Bianca Doniver drove six hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic to the Tallahassee International Airport on Friday in a desperate attempt to escape Hurricane Irma.
Doniver, a Detroit native who now lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, said her family had begged her to come home, but nearly all the airports in her area were either sold out, closed or charging more than $1,000 for tickets.
“I was willing to go anywhere outside of Florida,” said Doniver, a 28-year-old pharmacist. “I haven’t slept since Wednesday. But I had to make sure I got out.”
She eventually found a Delta Air Lines flight for $226 out of Tallahassee to Detroit and booked it immediately.
Doniver was among the throngs of Michigan natives scrambling to get out of Florida ahead of Irma, which is expected to make landfall as a Category 4 storm this weekend.
Passengers landing at Detroit Metro Airport on Friday expressed relief to be home with family and far from the storm.
Many described Florida as chaotic, with heavy highway traffic, empty grocery store shelves and gas stations running out of gas.
Kirsten Biretto said she tracked the storm all week and had her brother book her flight when she saw it headed toward Fort Myers.
“It scared the crap out of me,” said the medical assistant, who grew up in Walled Lake. “I can do a (Category) 1 or a 2 (hurricane) for my first one, but not a 5 or a 4.”
Hadi Boudjemai, of Canton, cut his vacation in Tampa short to come home. Getting out of Florida, he said, was a hassle.
Boudjemai said he spent two hours on the phone with Delta trying to book a flight and went to 10 different gas stations before finding fuel for the car he was driving.
“People are very uncertain of what’s going to happen,” he said, while standing at luggage claim waiting to collect his suitcase. “So nobody knows what to expect and it creates panic.”
Kathy Wolf, 62, spent $419 on a one-way flight from Tampa to Detroit.
It was a higher price than she expected, but Wolf said she didn’t feel safe in her apartment in Dunedin, a town on the west coast outside of Tampa.
The Florida town declared a state of emergency and ordered evacuations in some areas.
Wolf, a Lincoln Park native, said she is hoping she will have a home to go back to after the storm.
“I feel great now,” Wolf said, as she stood next to her one-year-old granddaughter in a stroller. “We’ve got family that we want to see.”
The threat of Irma also has left some Floridians who wish to go home stuck in Michigan.
Sheri Westover traveled to Richmond for a family emergency a couple weeks ago, and now she can’t get back to her son and sister in New Smyrna Beach.
“I’m not worried,” she said. “They have been through (hurricanes) several times. My son is taking care of people at a nursing home during the storm.”
And while the storm is expected to bring massive damage to Florida communities, Doniver said she is not concerned about her apartment.
“I have a 60-inch TV.... I left it standing where it was,” Doniver said. “I have insurance for everything. I don’t care about any material things.”
Staff Writer Sarah Rahal contributed.