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Hurricane Florence evacuees flee to Disney World


By Gabrielle Russon, Orlando Sentinel

Hurricane Florence might arrive in the middle of the night, the terrible wind frightening their two boys. It would flood — it always does, said Megan Gemelli. They could be trapped inside in the rain.

So the family from Wilmington, N.C., packed up their RV and drove south toward Central Florida, the vacation capital of the world, even if it wasn't the holiday of their choice.

Their neighbors back home, the Swansons, followed behind and rented a nearby cabin with the words "Another Day in Paradise" over the front door in the same Kissimmee RV park.

With the threat of Hurricane Florence, some East Coast residents have evacuated to the Orlando area, making trip reservations within a day or two, the kind of planning that normally takes months.

Nine Orlando-area Rosen Hotels and Resorts properties will offer reduced rates for people affected by Hurricane Florence, the company announced Wednesday. The "distress rate" also includes free lodging for pets with guests.

"Friends and Family in the Carolinas," wrote travel agent Meredith Maki, who runs Inspirely Travel in Charleston, S.C., that specializes in Disney vacations, on her Facebook page. "Why not evacuate to DISNEY?!?"

Maki took her own advice even though she gave birth to her son, Grey, via C-section six days ago.

Her business has been bombarded this week by others trying to get away. Most of the budget rooms at Walt Disney World Resort are already sold, and people are trying to figure out what they can afford.

Maki is fielding their calls while she stays at Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground, caring for her baby, with her husband, their older two sons and two dogs, a labradoodle puppy and an old boxer-mix.

"Everything that's important to us is in this cabin," Maki said.

They avoid the news. It's easier not to pay attention what's happening back at home. They want to stay in in the Disney frame of mind.

Theme parks are meant to be an escape from reality. After all, it says Fantasyland on the map at the Magic Kingdom.

The Makis plan to take their two older children to play miniature golf or swim in the pool.

An impromptu visit to Mickey's Not-So Scary Halloween Party might be in the works, although the family left in such a hurry that Halloween costumes were the last thing on their minds. Now, Maki is brainstorming where to find a Jack Sparrow costume for her oldest son.

Back in South Carolina's Dorchester County, Jon Osterritter will be stationed at the water treatment plant for days, sleeping on a cot. He is on alert in case the water and sewage systems back up.

His father-in-law, a police officer in North Charleston, is also a first-responder to help the community.

But neither will be stressing how their wives handle the hurricane while they work. Both women evacuated to Walt Disney World.

"If we leave, he doesn't have to worry about us," Katie Osterritter, 31, a nursing student, who also brought her 6-year-old, Josh, on the trip. "We get out of Dodge."

She spoke in an upbeat voice as they waited in line Thursday morning at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

Their last-minute travel plans included stops at Epcot with detours at the resort pool and St. Augustine.

"We're not leaving for fear. We're leaving for fun," Osterritter said.

Back at the RV park in Kissimmee, the Gemellis wanted to make the most of their impromptu vacation although they worry about their friends and their families back home.

"We're glad to be safe but it feels like there's an underlying stress," said Gemelli. "We've strapped a smile on it."

It feels like "a dark cloud hovering" while they stay in sunny Florida.

Life was on hold back home. The clinic where Pete Gemelli, a pain management physician, worked was closed. School was canceled for the boys, Dominick, 9, and Luke, 7.

Inside their RV, their refrigerator is packed with all the meat they salvaged from their home in case the power went out. Their sons grabbed what they valued most: things like a cross necklace, a Harry Potter book and stuffed animals.

It might be two or three weeks before they can return, when the roads are clear, the flooding gone, the lights back on.

In the meanwhile, they planned to visit a water park. Universal Orlando Resort was not allowed; not until boys finish the Potter series.

The Gemellis walked down the street to visit the Swansons' cabin where all the children were playing Thursday. Many license plates in the RV park were from the Carolinas.

"We're just so blessed we're able to get away," said Jamie Swanson as they sat together.


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Travel - U.S. Daily News: Hurricane Florence evacuees flee to Disney World
Hurricane Florence evacuees flee to Disney World
Travel - U.S. Daily News
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