Watching and waiting
Mia Loder Corrales didn't sleep at all Sunday night.
The Lake Oswego resident and native Floridian spent the evening tracking the path and destruction of Hurricane Irma as the deadly storm made landfall in the Florida Keys and moved up the coast toward her hometown of Indian Rocks Beach, just outside of Tampa Bay.
"We were so blessed this was a Category 2 instead of a Category 5, like it was supposed to be," Corrales told The Review on Monday. "(My family) knows what the Gulf can do, and if it had hit just miles west of where it was, we would have gotten decimated."
Although she's thankful the storm dissipated a bit before passing over Indian Rocks Beach, Corrales and her family are still worried about the damage and flooding they might find when bridges connecting the island beaches along the Gulf of Mexico reopen. That's when they'll be allowed to return to the string of businesses the Loder family owns, all located just a couple hundred yards away from where strong storm surges were expected to come ashore.
"(Waiting to see the damage) is incredibly scary and nerve-wracking," Corrales said. "One of our locations has been there for 36 years."
Two years ago, Corrales and her husband JT moved to Lake Oswego after JT was offered a job at Portland Meadows, but the couple remain heavily involved in the family businesses — three restaurants and a coffee and juice bar in Indian Rocks Beach and neighboring towns.
The oldest, Crabby Bill's, was started by her grandfather, Bill Loder, in 1983 and serves as a local staple and tourist favorite, according to online reviews.
Corrales said Sunday evening was spent glued to the Weather Channel — as well as checking online with Bay News 9, the local Charter affiliate in St. Petersburg — in an effort to learn as much as she could and pass along the news to her family.
"They can't get onto the beach yet because there's a lot of downed power lines. They don't have any signal, so they can't search on their phones to see the news," she said. "All night I was watching and texting them updates because they can get texts but no internet."
To date, Hurricane Irma is the closest to a direct hit Indian Rocks Beach has taken from a storm, Corrales said.
"The biggest storm my parents say they remember was Hurricane Andrew in 1992," she said. "The last one I can remember being pretty substantial to the area was Tropical Storm Debbie, and we didn't even get a direct hit. The storm surge from that caused about 3 feet of water inside our Indian Rocks Beach location."
Corrales and her family are expecting similar flooding with Hurricane Irma, particularly at their restaurant that's located on a seawall in the town of Indian Shores, just west of St. Petersburg.
The island beaches of Indian Rocks, Indian Shores and Clearwater were part of a mandatory evacuation zone that forced Corrales' family, including her brother who lives above one of the family's restaurants, to move inland.
They were urged by government officials to leave the Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg area completely, but the mass evacuation caused traffic jams so bad that the drive almost doubled in time. Horror stories of fights breaking out at home-supply stores over sandbags and chaos at local storm shelters kept Corrales' family in their homes, she said, where they hunkered down and waited Hurricane Irma out.
"It was taking people roughly 10 and a half hours (to get to Georgia), and there was such a shortage of gas that people were running out of gas and cars were getting stranded on the side of the highway," she said. "So my family decided to not leave town because it was scarier to be on the road with kids and not have any gas available."
Over the next few days, Corrales' family will begin returning to Indian Rocks Beach to assess the damage caused by Hurricane Irma. While any loss of property is disheartening, Corrales and her family know that the storm could have been much worse if it hadn't dissipated slightly upon landfall — and thankfully, she said, nobody in her family was hurt.
Corrales had already planned to visit Indian Rocks Beach in November to finalize the reopening of her juice and coffee bar, which she recently relocated from an inland location back to the beach, but those plans could be interrupted thanks to Irma.
"It's almost harder to be away from it, but it's opened my eyes that I need to be prepared in my own home so there's not mass chaos in the event something does happen (here in Oregon)," she said. "Both my parents said next time there's a warning in effect, they will absolutely evacuate, because they said the destruction they've seen just in their neighborhood was frightening, and that was just under a Category 2."