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Western New Yorkers lend a hand, hunker down as Hurricane Ian hits southwest Florida

While many have evacuated or made the long trip north to safety, others are riding out the hurricane and trying to keep family and friends updated.

FLORIDA, USA — As Western New York watches Hurricane Ian inch its way up Florida's Gulf Coast, there is no doubt many are eagerly waiting to hear from family living in the sunshine state. While many have evacuated or made the long trip north to safety, others are riding out the weather.

Teresa Heath, who is originally from Cheektowaga, moved to LaBelle, Fla., back in January. While they are located fairly inland, she was feeling anxious about the storm's arrival.

“I don't think you can overprepare for this, to be honest with you. I'm used to blizzards, snowstorms, and maybe an occasional tornado. ... This is a matter of possibly no electricity and keeping cool,” Heath told 2 On Your Side on Wednesday afternoon.

Health and her family boarded up their windows a little last minute, she said, but were grateful once the wind started howling.

Mike Hill and his wife Kristen are also recent transplants who moved from Hamburg to Punta Gorda. Hill said while he had faith in his home holding up, being just 40 miles east of where Ian was expected to make landfall was nerve-wracking.

While Ian’s initial landfall was set to happen north of Punta Gorda, near Tampa Bay, Hill said he cursed when he saw the altered path late Tuesday, which had it making landfall further south. The hurricane made landfall just after 3 p.m. Wednesday near Cayo Costa with sustained winds of around 150 mph.

“Our plan was always to leave because we have that option, which is really nice, and I'd rather go up there, and the reality is the storm could be over in an hour, but the aftermath could be 3-4 weeks you could be living in horror,” Hill said.

Hill said around noon Wednesday that the worst part was waiting for Ian’s arrival.

Deneen Kozielski is a Medina native who has lived in Bonita Springs for 18 years now and considers herself a veteran of hurricane prep.

“We have filled the tubs with water to make sure we have usable water in case the power does go out,” Kozielski said.

While speaking with 2 On Your Side on Wednesday around 11:30 a.m. Kozielski lost power after hearing a transformer blow up down the street. She said they were well prepared, however, and also have two condos above her with Buffalonians ready to take her in if needed.

“We have packed medicines, important papers, snacks, and water in case we need to relocate to a higher floor,” she added.

Like many Western New Yorkers, Carol Harvey is a snowbird and left her home in North Tonawanda recently to spend winter on the east coast of Florida. With much less damage expected on the Atlantic side, Harvey said she is hosting relatives who evacuated from Venice, Fla. Venice was in an area expected to get anywhere between 8-12 feet of storm surge.

“They traveled over yesterday with the evacuation orders, and I invited them to come over with me thought it would be a little bit safer,” Harvey said.

She has another sheltering family staying in an Airbnb she rents out.

Victoria Ernst, a Clarence native who lives in Tampa, traveled south earlier this week to hide out at her parents’ house in Naples – also expecting the hurricane to make landfall further north like Mike Hill.

“As it got closer, you know, it starts to sink in, you might not have the power, you might not have the things that you're used to every day, so it's a little scarier than I thought it would be,” Ernst said.

A lot of the Western New Yorkers 2 On Your Side spoke with mentioned the last hurricane of this size to hit Florida. Hurricane Michael hit the panhandle as Category 5 storm in 2018.

Trevor Lewis was supposed to fly out of Fort Myers on Wednesday morning after a weeklong visit to his grandfather’s home in Bonita Springs, Fla. He went to the Bills game in Miami and was ready to leave, but was forced to ride out the storm once his flight was canceled.

“There’s been a lot of wind, a lot of rain, and then the storm surge is a big concern here. We're expecting up to 12 feet of storm surge in our area,” Lewis said.

For his first hurricane experience, Lewis said that he was able to help a few neighbors secure their belongings and got enough gas for their generator to last 12 hours, with expected power outages across the state.

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