I relocated to Tampa, FL in 2004 for a job opportunity. I moved into my apartment on Saturday, July 31 and started work the following Monday. One week later, the local news was dominated by Hurricane Charley, which was predicted to be the first hurricane to directly hit Tampa since 1921. Sound familiar?
I was told I was in a mandatory evacuation area, meaning 911 calls might not be answered for anyone who refused to leave. Nevertheless, most of my new, local friends told me to ignore the order. “They always say that,” I was told. “It always ends up being a lot of rain, nothing more.”
Something inside told me they were right. Still, I was new and although I never really feared for my life, I had recurring visions of local first responders pulling me out of the rubble as the media ridiculed the “Yankee who couldn’t follow simple instructions.” So, I played it safe and booked a hotel in Orlando.
On August 13, the hurricane turned right and made landfall in Port Charlotte, about 100 miles south of Tampa. It was a Category 4 when it hit, meaning winds of over 150 mph. It then made a beeline for – you guessed it – Orlando.