The early images from Hurricane Irma are not pretty.
The storm is tearing through the Carribean with unprecedented force, and the people of Florida are understandably on edge as they wait anxiously to see how the Category Five hurricane progresses. With nearly the entire state potentially at risk, Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency and offered a stern warning to residents in the southernmost part of the state. Thousands have started evacuating already. More evacuations may be necessary.
For a long time, Florida has been a second home for Western New Yorkers. It's the place they move when they retire or find a new job, or the place they choose to buy a second home if they can afford it. 2 On Your Side has been checking in with as many Western New York natives as possible throughout the day, and they've been sharing their stories with us on Facebook from across the state, from St. Augustine in the northwest corner to Miami in the southeast corner.
Daniel Fasciana, originally a North Tonawanda native, owns a Bills Backers bar in Fort Lauderdale named "Boar's Nest Saloon." He plans to ride out Irma.
Fasciana already stocked himself with plenty of gas, food and water, but he's concerned Irma may be worse than anything he's ever encountered during all his years in the Sunshine State.
"Years ago, (Hurricane) Andrew was one of the worst things I thought I ever saw in my life. It looked like an atomic bomb went off," Fasciana said. "Now, we've got this coming at us right in the eye. It does not look good at all. We're just trying to bat down the hatches, and rock and roll, and get through this thing."
Esther Gulyas, whose permanent home is in Western New York, is spending the evening at her second property in Marco Island near Naples. But she won't be there long.
When she saw the forecasts for Irma, she immediately decided to book the first flight she could find back to Buffalo.
"I have to tell you, there's no one that I know down here that is staying. I know that I'm going back to Buffalo tomorrow-- god willing, the planes are flying at 2:45. I can't wait to get out of here," Gulyas said. "And if there were a plane that was available that wasn't full to Buffalo right now, I'd be on it."
Gulyas said many of her neighbors in southwestern Florida seem to be taking Irma more seriously for a few reasons. Obviously, most meteorologists agree it has the potential to be one of the most damaging hurricanes the state has ever encountered.
However, the recent impact of Harvey in southeastern Texas and Louisiana -- and the frightening images that emerged on national television during that storm -- may add to the urgency in Florida as Irma approaches.
"Everybody has a heightended sense of what a hurricane can do," Gulyas said. "People that I think would have ridden out the storm are just getting out of dodge, and everybody is leaving."
Kenny Horn of Tonawanda moved to Punta Gorda, about 100 miles south of Tampa, back in 2015. Hurricanes are new for him, so he's not going to risk anything. His family will be leaving their home behind to stay with family back in Western New York.
They left Thursday night and will hope to navigate the heavy traffic as they continue north on Friday.
Before leaving home, they worked as much as they could to protect it.
"We put up hurricane shutters-- most of our windows are hurricane-proof, but the ones that aren't, you put hurricane shutters on. Bring all your stuff in from outside, and hope for the best," Horn said.
No matter what happens, he's going to treat this like a free vacation for his family.
"Just gonna come back up and get some good food for a change," he said. "Might even be up there for the home opener of the Bills game. I packed my jersey just in case."
At Boar's Nest Saloon, the Bills bar owned by Fasciana, football is no longer the number one priority.
But they could really use a win this weekend.
"Hopefully, we get some good feedback on that Buffalo Bills game," Fasciana said. "That'll keep our spirits high."
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