Backroads Lead Some South Florida Evacuees Home

Sep 13, 2017

The city of Clewiston sits on the south shore of Lake Okeechobee. It’s one of the best places in the country to snag a largemouth bass.

But in the days after Irma, people are flooding Clewiston to fish for something else: gas.

The line for gas at the Marathon station in Clewiston winds out onto the highway like a Florida kingsnake. State Road 80 cuts through a patchwork of swamp and sugarcane to connect the west and east coasts of the state.

Hurricane Irma caused the largest evacuation of people in Florida’s history. Nearly 6.3 million people were given evacuation orders. And with the exodus now reversed, many South Floridians that fled to the northwest are now taking this road less traveled.

“We’re coming from Ocala,” said George Romero, of Miami. “We went up to Ocala for the hurricane, and we’re coming back.” 

Romero is in line for gas. His black Chevy Silverado pulls his horse trailer — and his horse.

George Romero's black Chevy Silverado pulls his horse trailer.
Credit Peter Haden / WLRN News

“Were you glad that you left?” I ask.

“Yes,” said Romero. “We went through Andrew. We didn’t want to go through another hurricane.”

Lena Prieto fled to Tampa. Now she’s gassed up.

“We had to wait for about 30 minutes,” she said, replacing the nozzle onto the gas pump.

Prieto is headed to her home in Fort Lauderdale. Fingers crossed.

“I hope it’s good and safe,” she said. “We’ll see.”

But it’s not just passers-by topping off in “The Sweetest Town in America.” 

“I’m trying to get the last of the last, you know what I mean?” said Willie Hughley, of Clewiston, as he shakes the gas nozzle to get a few more drops in his tank.

He waited in line three hours for the tanker truck to arrive and resupply the Marathon station.

“I went across the street and had a can of sardines and donut,” Hughley said. “That truck came in and fueled us up. Now I’m good to go.”