Pat and Allan Solum and Gretchen Ziemer, all of Paynesville, headed to Florida to combine a vacation and college visit.
However, upon their arrival at St. Petersburg, they found the college evacuated. Ziemer stayed with her mother Thursday through Sunday, then flew back to Minnesota so she wouldn't miss a lot of school. The Solums stayed in Florida nine days. They spent their first night in St. Petersburg, but in the morning they were told they had to leave as the hotel was closing down for the hurricane.
Allan said they saw evidence of heavy rainfall on Sept. 26. "We drove through water on one stretch of highway. I was a little leary about it but the other drivers were going forward, so we followed," he added.
The Solums had hotel reservations on Sanibel Island. The island is connected to the Florida mainland by a causeway three miles long. With the threat of rising waters, the causeway leading to the island was also closed.
"We headed inland with the rest of the people and found a motel room near Orlando," Pat said. "The next day we called Sanibel and were told we could come out to the island since the hurricane headed off into the Gulf of Mexico toward Louisiana instead of heading up the Florida coastline."
On Thursday, near Tampa Bay, they saw two water spouts and all Pat could think about was getting off the bridge they were driving across.
"The hurricane missed the island, but there were small branches down all over, just like one of our strong wind storms," Allan said.
While on the island, they visited "Ding" Darling Wildlife Refuge. "We had the roads to ourselves," the Solums said. "We took a bicycle tour of the refuge. Due to the heavy rains, the roads were closed to motorized traffic. We saw only one area washed out, other than that the area didn't look overly wet."
"With a hurricane approaching, we were surprised to find the area very calm (weather wise). We were told this was very typical," Pat said. "However, every street leading to the beaches were barricaded."
The Solums felt the area was well prepared for a hurricane. They said the highways were well marked for evacuation routes and the shelters in churches and schools were very well identified for those who had nowhere else to go for shelter.
"Those opting to say in their homes were told not to expect any help," Pat said.
While in Florida, the Solums were not aware of what was happening in other parts of the country as all the news broadcasts dealt with the approaching hurricane. "We didn't see people panic," they added.
"The whole trip was an adventure from the beginning. We had bought our tickets before the Northwest Airline strike and found we had to travel to Detroit then onto Florida," Nathan said.
"We stayed in Tampa Bay on Sept. 25 and the next morning found notes slipped under our doors to be out by noon as they were evacuating the hotel," Nathan said.
"In looking for someplace to go, we were told not to head to Orlando as everything was full and the traffic was heavy," she added. "We didn't think the traffic was any worse the rush hour on the metro freeway."
The wind speeds started to pick up during the reception. The hotel people were trying to speed things along. They were turning off the water and gas before the reception was officially over. "We took it as a strong hint to leave," she added.
As they were leaving the hotel, her brother stopped to help board up doors still wearnig his tuxedo.
Nathan said it seemed like the entire town closed down on Thursday and didn't reopen until Monday.
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