While many people were fleeing Hurricane Irma as it made its way toward Florida and Georgia, one woman was making her way back to Georgia to be with her family during the storm.
Hinesville resident Michelle Caraballo was in New Mexico visiting her son and granddaughter there as Hurricane Irma came closer to the U.S.
There was discussion about the storm before she departed for New Mexico and as her trip wound down, her thoughts turned to her family in Georgia and Florida.
During her trip, Caraballo kept getting calls from her family about hurricane preparations.
One person she was particularly worried about was her daughter, Amanda Fay, who lives near Orlando.
She initially planned to evacuate on Sunday because she had to work, but Caraballo urged her to leave earlier for Georgia. Though there were news reports of gridlocks on major highways and no gas, Caraballo’s daughter made it to Hinesville in under four hours without problems.
Caraballo, on the other hand, was initially scheduled to fly back to Savannah International Airport last Sunday. The city was already under a mandatory evacuation that began on the morning of Sept. 8.
“If they’re evacuating Savannah how do I get home on Sunday?” she said. “So I kept putting it off, then at one point God prompted me to go and contact the airline because I was putting it off for some reason. I didn’t want to stay any longer than I needed to. I really wanted to get back to my family. I had the option of riding out that storm in New Mexico, but I was like, I need to be with my husband and children.”
She called Delta on Thursday, Sept. 7. After a three-hour phone wait, Delta worked on getting her an earlier flight home the next day at no charge. Her fee for bags was also waived.
“They said, ‘We just want to get you home safely.’ What a blessing. We got to the airport and things were so smooth. There were no hiccups along the way when it came to my airline,” she said.
Caraballo was picked up at the airport and went to her mother’s home in Springfield, Georgia, northwest of Savannah. Then her husband, children and friends met her in Springfield to ride out the storm together.
“So my husband’s calling, my daughter’s calling, my friends are calling, asking ‘What are we going to do?’ It was just crazy. The constant communication, the constant questions,” Caraballo said about their evacuation plans. “With all the craziness leading up to it, we rode out the storm very well.”
While in Springfield, with children, eight adults and five dogs, they encountered some rain and power flickering. They never lost total power.
They returned home to no damage or loss of power; only debris in their yard and some felled trees in neighbors’ yards.
The need to be with her family during the storm was a feeling she couldn’t shake.
“As much as my heart wanted to stay and be with my granddaughter, because she is so far and I don’t get to see her that often, there was this pit in my stomach. When you’re with your soulmate, there is something that you just feel like is missing, and I felt like I need to be here,” Caraballo said. “We’re a unit and we work as a unit. I figured if we’re going down, we’re going down together. That’s my family, that’s my husband and those are my children.”
Some people thought she was crazy to come home. Her family in New Mexico was safe and she felt weird not being in Georgia.
“It was like ‘No way man! If we’re going on Noah’s Ark, we’re going together.’ My family wasn’t going to be alone,” she said.
More good news
Caraballo’s daughter made it back to Florida safely within four hours and had power at home.
Her daughter described the ride home as eerie because of the number of abandoned cars on the side of the highway, roadblocks and barricades.
“She was my biggest worry because I think they said 60 percent of her town was out of power. There was a good chance that she was coming home to nothing,” Caraballo said. “All the apartment buildings around her were damaged but her apartment was damage-free. That’s the power of prayer. God is good.”