture and trimmed palm trees, removing things that could become missiles. McGarry doesn't expect their house atop a slope to flood but braces for a power outage that forecasters say could last for weeks in some areas.

"The size of this hurricane is almost unfathomable," McGarry said Friday. "The roads are gridlocked right now. I didn't want to take a chance being stranded with the little gasoline that's available."

Many others came to the same conclusion, Sturgulewski said.

Friends of his started to evacuate but turned around when they found no gasoline or hotel vacancies along the jammed roads. The predicted drive time from Naples to the state line was 22 hours.

"There's no place to go," said Sturgulewski, who moved to Florida four years ago. "You're better off sheltering in place. Some of the individuals here have been through it before and know how to prepare themselves."

As for Sturgulewski himself, he'll be called into the police station when the winds exceed 40 mph Saturday, bringing with him three sets of uniforms, three days' worth of food and a bedroll.

All department staff members will hunker down there until the hurricane winds -- expected to exceed 100 mph -- return to manageable speeds. Then the hard work of recovery will begin.

Quite the opposite of Sturgulewski, former Lake in the Hills resident Lisa Goggin is leaving her husband, Stephen, behind in Tampa and evacuating because of her job.

The two run a company that staffs insurance adjusters and have been swamped by the workload caused by Hurricane Harvey in Texas. Goggin needs to be where she's assured she can stay in contact with adjusters in the field. She plans to fly to Chicago and then work out of the company's West Dundee office.

"The thought of me going and him staying is making me sick to my stomach, but you have to do what you have to do," Goggin said. "You can't lose your business."

With her flight scheduled for early afternoon Saturday, she's anxious about not only a cancellation but even getting a ride to the airport.

The couple did what they could to secure their Tampa home against the storm. A generator was delivered Friday and friends from Illinois shipped gas cans, which had become impossible to find in Florida as Irma closed in.

Their house, built in 1986, is concrete but doesn't have the latest hurricane-proofing features. The Goggins were installing interior shutters on the windows Friday.

Though Stephen Goggin has been in the insurance industry for 21 years, he's never seen anything like this onslaught of hurricanes, his wife said.

"Born and raised in the Midwest, I'm ready for 20 inches of snow. I'm not ready for this, " Goggin said. "If we could get in the car and get out together we would definitely do that, but we definitely can't do that."

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