Couple evacuates, lands in Columbus

After fleeing Hurricane Irma, retired Floridians take refuge in La Quinta Inn & Suites

A Fort Myers couple, fleeing the wrath of Hurricane Irma, headed north like so many other Floridians.

But they didn’t stop in Georgia or even Tennessee. Kristy and Roger Gudobba kept driving until they had added 1,000 miles to their dashboard odometer reading.

The retired couple put their vehicle in “park” and found temporary refuge in Columbus. The Gudobbas and their cat have been staying in the La Quinta Inn & Suites hotel on the west side of Columbus over the past seven days.

Columbus became their hurricane evacuation destination at the recommendation of a friend, David Haines, whose daughter and her husband, Jan and Keith Luken, live near Harrison Lakes.

Haines was heading to Columbus and urged the Gudobbas to follow.

Millions of Floridians evacuated ahead of Hurricane Irma, prompting shortages of gasoline and stalled traffic on Interstate 75 heading north.

Gudobba and her husband chose an alternate route to avoid the traffic jams and left home earlier than many others — on Sept. 6, four days before Hurricane Irma slammed Florida.

Gudobba said she didn’t have second thoughts about leaving when she saw Hurricane Irma on radar heading toward Fort Myers.

That’s despite having tempered glass windows designed to be hurricane-proof in their gated-community home in southwestern Florida.

Even so, they feared that a storm surge would damage their neighborhood, she said.

Their Fort Myers residential community has about 800 residences, a mixture of single-family homes and condominiums. It had experienced flooding weeks earlier due to Hurricane Harvey.

“I wanted to get out of there,” said Gudobba, whose home had sustained minor roof damage during Hurricane Charlie in 2004.

“Mother Nature will do what she wants and we don’t have a choice but deal with it,” Gudobba said.

The Gudobbas’ one-story, three-bedroom ranch home is elevated somewhat higher than other homes in the area, which they think limited damage to it during Hurricane Irma. For example, a neighbor said their barbecue grill ended up in the swimming pool.

Days afterward, there was still no power in the neighborhood.

She said everyone she has communicated with through texting or social media has remained positive.

“We’re thankful that our neighborhood wasn’t devastated,” Gudobba said.

In contrast, people in other coastal areas of Florida lost everything.

“I can’t feel bad for myself when I see what they don’t have,” she said.

In the meantime, the couple plans to stay in Columbus until power has been restored back home.

“We’re just going to hang out,” she said.

BCSC accepting evacuees

The Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. has released a statement encouraging Hurricane Harvey and Irma evacuees to enroll within the district.

The school district said it would immediately enroll students who are evacuees from areas affected by the hurricanes in Texas and Florida, even though they would not likely have all of the paperwork needed for a typical school transfer.

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, BCSC welcomed a number of families, many of whom became permanent residents of the Columbus community.

Columbus area school locations and contact information can be found online at bcsc.k12.in.us.

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com