For many people fleeing mandatory evacuation areas in Florida, it was hard to know the right place to go.
But former Bloomington Mayor Steve Stockton used his State Farm experience as he was preparing for Hurricane Irma to hit near his condo in Cocoa Beach.
Stockton and his wife, Linda, were at their home in Bloomington when they learned Hurricane Irma was setting up to pummel Florida. They jumped in the car and drove 18 hours straight to their ocean-front condo.
Stockton is the head of his condo association, and he feels a responsibility to help secure the 64-unit complex and to ensure its residents' safety.
"We came down last year for Hurricane Matthew and I took the lead in preparations, so when we heard Irma was going to be heading up the coast, we actually tried to take a flight on Allegiant but then they cancelled our flight," Stockton said on GLT's Sound Ideas.
They decided to drive and saw the line of cars heading north on Interstate 75 and had few cars heading into an evacuation area.
Once in Cocoa Beach, Stockton helped sandbag, shut down elevators, make sure open areas such as vents were covered, and loaded up valuables in two vehicles and drove with Linda to Orlando.
Experience Pays Off
Stockton picked the same airport where they stayed a year ago during Hurricane Matthew. He tapped into his often-used criteria back when he was an executive at State Farm who located housing for claims representatives who would be going into disaster areas.
In this case, Stockton liked the Wyndham Hotel near the Orlando Airport because it is a newer hotel built to withstand a hurricane.
"It was fairly new so it had many of the standards that were set up after Hurricane Andrew. It was one that had underground utilities," Stockton said. "It's near the airport right off the main road, so we knew the roads would be open quickly because we knew the airport is an important destination."
It worked out well because the Stocktons had air conditioning, internet service and television along with water for hot showers. Other condo neighbors who had fled to Orlando hotels were not so lucky.
Stockton headed out Monday for a daylight survey of his condo complex, heading down a busy stretch of highway on his 60-mile drive from Orlando back to Cocoa Beach, with caravans of utility trucks to deal with outages that left 60 percent of Floridians without power.
"I have never seen so many utility trucks," said Stockton.
Ultimately the condo complex was spared from the worst of the hurricane-force winds that tore the roof off of the police station in Cocoa Beach and that did significant damage to a motel. The complex lost two rooftop air conditioning units, some trees and some large concrete roof tiles.
"Most of the damage is within two blocks of the ocean, and most of it is little things. An air conditioner torn off its mounting doesn't seem like a little thing but compared to what could happen so close to the beach, it's not a big deal," Stockton said.
You can also listen to GLT's full interview with Stockton:
WGLT depends on financial support from users to bring you stories and interviews like this one. As someone who values experienced, knowledgeable, and award-winning journalists covering meaningful stories in central Illinois, please consider making a contribution.