‘It could have been a lot worse for us’
What happens when a hurricane interrupts your family vacation?
Scott Pagel, sports editor of the Whitehall-Coplay, Northampton, Catasauqua and Bethlehem editions of the Lehigh Valley Press, was on vacation with his family Oct. 5-12 at Disney All-Star Sports Resort in Orlando during the time Hurricane Matthew was projected to hit Florida.
The storm formed Sept. 28 and dissipated Oct. 10, leaving 13 days of destruction in its wake.
Matthew was the first Category 5 Atlantic hurricane since Felix in 2007. It hit Haiti, Cuba and Dominican Republic before striking parts of the southeastern United States.
“I actually heard about the hurricane a few days before it made the turn north in the Caribbean,” Pagel said.
“At that point, it was so far out no one seemed to know anything for certain.”
With all the stresses of packing and getting ready and wondering how his nearly 5-year-old twin boys would handle a plane ride for the first time, Pagel said he didn’t have a lot of time to worry about it.
“I never flew into Orlando before, let alone with two toddlers, and wasn’t sure where to go or where to find our bus to the resort, and things like that, so I was more stressed about that stuff.”
With its eventual approach to the United States, several states declared states of emergency. The storm was set to hit Florida the night of Oct. 6 after passing through the Bahamas.
“The day before it hit was great,” Pagel said.
“On Thursday, we went to Magic Kingdom and had little-to-no wait for anything. We got on two days’ worth of rides that one day.
“They eventually announced the park would close at 5 p.m. on Thursday and was closing all day on Friday,” he said.
“We kept getting texts from family and friends.
“Most were concerned but some made fun of me because Disney had only closed three times ever before this, so this was a pretty rare thing to be a part of — which kind of summed up how serious things were becoming with each updated forecast.”
According to Pagel, the mood in the area before the storm hit was rather calm.
People were simply just trying to make the most of their vacation.
“People really didn’t seem panicked at all,” he said. “On the bus back to the resort, we talked to a family that was driving home to North Carolina that night (Thursday).
“For the most part, I saw no signs of people in panic and fleeing the resort. I hardly even overheard people talk about it, which I found kind of strange.”
More than 1 million homes lost power in Florida as the storm passed through, with close to 500,000 losing power in Georgia and South Carolina.
As the storm moved north, torrential rains spread inland in both the Carolinas and Virginia, which has caused widespread flooding, an ongoing struggle for parts of the states.
But power and flooding were not concerns for the Pagel family.
“The big issue was the food court in the resort,” Pagel explained.
“Rumors were that it would also be closed on Friday and that was a worry because I think most people who flew in, including us, didn’t have a lot of food with them and were depending on meal plans. If the food court was closed, a lot of people would be out of luck.”
Pagel and his wife discussed options and decided it would be a good idea for him to take an Uber to one of the nearby grocery stores for simple items including lunch meat, milk, water and bread.
“On the way to the grocery store, it was pouring rain and there was traffic, and here I am in a car with a stranger trying to go a few miles to a store,” Pagel said. “Then it hit me. There may be nothing at this grocery store to even buy at this point.
“Everyone was probably after the same things I was.
“But, I was able to get everything except bread. I had to settle for hot dog rolls. But I did get a six-pack of beer,” Scott joked. “The Uber driver waited the whole time, even with long lines at checkout.
“Eventually, I was on my way back to the resort. It was a big relief knowing we’d have something to eat for the next day.”
It is estimated that thus far the storm has accounted for 39 deaths in the United States with property damages estimated in excess of $10 billion, making it the costliest Atlantic hurricane since Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Still, the storm didn’t seem to affect the Disney World Resort much.
“It turned out it really wasn’t that bad,” Pagel said. “There were some wind gusts and rain, but honestly where I was, there weren’t any issues and [it] didn’t seem like a hurricane. We got pretty lucky.”
Around 2 p.m. Friday, the family wandered out of their room to check out the resort and walk around. They found most things were wrapped up.
“We probably could have been more prepared, but since we just got down there, we really didn’t have the time until last minute,” Scott said. “Because there was a hurricane warning, we could have been refunded for our trip but opted to ride it out.
“We were pretty lucky especially when you see the damage it caused in other places. That may not have been the best decision, but we were fortunate it worked out.”
The remainder of the Pagel family trip was a success, and the family returned to the Lehigh Valley safe and sound Oct. 12.
“It actually didn’t rain again until a small shower the night before we left,” Pagel said. “The kids had a great time meeting all the characters and going on rides and weren’t phased by the hurricane whatsoever.”
Anyone interested in helping those affected by Hurricane Matthew may donate to the American Red Cross by visiting redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or by texting the word MATTHEW to 90999 to make a $10 donation.