Valley native drives 17 hours through night to escape Irma

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – As millions are trying to get themselves and their families out of the path of Hurricane Irma, one Valley native who now lives in Florida says it took him 17 hours to get to Tennessee. That’s where he’ll be staying until the storm passes.

A day after using metal sheets to cover his windows from Irma, Don Corbett drove from his home in Naples, Florida to a hotel in Knoxville, Tennessee. He drove through the night to get there.

“It was like a parade. All you could see is red tail lights as far as you could see in front of you and as far as you could see behind you,” Corbett said.

Corbett is a retired Austintown police officer. He spoke with 33 WYTV News Thursday via Skype.

He says the trip took twice as long as it normally would — with all three lanes of traffic on I-75 moving at just ten miles an hour at times. He says filling the gas tank was an adventure, too.

“Until you got to pretty close to Atlanta, a lot of the fuel was out already,” Corbett said. “The gasoline was a problem. Once you got to the gas station, you were waiting for a half hour to an hour to get to the pump.”

While Corbett and his family say they’ll be staying at a hotel in Knoxville at least until the middle of next week, others won’t be leaving the Sunshine State.

New Wilmington, Pa. native Bill Gardner is a planner with the Florida Department of Transportation and is part of the State Emergency Response Team. He expects to be deployed to help clear roads once Irma has passed.

“It is on an as-needed basis. They will just point us in an area where the greatest need is,” Gardner said.

Unlike previous hurricanes, Gardner says Floridians are not taking this storm for granted and are getting out while they have the chance.

“People see what happened last week in Texas and it’s like we have to do something,” he said. “We better do something — now.”

A member of the 27 First News family is finding herself and her loved ones stuck in south Florida as well.

Production Assistant Jenn Lippiatt had been on vacation seeing family and a new baby nephew in Marco Island on the Gulf Coast near Miami. Although she had reservations to fly home this weekend, she wanted to leave earlier to avoid the hurricane.

However, she says she can’t find any flights.

“They were already jammed or they had been cancelled,” Lippiatt said. “And probably by the weekend, the airport’s not even going to be opened. So we were supposed to come back Sunday. But we’re probably gonna be stuck here longer than that now of course.”

She says her family thought about trying to drive out of Florida, but worried about getting stuck in the slow-moving traffic on I-75 and running out of gas along the way. So the family decided to shelter where they are and hope the brunt of the storm misses them.