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Buffalo voices in Irma's path: 'It's eerie ... the calm before the storm'

Like millions of people in Florida, Charles P. "Chuck" Ewing is hunkering down in his home, preparing for the worst but hoping and praying for the best.

Ewing is a University at Buffalo law professor and forensic psychologist who recently moved to Naples, Fla. He spent a nervous Saturday getting ready for the expected landfall of Hurricane Irma.

Ewing, 68, is facing the storm alone. His wife, Sharon, their son and daughter and two grandchildren are safely far away in other states.

He thought about evacuating, but no flights were available. The local gas stations are out of gasoline, and roads are clogged with cars loaded with anxious people trying to get out of town.

"I guess I really am hunkered down here," Ewing told The Buffalo News in a cellphone interview Saturday afternoon. "I've got eight flashlights, two battery-operated radios and a hand-cranked radio. I heard about a Costco store that had batteries, and went there and bought 68 batteries yesterday. I have food, water and have done everything I can to get my house ready for the storm."

He's even picked a "safe room" in the house.

Charles P. "Chuck" Ewing is hunkering down in his home in Naples, Fla.

"It's a closet in a hallway, just outside our bedroom. It's the only room in the house that has no outside walls," Ewing said.

Newscasts were reporting that Naples, near Florida's west coast, was right on Irma's path.

The good news for Ewing was that his home was built last year and meets current hurricane safety codes.

"All of our windows are hurricane-proof. I guess we're going to find out if that works," Ewing said. "Actually, I think this home is about as safe a place as I'm going to find around here."

Ewing spent much of Saturday outdoors, looking out at the small lake behind his home. The lake was perfectly calm and the weather was beautiful.

"It's eerie … the calm before the storm," he said. "Very calm and pretty. Actually, the last two days have been two of the most beautiful days since we got down here."

Ewing has been known for decades in Buffalo as an expert on criminal minds and as a distinguished professor at UB's law school. He has served as a forensic expert on dozens of bizarre, high-profile criminal cases in the Buffalo area. He recently left his job at the law school, and he and his wife decided to settle in Naples, a beautiful city where they had owned a condominium for many years.

Living in the path of a monster hurricane over the past couple of days has caused Ewing to do a lot of thinking about his life, career and family.

"For me, this situation has been a real eye-opener about what's important in life," Ewing said. "What's really important? It's not your property or your work. It's the health and safety of you and your family. That's what is important."

Laurie Hertel McQueeney , a native of the Town of Tonawanda, was pondering similar thoughts as she and her husband, Frank, prepared to face the storm at their home in Citrus County, 240 miles north of Naples.

"It's been a scary few days," said McQueeney, 46, who works in a radiology office. "You do everything you can to prepare, but ultimately, the direction of the storm is totally out of our control. You never want to pray for someone else's misfortune, but we keep praying that the storm goes somewhere else. Right now, it looks like it is heading for us."

The McQueeneys live in a small community called Beverly Hills, where they own their home and three rental homes. Like Ewing, they considered the possibility of evacuating Beverly Hills.

"We thought about that, but there's no gasoline available. What happens if you get in your car, start driving and run out of gas in the middle of nowhere?" McQueeney said.

"Where do you go?" her husband asked. "We've heard stories about people who left their homes in Miami and booked hotel rooms here. Now the storm is headed here."

Fortunately for the McQueeneys, they have hurricane insurance on all four of the homes they own. But the insurance has a $5,000 deductible payment, per home, Laurie McQueeney said.

She has numerous relatives and loved ones in the Buffalo area and has been trying to assure them that she and her husband will be OK.

"Frank's cousin lives across the street from us. He has a whole-house generator and we plan to go over there Sunday night, when the storm is supposed to hit," Laurie McQueeney said. "We'll all stay together and help each other get through this."

She and Ewing are believed to be two of hundreds, if not thousands, of former Western New Yorkers who now live in Florida and will be riding out the storm there.

"Obviously, there will be people who think they can ride this out. We hope they will be OK," Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said on CNN Saturday. "I will tell you that if the winds are consistently at 40 mph or greater, our police and firefighters cannot come to get you. So if you're going to stay, hunker down."

"At this point, I'd settle for anything short of really bad damage to life and property," Ewing said. "Right now, I'm doing everything I can possibly do to physically prepare myself and my home for this storm. After that, it's in God's hands."




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