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Detroit Lakes woman, former DL Tribune photographer evacuating homes on Key West to escape Irma

Barb and Dave Herzog of Detroit Lakes have a rental home in Key West, Fl. that Barb evacuated from Wednesday afternoon. The DOD employee who manages a naval marina on Key West is headed north to escape Hurricane Irma. (submitted photo) 1 / 2
Barb Herzog took this photo as she got to the mainland of Florida. While this may be a stressful site, she says it's better than the alternative - closed gas stations. (submitted photo)2 / 2

As the monster Hurricane Irma churned towards Florida Thursday, Detroit Lakes resident Barb Herzog is busy trying to get out of its way. The Department of Defense employee working for the U.S. Navy manages a naval marina on Key West, and if the saying "hurry up and wait" doesn't apply to the military this time, it certainly applies to Irma evacuees.

"Well, I'm going 7-miles an hour right now," said Herzog as she drove a detour off a closed I-70 in north Florida. "At least I'm not at a standstill anymore."

Herzog, who lives in Detroit Lakes part of the time with her husband, Dave Herzog, and part of the time in Key West for her job, left the Keys Wednesday around 3 p.m., making the drive to Cocoa, Florida in 10 hours instead of a typical seven hours.

"As soon as I got on the mainland, there were long lines for fuel," she said, stopping for a moment to try to battle with her phone's GPS that had her re-routing through different road closures and directions north. For her, gas fill-ups have been lengthy, but at least they've been doable.

"Every gas station along Highway 1 down along Cocoa Beach was out of fuel," she said, feeling lucky at that point to have had a half a tank to keep going.

"The Florida governor has the State Patrol escorting fuel trucks so they can get through the traffic to keep delivering fuel," she said, adding that despite the fact that people in Florida, including her, are used to hurricanes, this one has them rattled.

"You just keep thinking of the different hurricanes like Andrew, and you remember how much damage it did...and then to know that they say this one is the largest ever recorded in the Atlantic - yeah, this one feels different."

Herzog says she isn't a nervous person by nature though, and before she left her rental home in Key West, she and her son simply took the things she wanted the most, moved what she could up off the floor, shuttered what windows she could and left.

"We don't have renters insurance because in Florida you can't get that living in a mobile home, but most of the important things we own are in Detroit Lakes anyway," she said calmly.

At best, she hopes the Category 5 hurricane will miss the keys or at least not hit them directly. At worst, she worries what she'll come back to after the storm.

"Our marina isn't the most protected," she said, adding that she anticipates the storm surge doing more damage to the boats there than the actual wind.

Her plan is to make it to Valdosta, Georgia on Highway 75 on the Florida/Georgia border. The Navy wanted her evacuated within 300 miles of Atlanta. She's hoping the hotel she plans on staying at until Monday is inland enough, but she's keeping one eye on Irma.

"I'll watch it, and if need be, I'll keep going north or west," she said. "It's stressful, but you know it's going to happen, so you just do your best."

Minnesota bound

Former Detroit Lakes Tribune Photographer Brian Basham has been living his dream for the past year and a half, working as a photographer at the Key West Citizen newspaper, but while Basham may have not blinked much of an eye at white-out blizzards back home, this has been a whole different story.

“I was a little frazzled at work all week,” said Basham, “I was like ‘Uh, there’s a category 5 hurricane headed our way, isn’t anybody here freaked out?’”

Basham worked up until the moment he left, shooting photos of the hospital being evacuated via a military C-130 on Wednesday.

“I shot that, turned in my photos, picked up my cat and left,” said Basham, who says he also packed his vehicle full of his most items but had to leave the rest.

“I can hope for the best...or it’ll just get wiped out,” he said, laughing at the idea of possible looters.

“If they want my dishes and stuff, they can have them,” he laughed.

All of Thursday was spent driving north - as far north as he can get until he gets back to Minnesota, but going is slow.

“It varies, but right now I’m going 25 (miles per hour),” he said from I-75. His plan is to drive until he just can’t anymore. Hotels are hard to come by, but Basham says so is space at the rest areas.

“They’re packed - the bulletin boards they have that go over the interstate will say ‘Next rest stop is at capacity’”.

Basham says even if Key West doesn’t take a direct hit, the fact that the land is only a couple of feet above sea level means even a storm surge or heavy rain will likely mean flash floods. It’s a scene he’ll watch safely from Minnesota and decide what to do then. When reminded that these things don’t happen in Minnesota, he quips back with a laugh, “Yeah, but in a few months it won’t be really pretty there, either.”

Paula Quam

Paula Quam is the editor for Forum Communications Co. newspapers in Detroit Lakes and Perham, both in Minnesota.

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