Alice Huneycutt of St. Petersburg, Florida, was able to escape the state ahead of the dangerous Hurricane Ian, boarding a plane Tuesday and flying to Reagan National Airport.
“You could feel relief in the plane,” Huneycutt said. “I’ve never heard a plane so quiet. It was definitely a sense of relief throughout the whole group.”
Huneycutt is now staying with family members in Hyattsville, Maryland, and plans to head back home next week.
She made it out of Florida on one of the last flights from Tampa as the hurricane was approaching.
“It was a very strange thing being in the Tampa airport,” said Huneycutt. “You could feel the sentiment of people getting away from the storm.”
Huneycutt’s flight out of Tampa International Airport was at 3:40 p.m. The airport shut down at 5 p.m. ahead of the storm.
“I was very nervous what I would do if that flight did not take off,” Huneycutt said.
Huneycutt has lived in St. Petersburg for 40 years and said she has never seen “a forecast like this before.”
“I will say that when I left the house yesterday headed to the airport, I did have that feeling of saying goodbye,” Huneycutt said, adding that she isn’t sure what kind of damage she’ll find when she goes back.
Hurricane Ian rapidly intensified as it neared landfall along Florida’s southwest coast Wednesday morning, gaining top winds of 155 mph, just shy of the most dangerous Category 5 status.
“This is going to be a nasty, nasty day, two days,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said, stressing that people in Ian’s path along the coast should rush to the safest possible shelter and stay there.
As of early Wednesday afternoon, the massive storm appeared on track to slam ashore somewhere north of Fort Myers and some 125 miles south of Tampa.
“It’s time to hunker down and prepare for the storm,” DeSantis said. “Do what you need to do to stay safe.”
More than 2.5 million people were under mandatory evacuation orders, but by law no one could be forced to flee.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.