PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Hurricane Matthew may be lashing the southeast coast, but that doesn’t mean Pittsburghers are unaffected by the “monster” storm.
Whether it’s cancelled trips, worrying about family, stranded vacationers, or stories of trying to get out of the way of the storm and back to Pittsburgh, many local people have been impacted.
“As you know… you guys in Pittsburgh get your own issues from the remnants of hurricanes that go through,” said Pittsburgh native and former KDKA-TV anchor Sonni Abatta. “So, it’s more intense down here, but there are certainly a lot of Pittsburghers who have reached out and sort of weighed in on the difference in the natural disasters here versus there.”
But, for Floridians, Abatta says hurricane preparations are nothing new.
“I am shocked and impressed at how well Floridians know this routine,” she said. “They know how to do this. They know what areas they have to get out of. They know what they have to do to keep their homes safe, what they have to move and lock down. It is sort of a dance and everyone here knows it.”
Still there are lots of concerns for vacationers, many of whom travel from the Pittsburgh area.
“All of the theme parks and all the tourist areas, including International Drive, which is a big strip of businesses and other recreational things, all closed down,” said Abatta. “That was smart to make that call early. Actually, Disney was going so far as to relocate guests who staying at their Fort Wilderness property, which is like a camping ground, to other safe buildings.”
At Pittsburgh International Airport on Friday, the arrival board was full of cancelled flights out of the southeast. Some Pittsburgh nurses made it home, but a guy from Brookline was forced to extend his trip.
Few if any flights are departing out of Florida right now. Brady Allen, of Brookline, and his girlfriend are stuck in a hotel at Disney World.
“We had a flight out Thursday night at 7 o’clock and it got cancelled,” said Allen who is trying to get back to Pittsburgh. “Then, we got a flight for Friday, and it got cancelled. Then, we got a flight for Saturday; it got cancelled. So, we’ve been on the phone trying to get one; finally we got one for Sunday afternoon.”
Allen says his extended vacation isn’t free. Disney is charging him another grand to stay three extra nights at the hotel.
As Matthew churned in the Atlantic, a huge nursing convention in Orlando was canceled. Eight nurses from Presbyterian hospitals were stranded.
Trauma director David Bertoty relied on his assistant to find them a rental car and a flight out of Tampa. It was a long trip.
“It was really kind of bumper-to-bumper most of the way,” said Bertoty. “The trip usually takes 90 minutes. It took us about four and a half to five hours to get through to Tampa.”
But they still had to spend the night in the airport terminal.
“I didn’t want to sleep in the airport, but we were supposed to have a place to stay and it fell through, so I stayed in the airport; I didn’t sleep,” said trauma nurse, Deb Stagon.
Back in Florida, other popular tourist destinations for Pittsburghers have also been hard hit. Places like Daytona Beach, St. Augustine, Cocoa Beach, West Palm Beach and more have significant damage.
Once the storm passes by, Abatta says the cleanup process can be just as unsafe.
“This is the most dangerous time because people get back to their properties, they put generators on in place they’re not supposed to and that can be deadly. There are power lines that are down, which is also potentially deadly that people don’t know that they’re crossing,” she says. “They’re trying to make repairs to their homes, and they’re not sure how bad the damage is and that can be dangerous, so they actually say that this is the time they are most concerned about for injuries.”