Singaporean in Florida: It was like a movie scene

Ms Cynthia Santa Maria and her husband Ryan Chia evacuated in the nick of time.
Ms Cynthia Santa Maria and her husband Ryan Chia evacuated in the nick of time.PHOTO: COURTESY OF CYNTHIA SANTA MARIA

The empty roads and the persistent storm were like a scene straight out of "a zombie apocalypse movie", said Singaporean Cynthia Santa Maria, who managed to evacuate her Florida home in the nick of time.

The full-time gamer, 30, and her husband Ryan Chia, 35, moved to a fellow Singaporean's house in the same state, about an hour's drive away in Zephyrhills, on Sunday.

The couple had hoped to ride out the storm at home in the coastal city of St Petersburg, but after the area was hit by a power outage and a mandatory evacuation notice, Ms Santa Maria decided to get going.

Hurricane Irma hit southern Florida on Sunday, leaving at least one million homes and businesses without power. "The roads were totally empty... It was scary stuff," she said.

Describing the scale of evacuation efforts in the past week, Ms Santa Maria said that "flights were all booked out, roads were congested, (petrol) was hard to find, and hotels and Airbnb (apartments) were fully booked in a 15-hour drive radius".

The Singaporean couple, who moved to Florida more than a year ago, were issued with an evacuation notice as their house was located in one of the lowest lying areas in the city.

They reached Mrs Li Li Hope's place about 16 hours before the storm passed by Zephyrhills yesterday. The two groups of Singaporeans met through an informal group of about 10 Singaporean and Malaysian families living in the Tampa Bay area.

Ms Cynthia Santa Maria and her husband Ryan Chia evacuated in the nick of time.
Ms Cynthia Santa Maria and her husband Ryan Chia evacuated in the nick of time. PHOTO: COURTESY OF CYNTHIA SANTA MARIA

Ms Santa Maria added that she is anxious to get home to check if her property has been damaged. But the county is on lock-down until the sheriff gives the go-ahead.

Mrs Hope, 52, a senior e-commerce analyst, managed to evacuate early, moving her family to Georgia to stay with her sister- in-law. She said her family became fearful and decided to leave when the forecast for Hurricane Irma changed, putting their house inits path.

Thankfully, the home is intact, which was a blessing for Ms Santa Maria and her husband, who were able to seek refuge there.

Others were more worried for their belongings.

Housewife Heng Hui Lin, 40, who lives in Palm Beach County, Boca Raton, moved out last Wednesday with her husband, two children, and nanny.

The Singaporean family drove more than 1,000km from their house to a hotel in Atlanta, Georgia. Ms Heng is still waiting for updates on whether her house sustained any damage.

"The worst-case scenario would be to claim insurance on the personal belongings and the rental apartment - there is nothing else we can do," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2017, with the headline 'S'porean in Florida: It was like a movie scene'. Print Edition | Subscribe