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Rum, guns and tea: Unfazed Floridians don't let Irma dampen spirits

(Reuters) - As veterans of at least half a dozen hurricanes, Steve and Sarah Griffin knew exactly how to cope when Irma bore down on their Clearwater, Florida, home: host an impromptu party for friends who had evacuated their own houses.

A man rides a bike past a bar with boarded up windows ahead for the arrival of Hurricane Irma in Tampa, Florida, U.S., September 9, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

“You’ve just got to have plenty of beer, Captain Morgan, vodka, (and) you’ll get through,” Sarah Griffin, 52, a native Floridian like her husband, said of the Saturday night party, which also included a game of hurricane trivia.

Irma, once one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes in history, caused billions of dollars in damage and left millions of people without power when it swept across Florida this past weekend.

But even as television meteorologists delivered apocalyptic warnings, storm-savvy Floridians dealt with the impending Irma in their own way.

Bethany Spagnuolo, 33, and her family in Sebastian, a coastal city about 95 miles (153 km) south of Orlando, wait each hurricane season for a storm powerful enough to continue one wacky tradition: hurricane skateboarding.

She recorded a video of her fiancé, Patrick Hall, 33, and a friend, Justin Anderson, 33, skateboarding down the street using a bedsheet as a sail on Sunday evening in 50-mile-per-hour (80-kph) winds.

“Most of us are surfers and former skaters who don’t skate anymore because we’re too old, but for this moment we get to be kids again,” said Spagnuolo.

Some residents used gallows humor to defuse anxiety. A number of people wrote messages on the plywood they used to board up their windows, including one with an arrow that read: “Hey Irma - North Korea is that way.”

A Twitter user with the handle @ReturntheHunter posted a screenshot of his phone that showed Pokemon Go, the popular game, suggesting early on Sunday morning that it was a “great time” to explore local parks, just as hurricane warning alerts arrived from the National Weather Service.

“Pokemon Go trying to murder people,” he joked.


More than 30,000 users signed up for the Facebook event “Shoot at Hurricane Irma,” a facetious call to arms from Florida resident Ryon Edwards, who suggested that residents fire guns at the hurricane.

The post prompted the sheriff’s office in Pasco County to warn against the idea on Twitter: “You won’t make it turn around & it will have very dangerous side effects.”

For some Floridians, the storm preparations themselves offered moments of lightheartedness.

Madeleine Brassfield, 8, collected all the candy in her kitchen, including a bag of chocolate chips, and stashed them in a bedroom cabinet to keep them safe, explaining to her parents: “A deadly hurricane is coming.”

Her mother, Kate Brassfield, 45, said they eventually moved the sweets to the safe room inside their Seminole house, which escaped the storm without major damage.

Judy Davidson, 75, a realtor in Coral Springs, stayed in her home during powerful Hurricane Andrew in 1992 but decided to leave town with her husband after Irma grew into a Category 5 monster - perhaps a bit too abruptly.

“We get to Atlanta and I said to my husband: ‘Where’s your shirt for the next day?’” she said. “I forgot to pack clothes for him. I didn’t take a picture of my mother. I took two boxes of black and green tea. I mean, what was I thinking?”

Reporting by Letitia Stein in Detroit, Gina Cherelus and Joseph Ax in New York, Irene Klotz in Los Angeles and Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, N.C.; Writing by Joseph Ax; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Peter Cooney