Buffalo ex-pats in the path of Hurricane Matthew - The Buffalo News

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Buffalo ex-pats in the path of Hurricane Matthew

There are a lot of former Western New Yorkers dealing with Hurricane Matthew's assault on the southeastern coast of the United States. Here are a few tales of how some Buffalo ex-pats are dealing with the storm:

Dealing with complacency

Part of the worry with all major storms, including hurricanes, is the potential complacency of residents who either don't prepare or don't evacuate when they should.

Before Matthew, South Florida hadn't seen a hurricane since Hurricane Wilma in 2005.

That's 11 years of people moving into Florida from other places who have no experience dealing with a storm like this, said Paul Callsen, who spent almost two decades as public works director in Sunrise, Fla.

"People just don't understand," said Callsen, who grew up in Lackawanna.

When there are significant gaps between major storms - just like between ice storms in places like Western New York - damage is usually worse because the vegetation was allowed to grow for some time without any "natural trimming," Callsen said.

Saved by 'little wiggle'

As Hurricane Matthew approached Florida, food vanished from grocery store shelves. Most of the people in his building evacuated.

But Mike Tabaczynski decided to stay put in his condo in downtown West Palm Beach.

"I was pretty comfortable riding it out," said Tabaczynski, who is originally from Alden and who moved to Florida about six years ago.

His condo sits about 200 yards from the Intracoastal Waterway on the coast.

He said he felt confident in his building; he stocked up on supplies, including bottled water and canned food, too. He made extra ice in the days leading up. He filled his bathtub with water in case water pressure became an issue.

He also admitted part of his decision to stay came from a bit of curiosity.

Thankfully for Tabaczynski and others in his area, his part of the coast didn't take a direct hit from the hurricane, which forecasters at one point said was a possibility. He watched the storm make a move a little bit to the east and north.

"That little wiggle saved us a lot of damage down here," he said.

He only lost power for about five minutes during when the brunt of the storm hit.

"Thank God we got lucky," he said. "I know a lot of people didn't get as lucky."

A fallen tree rests on a home in the Castaways on the River as Hurricane Matthew blows into Astor on Friday, Oct. 7, 2016. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

A fallen tree rests on a home in the Castaways on the River as Hurricane Matthew blows into Astor on Friday, Oct. 7, 2016. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

Better to be safe than sorry

Gail Sloane, who lives in Tallahassee, Fla., was visiting her mother in Stuart as Hurricane Matthew made its approach.

Sloane's mother lives near the mouth of the St. Lucie River, which at one point was forecast as the place the hurricane might make landfall as a Category 4 storm.

When Sloane and her mother heard that, that's when they decided to get out of town. Sloane, who moved from Orchard Park down to Florida for college around 1975, has lived through a number of hurricanes as a Florida resident.

"It's better to be safe," she said.

Before they left her mother's house, they plopped sandbags outside doors to the home and put towels on the inside. They fastened up their storm shutters on top of hurricane-proof windows and packed up some clothes and some coolers full of food. They added ice to the freezer and kept the air conditioning going, expecting to lose power there.

At 4 a.m. Thursday, they hit the road back to her home in Tallahassee, which is where they plan to stay for now. They're going to keep tracking the hurricane's progress, as the storm is expected to go up the coast and curve back around, possibly towards Florida again.

"I just don't want to put her back in harms' path," Sloane said of her mother.

For Sloane, these situations are all about preparation. Just like when people in the Buffalo area get ready for a snow storm to strike.

"No matter where you go, you have a challenge to face, but it's always good to be prepared," she said.

COCOA BEACH, FL - OCTOBER 07: A man walks past heavy surf caused by Hurricane Matthew, Oct. 7, 2016, on Cocoa Beach, Fla. Hurricane Matthew passed by offshore as a category 3 hurricane bringing heavy winds and minor flooding. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

COCOA BEACH, FL - OCTOBER 07: A man walks past heavy surf caused by Hurricane Matthew, Oct. 7, 2016, on Cocoa Beach, Fla. Hurricane Matthew passed by offshore as a category 3 hurricane bringing heavy winds and minor flooding. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Send pizza and wings

Cathleen Siegel rode out the storm last night in her West Palm Beach-area home with her two dogs - Buster, a Whippet hound, and Reeves, a Collie.

It was Siegel's fifth hurricane since moving to Florida from Snyder in 1997.

It was the fifth storm for Buster, too.

"He slept through the whole thing," Siegel said.

Buster, a Whippet hound, slept through much of Hurricane Matthew. (Cathleen Siegel)

Buster, a Whippet hound, slept through much of Hurricane Matthew. (Cathleen Siegel)

The hurricane was at its peak in her area starting around 11 p.m. Thursday through about 4 a.m. Friday, she said. Siegel lives about 6 miles inland, she said.

She lost power for two hours, but her home didn't sustain any damage.

"It's a little nerve-wracking," she said. She boarded up her windows in preparation for the storm, which brought strong wind and rain.

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In addition to prepping the windows, she bought batteries for her radio and flashlights, "a lot of water," and enough food for both her dogs and herself for a few days.

Was anything else on the shopping list?

"Beer, of course," she said.

'It sounded like a war zone'

For Ellie Chan, who evacuated from her home in Melbourne, Fla., with her family, Hurricane Matthew was the scariest weather event she'd ever been through.

Even though she and her family got out, some of her neighbors stayed to ride out the storm. Her neighborhood wasn't part of the mandatory evacuation zone.

She talked to some who stayed Friday morning and what they described was an onslaught of wind and rain in the dark of night.

"They just heard things," she said. "It sounded like a war zone."

Chan, her husband, her two young children and their two dogs evacuated Wednesday night to Clearwater, about 160 miles away on Florida's western coast. She had originally moved from Depew to Florida in 2005, and moved to North Carolina and then back to New York before moving back to Florida. Her family is staying some other Buffalo ex-pats in Clearwater, she said.

She had been through Hurricane Wilma in 2005 ("That was nothing compared to this," she said.) Chan credited Florida's emergency officials and media warnings about the storm.

"I am so glad that they took the precautions that they did," she said by phone Friday morning. "You need to leave. You just don't know."

Chan, who works as a realtor, said Florida has been able to dodge hurricanes for the last decade or so, and the fact that Hurricane Matthew hasn't devastated the coast "a miracle."

"I would take a blizzard any day," she said.

email: abesecker@buffnews.com

 

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