Millions in Florida were ordered to evacuate as Hurricane Irma roared toward the state.
Thousands of evacuees made their way to Tennessee including several families who found DeKalb County a good place to stay until it was safe to return home.
One such family is Dimitrios and Nancy Napier Vafeas, who along with their children, 14 year old Alexander, 10 year old Olivia, and the family dog, left home in Sarasota, Florida (a western coastal city) Saturday morning before the storm hit. They arrived later that day in DeKalb County to stay with Nancy’s mother in the home Nancy grew up in.
Having lived in Florida for 23 years, Nancy said her family has weathered Hurricanes before without taking a direct hit, but forecasts indicated that Irma might be coming straight for Sarasota.
“I have never been scared like this before,”said Nancy, who spoke with WJLE Monday night.
Living near the coast, Vafeas said her concerns grew as Irma drew closer.
“My home is two miles inland so we started really watching Irma last Sunday. We knew she was coming at us but things change so much with Hurricanes. It kept being forecast as more of an east coast event like Miami or Palm Beach. About Wednesday, it started inching closer and closer to being a west coast hit. That’s when I started watching (forecasts) every three hours. By Thursday night, we knew we were in the danger zone,” said Nancy.
The family had initially planned to ride out the storm but had a change of heart by Saturday morning.
“Friday morning I got up and heard there were some generators in town that were for sale. I ran and bought a generator. My husband put up all of the Hurricane shutters at our house. I got all of our supplies and decided to hunker down. We thought it’ll be close but it’ll still be okay. Then we heard the storm was going to be a category 4. It started getting very real at that time. Many of our friends were staying but a lot of people were going. It was kind of a mixed bag. My in-laws and my husband’s brother and his wife decided to stay. But Saturday morning I woke up and saw the latest forecast, that Irma was a category 4 coming for Sarasota. With visions of Hurricane Andrew, Katrina, and Harvey in my mind, I decided I didn’t want to stay. I have a 14 year old son and a 10 year old daughter and I didn’t want them to experience that either. I woke up my husband and said we’re evacuating to Tennessee. He said no we’ll be okay, we’ve got all our supplies, our Hurricane shutters are up, we’re going to be safe. I said I’ve got to go. He knew I meant it. So we gathered everything we could think of in an hour, wedding albums, kids photos, etc and we jumped in the car and took off down the road hoping that we would be able to get out safely before the storm hit and hoping there would be enough available gas along the way to make the trip. We were taking a chance by leaving but I felt we were taking a bigger chance by staying,” said Nancy.
Since arriving in DeKalb County, Nancy said her family has stayed in touch with relatives and friends back home through social media and have been pleased to learn that their home and neighborhood were spared any major damage.
“My house is actually perfect. Sarasota got very lucky. Irma took a more easterly turn. We got some flooding, debris, and downed trees but nothing serious. No trees fell on our house. I have seen pictures and our house looks like it did when we left it,” said Nancy.
The Vafeas family plans to return home Wednesday if conditions permit. “We’re monitoring the news from our friends down there. Over six million people evacuated from Florida and we only have Interstates 75 & 95 as the north and southbound corridors so they are going to be very packed as people return home and there may continue to be a gas shortage so we’ll see,” she said.
Nancy added that while her family was spared, the storm has caused destruction and loss of life for others and they need to be remembered by all. “We just need to pray for those who didn’t fare as well".
After returning home this week, Nancy and her husband plan to fly back to DeKalb County for her 30 year high school class reunion on September 22 & 23.