Dine preparing for Florida storm

Satellite imagery of Hurricane Irma

Courtesy of NOAA
GOES-16 captured this geocolor image of Hurricane Irma passing the eastern end of Cuba at about 8:00 am (eastern) on September 8, 2017.

PAGE, Ariz.

It is most likely that Ben Cayatineto is filling sandbags, said Michael Blackman.

Sure enough, Cayatineto was. And it’s nearly 9 p.m. on Sept. 7 in Port Orange, Florida, where preparation for Hurricane Irma is in full swing.

Residents across central Florida are bracing for the impact of Irma, according to Cayatineto, a Diné – originally from Ft. Defiance – who has lived in the Sunshine State for 15 years. He is Shash Dine’é and born for Tó’aheedlíinii.

“I just got home from filling sandbags, to tell you the truth,” said Cayatineto, brother of Blackman, who resides 977 miles away, in the Meyerland suburb of Houston, where more than a week ago Hurricane Harvey went through with a vengeance.

Cayatineto says the current weather in Port Orange is nice. But not for long.

Hurricane Irma, one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes ever recorded struck the northeast Caribbean on Wednesday, its pounding rain and winds of up to 185 miles per hour cutting a path of devastation from Barbuda to Puerto Rico before churning north. It is expected to hit the Florida Keys – a chain of islands at the southern tip of the state that is a tourist hot spot and home to more than 80,000 people – and south Florida by this weekend.

“Traffic on Interstate 95 was at a crawl yesterday (Sept. 6),” Cayatineto said in an interview on Thursday night. “I-95 and I-75, the main routes going north and south, they were at a crawl. Everybody’s trying to get out of the state.”

Already, the roads are experiencing the impact of Irma, according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday received a full update on Irma from the state’s emergency operations center. Thereafter, he traveled across the state to ensure communities have all the resources they may need, and to encourage people to be fully prepared.

Monroe County, which includes the Florida Keys, issued a mandatory evacuation for residents and visitors ahead of Irma on Wednesday, the day Scott warned people that Irma is “bigger, faster and stronger” than 1992 Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 hurricane that caused $27 billion in damage, or $47.8 billion in 2017 dollars, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Scott says Irma could be worse, saying Irma could be more devastating on its current path.

“Do not ignore evacuation orders,” Scott told people on Wednesday. “Remember, we can rebuild your home, but we cannot rebuild your life.”

But Cayatineto says he is keeping a wary eye on Irma and is not going anywhere, and that he is going to ride out the Category 5 storm.

“I was here for (the 2016) Hurricane Matthew,” Cayatineto said. “I rode that one out. Now, I’m going to ride this one out. I’ve got my generator ready to go. I got sandbags today.”

Sandbags are being distributed at three locations in Port Orange, should the storm continue on a path that threatens to impact Cayatineto’s community.

“(Today’s) all about prepping,” Cayatineto said. “Everything’s prepping: Get more water, get more can goods, dry goods, and ride the storm out.”

Cayatineto says he is also helping his friends and neighbors prepare as Irma is barreling toward the state.

“We’re going to ride this out together,” he said. “They left Matthew … and went to other places. I was the only one who stayed here. So now they want to stay. I told them it’s going to be a lot worse. It really, just crazy. But hey, it’s Mother Nature.”

Cayatineto says he is boarding up his home with plywood and tying down things that float or fly.

“The wind will catch it,” he explained. “The lawn furniture outside – anything that will float. We’ve got a boat outside, which is my neighbor’s. Everything has to be secured because of the wind. Then the rain, the flooding. I have my generator, which I started last weekend, that I bought for Matthew. It’s working fine like a champ.”

“We’re ready,” Cayatineto said confidently.

His brother, Blackman (along with his family), though lost everything in Harvey.

“They pretty much lost their home,” explained Cristina Blackman, the daughter-in-law to Michael Blackman originally from Window Rock.

Cristina Blackman started a YouCaring crowdfunding page (youcaring.com/michaelblackmancynthiamaxwell-938402) to raise funds for rebuilding the Blackman home.

“They actually have to start over. It’s pretty crazy. They didn’t think they were going to get flooded,” she said.

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Krista Allen

Krista Allen is a former reporter for The Navajo Times who is now a freelance writer.