A couple who lives part of the year in the Somerset County town of Starks and part of the year at Indian Rocks Beach, west of Tampa, Florida, say they will wait until late Saturday to evacuate to higher ground as “catastrophic” Hurricane Irma bears down on the state’s west coast.

Dave Murdoch, 75, whose family settled in Industry in Franklin County in the 1800s and who later ran the Kennebec Volkswagen dealership in Augusta while living in East Monmouth, said he’s seen storms come and go. He was at the cabin in rural Starks until Wednesday night, he said, but returned to Florida to be with housemate Joan Hoag, 78, amid news of the big storm approaching.

“I’ve been through these myself and I wasn’t about to leave Joanie alone,” he said by phone Friday. “The main thing you’ve got to do is make sure there’s nothing that can be blown away. You take everything that will move and make sure it’s secure or behind walls so it can’t get blown away.”

Murdoch said they are in a flood zone at the beach and are prepared to move “a little higher” when the storm hits.

“It’s about 3 miles from here, but we’re not going to go until the last moment. We’re going to get both cars out of here and make sure nothing gets floated away.”

Irma, a Category 4 hurricane with sustained wind of 155 mph, began battering parts of Cuba and the central Bahamas on Friday afternoon.

“It’s not a question of whether Florida is going to be impacted. It’s a question of how bad Florida is going to be impacted,” Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long said Friday. At some point late Saturday into Tuesday, the entire state could see at least hurricane-force gusts of 74 mph and above, according to reports.

Hoag, whose actress daughter Judith Hoag was the original April O’Neil in the first “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie in 1990, said they live between Clearwater and St. Petersburg Beach, about 22 miles west of Tampa.

“We are on the coast. We are on the west coast, right on the Gulf,” Hoag said by phone Friday. “We have mandatory evacuations happening right now. We don’t expect anything probably until Sunday. The storm looks like it’s going more west, and we’re very, very unprotected right here.”

Hoag said they are boarding up their windows and moving anything that could fly away when the storm hits and hoping for the best, as the weather predictions continue to come in. The National Weather Service issued a hurricane watch “until further notice” Friday afternoon, with “hurricane conditions possible” on Sunday, Sunday night and Monday.

“We’re not evacuating — yet,” she said. “We will evacuate by tomorrow afternoon when we realize what track this storm is taking. I am going to evacuate, but I’m only going to evacuate a few miles into high ground. To get out of Florida — it’s crazy — the roads are back-to-back and you’d get stuck in the middle of a hurricane in the middle of Florida. (Interstate) 75 north is crazy. We’re going to stay where we are.”

Hoag said Florida state highway officials are considering making all of the expressways one-way — north, away from the storm track.

Hoag, who first came to live in Starks in 1983, said the weather Friday was still “very nice” with a little breeze and high humidity, but she could feel the pressure dropping.

Murdoch said he expects moving to higher ground will be sufficient to avoid any possible storm surge at sea level where they live at Indian Rocks Beach, a community of about 4,000 people in Pinellas County.

“I’ve been through so many,” he said. “I know I take them too lightly compared to other people, but I’ve been through the devastation and I lived through hurricanes, so I know what I’m up against: You don’t know what you’re up against. That’s why there’s no sense in getting all excited about it, because it can change at any time. You never know.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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