Residents Huddle Into Shelters, Confident of Beating Erin
FORT PIERCE, Fla. (AP) _ Huddled at a shelter while wind and rain howled outside, 81-year-old Evelyn Wade said she’s had it with having to evacuate her mobile home every time a hurricane comes ashore.
She and her husband, John, aren’t sticking around central Florida to ride out any more like Hurricane Erin. ``After this is over, we’re on the move,″ Mrs. Wade said. ``We’re going to go live with our son in Maine.″
Erin hit land early today packing sustained winds of 85 mph, then battered about 70 miles of Atlantic coastline with drenching rains.
It dwindled as it crawled across central Florida, and by 5 a.m. _ four hours after blowing ashore _ Erin was downgraded to a tropical storm.
The Wades, who both have health problems, couldn’t find a hotel room when they were evacuated Tuesday from their mobile home in Port St. Lucie about 12 hours before Erin came ashore.
They fled to the shelter in the Civic Center, which was the only one in St. Lucie County set up especially for the disabled. Doctors, nurses and paramedics were standing by, and a heavily equipped ambulance was parked inside.
Housed in the 4,200-square-foot-room, many of the evacuees were confident they would be safe and their property would not be damaged. Outside, winds howled eerily and rain fell hard.
Audrey Wallace Chickering, 79, was optimistic that her mobile home could weather the storm, but she was grateful she had a place to go.
``This is the second or third time we’ve had to get out and nothing has ever happened. When we went back, it was just the way it was,″ said Mrs. Chickering, who was accompanied by her husband, Wallace, 87.
``We’re very happy that they’re having a place for us,″ said Mrs. Chickering, who has emphysema and can’t breathe without supplementary oxygen.
Smells of ravioli, tuna sandwiches and vegetable soup wafted through the room as county workers handed out food and beverages to hungry evacuees.
Officials had 100 cots and were expecting more from the county jail. There were plenty of blankets and sheets.
Though emergency officials said it would be hours before the extent of the storm’s damage was known, John Haughie, 37, scoffed at gloomy predictions.
``My hurricane needs list is: 12-pack of beers, beef jerky and a full tank of gas,″ said Haughie, a quadriplegic who uses a wheelchair to get around and drives a car by using special braces on his hands.
He said he checked into the shelter because his father _ who is a contractor _ told him to.
Some weren’t as confident.
Haughie’s nurse, Edie Bitley, was worried, although she weathered previous hurricanes while she lived in Miami Beach. She moved to Port St. Lucie five years ago.
``I’m a little panicky,″ said Ms. Bitley, 37, who was accompanied by her daughter. ``I don’t know how well-built Port St. Lucie is to withstand this.″