On Friday, David LaMarre told his parents in Waterville that he was “confident” he would be all right in his home in Tampa when Hurricane Irma hit, and that he planned to wait it out with his family.

But when LaMarre saw an update on the storm at 5 a.m. Saturday and heard the orders to evacuate, he quickly changed his mind.

While the storm was first headed for Miami on the east coast of Florida, it changed and started for the west coast and the area of Tampa-St. Petersburg, which has a population of about 3 million and hasn’t been directly hit by a hurricane since 1921.

By 4 p.m. Sunday, Irma had made landfall on Marco Island and in the Florida Keys, according to the Associated Press, and it had pushed the water out of Old Tampa Bay, which is a body of water near the city’s downtown.

Once LaMarre and his wife, Kristi LaMarre, decided to leave, they only spent 50 minutes packing up the car before leaving with their two children and Kristi’s mother.

“Having two young children made it a lot easier to decide to leave,” LaMarre said. “(…) You can’t take anything for granted, and you have to be prepared for the worst.”


LaMarre, who graduated from Waterville High School in 2000 and moved to Tampa in 2005 “for the climate” and job opportunities, drove for 16 hours on Saturday to get his family to Nashville, Tennessee, where they have friends. The trip would normally take about 11 hours or less.

“We wanted to get far enough out of the way,” he said.

Before the direction of Irma changed, LaMarre and his wife had been preparing for the storm, buying food and bottled water, and securing lawn furniture.

But the storm “kept moving west and west,” he said. While LaMarre had experienced other tropical storms during his time in Florida, he knew Irma would be worse.

“No one has really experienced anything as severe as this,” he said.

Last week, Irma was the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the open Atlantic, with a peak wind speed of 185 mph.


“Our community is very strong. Everybody was helping everybody out,” LaMarre said. “But on Thursday afternoon and Friday, you could see everybody getting concerned.”

Those two days, LaMarre got up at 5 a.m., when gas gets delivered at stations, to go fill up the family car because his “biggest fear” was having to travel on the highway and getting stranded in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

In the drive between Tampa and other cities, Florida can get more rural than even rural Maine, he said.

When he decided to leave, he took an alternative route to avoid the worst traffic, driving on Highway 19, which he said is the equivalent of U.S. Route 1 in Maine, to Interstate 10.

While the traffic was still the heaviest he’d ever seen it, he made it to Tallahassee, where he got off to get gas.

“When I got off the exit, the first seven gas stations I passed didn’t have gas,” he said.


Finally, he found one and continued on to Nashville without a problem.

While LaMarre hadn’t seen any of the storm’s effects before he left, he is concerned about what he will go back home to.

“I’m sure that we’re going to see wind and tree damage,” he said. “My number one concern is a storm surge, and having water go into our home.”

Meteorologists have said that the storm surge could reach as high as 15 feet.

While the LaMarres have insurance, he said they left at 6 a.m. Saturday and “left our home pretty much intact,” including things like photographs that can’t get replaced.

But LaMarre’s biggest concern is when he and his family will be able to return to Tampa.


“When will the power go back on? I saw one report that said it could be two to three weeks without power,” he said. “That’s a long time to be away from home with two kids. When can we get our life back to some sense of normalcy?”

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour

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