Florida families seek haven in Natchez during storm

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 14, 2017


NATCHEZ — For two Floridian couples, Natchez became a welcome haven from Hurricane Irma.

Key Largo residents Bill and Becky Dickinson chose the Mississippi River city as they watched the dangerous storm draw nearer to their home in south Florida.

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The forecast last week put Irma’s path right across their hometown on the northern tip of the island.

“We’ve lived there 42 years, and we’ve been through a lot of hurricanes and a lot of evacuations,” Becky Dickinson said. “This one, we thought, was going to be much worse.”

The hurricane passed by approximately 70 miles north of where they live, she said.

After a brief landing in Panama City, the couple flew their small airplane and landed Sunday at the Natchez-Adams County Airport.

When the couple makes their trip home, they are not sure what awaits them.

“We prepared for the worst but hoping for the best,” she said. “We are in a good situation with a lot of support, and we’ll be fine. But a lot of people aren’t.”

The airport they’ll fly home to was still flooded Tuesday, Becky Dickinson said, and she has friends whose homes were far closer to the eye of the storm.

She and her husband don’t want to spend their time worrying, though, she said.

“It teaches you to live in the moment,” she said. “Each day is a gift, and we’re going to use our gift.”

Becky Dickinson, who had visited Natchez as a young girl, said she was thankful for the hospitality of the city on her return and said she wants to come back under better circumstances.

Vero Beach, Fla., residents Ron and Celia Johnson also fled Hurricane Irma. Unlike the Dickinson’s the Johnson made their trek northward by car.

They began driving Friday north away from their condominium on the eastern coast of Florida.

They drove past long lines at gas stations — at the stations that still had fuel — and continued their way westward.

Everyone in their building evacuated the storm, Celia Johnson said. She said no one she knew stayed to ride it out.

Their house survived hurricanes Jean and Francis, the couple said. They hope it survived this one, too.

They did not receive much information from home, but they said what they heard isn’t as bad as they thought it’d be.

Like the Dickinsons, the Johnsons can’t go home. She and her husband spent Tuesday morning sightseeing in Natchez, she said.

“We’re not going back,” Celia Johnson said. “We might as well make a vacation out of this.”