Pat and Leila Leupold thought the eye of Hurricane Irma might just miss their community.

Then the former Fremonters heard a news update at their Florida home.

The fierce storm was coming straight up the peninsula — and right toward them.

Pat Leupold, a former principal at Trinity Lutheran School in Fremont, and his wife, Leila, a registered nurse, moved to Florida in 2004. They live in Winter Springs, Florida, about 1 ½ hours from the state’s west coast.

As of Monday morning, the couple didn’t think they had anything more than landscape damage at their home in a suburb of Orlando.

But they — and others in their community — faced a furious storm on Sunday night and into early Monday morning.

“It’s amazing how the storm can shift just that little bit,” Leila Leupold said. “They can predict all they want, but it still does what it does.”

The Leupolds and friend Lynette Tegtmeier, a middle school teacher, were prepared to ride out the storm in the couple’s house.

By 7 p.m. Sunday, they thought the eye of the storm was going over Tampa, about 11/2 hours away.

An hour later, they learned it was coming up the spine of Florida — and was headed their way. And while the eye of a hurricane is calm, the area directly around that is dangerous.

“Especially, the east and southeast side — not sure why, but the force is greater on that side,” he said.

And they live to the east of where Irma was coming through.

They waited as the storm approached.

“You’re already hunkered down,” Leila said. “You’re just really wondering, ‘When is it going to get here and how are we going to fare?’”

The hurricane began to hit Winter Springs at about 1 a.m. Monday and was the worst between 2:30 and 3:30 a.m., Pat said.

By the time the hurricane reached their community, it was considered a Category 2 storm, but still had wind speeds of 80 to 100 mph.

They heard the wind.

“It came intermittently with heavy rain and then occasionally we would hear a ‘thunk’ on the roof and that would be a branch landing on the roof,” Leila said.

Pat Leupold ventured outside a couple times. The rain had stopped for the most part.

“There was one time when a gust came up and almost blew me over,” Leupold said, adding he should have stayed inside.

Neither the Leupolds nor Tegtmeier were injured.

“I spoke with our local firefighters this (Monday) morning,” Pat Leupold said. “They said they had a lot of calls — mostly babies being born and a few people they had to rescue from 3 and 4 feet of water in their house. We certainly didn’t have that in our area.”

The Leupolds didn’t lose power, but between 60 to 65 percent of the community did. Leupold also said he heard 7,000 extra utility workers from around the country were already in Daytona, waiting in a staging area to help out.

Leupold said they weren’t really afraid during the storm and knew people from Fremont and throughout the country were praying for them.

“We’ve got our trust in God taking care of us. We did what we should have done in preparation and so the rest of it was left up to God,” he said.

The Leupolds began preparing for the hurricane about a week before the storm.

“The one thing you absolutely have to do is make sure there’s nothing in the yard that can blow around, because a flower pot, whatever, becomes a projectile,” Pat said. “Patio furniture — you either have to get it tied down well or put away somewhere.”

They had blue tarps to cover the roof of their house just in case a tree limb went through.

Having enough water and gasoline were the biggest concerns.

On Sept. 4, Pat Leupold went to a store, where people already were buying all the water bottles.

The couple began bagging ice from their refrigerator and froze bottles of water.

“Worst case scenario, if the water bottles melt, you’ve got water,” he said.

They stocked up on enough non-perishable food to last for three to five days.

“We made sure we had bread,” he said. “I made sure we had M&Ms (candies).”

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Leupold had topped off the tanks of their cars with gasoline by Sept. 5 or 6.

By Sept. 7, long lines began forming at gas stations, which were running out of fuel.

Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott provided police escorts for tanker trucks to get them to the communities more quickly and to protect the drivers and keep order around the gas pumps.

Tempers can flair when people are afraid they might not get the gasoline they need, Leupold noted.

Floridians also are told to fill their bathtubs with water in case of a power outage due to a hurricane. That way, if the lift stations go out, the people can use water from their bathtubs to fill their toilet tanks.

The Leupolds almost didn’t do that on Sunday night, but changed their minds and did so at the last minute.

“It was a good thing, because the first thing they said this morning was ‘Refrain from showers. Refrain from using the toilet as much as you can, because the lift stations are struggling,’” he said. “I think it’s because we got a good 10, 12 — maybe 14 inches of rain.”

One situation they had to fight — even before the storm — was something called “Hurricane Fatigue.” With news stations continuously broadcasting about the hurricane prior to the storm, people can become so fatigued by the coverage that they don’t want to watch it anymore.

But they need to watch.

Leupold said they wouldn’t have known they were in the path of the hurricane’s eye if they’d turned off their television.

Looking back, did living in Nebraska prepare the Leupolds for this?

“I suppose so, because you have lots of notice before a blizzard and you do start preparing; it’s much the same,” Leila said. “But when you lose your power here, you’re at least not going to freeze to death. You’re just going to be really hot and uncomfortable and cranky.”

From a schoolteacher’s perspective, Tegtmeier noticed before the storm that students were asking about getting “Hurricane Days” off of school.

“They’re just as excited as we used to get about snow days,” said Tegtmeier, a former Manhattan, Kansas, resident.

Classes were cancelled on Monday and Tuesday.

On Monday, the Leupolds planned to spend time cleaning up. Two of their children, who live not far away, are fine, they said.

Now, the couple’s thoughts, directed toward others in their community, are these: “How can we help out and what can we do?”


News Editor

Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She covers news, features, religion stories and writes the weekly faith-based, Spiritual Spinach column.

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