Former Roman safe and sound after Irma

Published Sep 11, 2017 at 4:10pm

NAPLES, Fla. — Despite living right in the path of Hurricane Irma, former Roman Eric Maya wasn’t planning on evacuating.

“We weren’t going to leave. There were a lot of people calling me and telling me to evacuate. Part of me was willing to chance it,” Maya, age 32, said in an interview from his Tampa hotel room this morning.

Maya’s mother, Jeannie Maya, of Healy Street, was one of them. She said she is grateful that her son changed his mind.

“But the father inside of me decided I needed to get my kids and my wife out of there,” Maya said this morning.

Maya’s youngest, 2-year-old Kaitlyn, had already escaped to Illinois with her maternal grandmother earlier in the week. But it wasn’t until Saturday — the day before Irma made landfall near his hometown of Naples — that Maya, his wife Katie and their oldest, 5-year-old Ashlyn, finally packed up and hit the road to safety.

“There was no traffic. Because we left so late, there was no more traffic,” Maya laughed.

Born and raised in Rome, Maya is a 2003 graduate of Rome Free Academy who moved to Naples after graduating Ithaca College four years later. Despite living in Florida for a decade, Maya said he’s never experienced a hurricane before.

He said his house in Naples is built to withstand hurricane winds, and he already had the hurricane shutters in place.

“We weren’t worried about the wind, we were worried about the water,” Maya explained. He said hurricanes usually hit at the end of the rainy season, and his nearby lake was already too high for his liking.

Another 10 inches of water were predicted for Naples, and his house was right on the edge of the threat of a storm surge — predicted at 15 feet of water carried inland from the ocean by Hurricane Irma.

“We had plenty of supplies. We were prepared,” Maya said. “But I wasn’t going to take the chance with my family.”

Maya said his family packed up the supplies they’d prepared and drove the 2 1/2 hours north to Tampa. Both cities are located on Florida’s west coast. Maya said his brother-in-law was already staying in Tampa training to be a pilot and he had a hotel room waiting for them, so they did not have to scramble to rent their own.

According to the National Weather Service, Irma made landfall twice in Florida on Sunday. It hit first as a Category 4 storm, then was downgraded to Category 3 the second time it hit Florida. Maya said the hurricane went right for Naples.

“The eye went over my house,” he stated.

Hurricane Irma has since been downgraded to a tropical storm as it continues to move north towards Georgia. An estimated 5.7 million people are without power.

“I slept right through the hurricane last night,” Maya laughed from the comfort of his Tampa hotel room.

“Not a whole lot of damage that I saw in Tampa,” he said this morning. “A lot of debris. It’s going to be the same all over Florida.”

Maya and his family were already packing to return to their home this morning. He said they had good news on that front.

“When we get home, we know our roads will be flooded, but our house is fine,” Maya said. They already own a generator to restore power. “We should be living a relatively normal life.”

Both Maya and his wife work for the local schools, which are closed through the rest of the week. He said his wife is going out to help since many local schools were turned into shelters, while he stays home with their daughter.

In the middle of all the preparations and evacuations, Maya said a lot of Roman transplants like himself were helping each other out. A few Rome families in Orlando were offering him a place to stay, he said, while one old high school friend who was also living in Naples escaped to Charlotte, South Carolina to stay with another old high school friend.

“A lot of Romans helping Romans out,” Maya said.