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‘It’s pretty wild down here’

Matt DeYoung • Sep 9, 2017 at 7:00 AM

While many Floridians have been fleeing the state in advance of Hurricane Irma, Brad VanHall is staying put.

The 38-year-old Grand Haven native lives in Largo, which sits on the strip of land between Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

“It’s pretty wild down here, honestly,” VanHall said Friday. “I stop at the store every morning just to take a peek at what’s going on, and starting Tuesday, at 5:30, 5:45 in the morning, there were people in lines out the door for water. There have been fights breaking out over water.”

VanHall said most of his neighbors and friends are staying put, including his brother, Corey VanHall, who also lives in Largo.

“A lot of people here have been through these storms before, and they plan to hunker down,” he said. “If anything happens, we’ll be here to help each other out.”

VanHall said he is fortunate to had purchased a large supply of water bottles earlier in the week, before word of the oncoming storm caused a rush on water and other necessities.

“Once we started hearing about the storm Monday and Tuesday, it became tough to find water unless you wanted to wait in line,” he said. “Now, every water bottle we finish, we fill with the tap, so we have a stock of probably 100 water bottles. Anything else we have in the fridge, if we finish the orange juice, we refill the bottle with tap water.

“We have some food. My fiancée, Amanda, and her sister are going to try and find more food today,” he said Friday. “The canned goods are pretty picked over. I have to go up on my lunch break today to where I get my dog food, because they’re boarding up their place and leaving.”

VanHall said there are plenty of signs that people have fled their homes in advance of the coming storm. 

There are normally 30-40 people at the gym during his morning workout. On Friday, he said there were just four others at the gym.

Stores that had lines out the door throughout the week now sitting empty.

Just getting to his job has become difficult. VanHall works for Indian Rocks Beach, a coastal community along the Gulf of Mexico. In order to cross the bridge into that town, he was asked to show his work ID to the police blocking the bridge Friday morning.

“I work in a beach community, and we provide sandbags — we’ve gone through seven truckloads of sand,” he said. “I’m still working today, and I’ll be working (Saturday), too.

“We’ve heard some crazy questions from people. ‘Is it true they’re turning off all our power?’ ‘Is it true the water’s going to be turned off?’ A lot of people are freaking out.”

Hurricane Irma was downgraded to a category 4 storm on Friday, but that hasn’t lessened its fury. The tropical storm has claimed more than 20 lives as it pushed through the Caribbean. The storm is expected to reach the Florida Keys later today, and the more heavily populated areas of South Florida on Sunday morning.

We asked our Facebook friends to share their plans for dealing with Hurricane Irma. Here’s what they had to say:

Kathy GatorMom Boudreaux: My husband and I had planned to fly up today to spend a couple weeks in GH, but Irma has changed that. Instead, we are putting up the hurricane shutters and waiting for the storm. We have a whole-house generator, plenty of food and water, and a couple bottles of whiskey! For me, this will probably be the worst hurricane experience in my 52 years in Florida. But we are as ready as we can be! Sure wish we were in Michigan, though!

Hollie Perez: We are hunkered down and the hatches are battened!

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