Nikki Kuhn has a mother who lives on an island off the coast of Saint Petersburg, Florida, in what the 30-year-old described as the state's "maximum, must-evacuate zone." But as Hurricane Irma inched closer and grew stronger this week, her mother was steadfast in her decision not to leave her waterfront abode. Kuhn actually had a friend in nearby Tampa drive to St. Pete, unannounced, in an attempt to persuade her.
The intervention was unsuccessful.
"My 80-year-old grandmother is visiting from Chile," Kuhn explained Friday. "I don't give a fuck about the house. I don't give a fuck about their shit. I was taking Klonopin yesterday at work and thinking, This storm is going to kill them."
Growing more desperate by the hour, Kuhn decided to take matters into her own hands from hundreds of miles away, in Brooklyn: She devised a shaming scheme she knew would exploit her mother's desire to look good on social media.
"Hi friends! I could really use your help right now- if you could all comment and tell my mom Maria Kuhn-Brotton to evacuate, that would do a lot of good for my sanity and my mom and MY SWEET DEAR GRANDMOTHER'S SAFETY," she wrote in a Facebook post on Thursday. "I'm being the worst Floridian with all this panic but I swear to god I'm about to strap on a diaper and drive down there myself if I have to. Thanks in advance!"
For lack of a better word, the comments flooded in. "Please leave." "Get out!" "Do it now before everyone in your area does at the same time!" "Don't stress ur kid out !! Go to a shelter!"
Although Florida is undergoing what might prove among the biggest mass exoduses in US history, and at least 19 people have already been killed in the Caribbean, plenty of people in Irma's path are staying put. Some can't bear to leave their possessions behind—or the idea that they might not have a city to come back to. Others cite the fact that they lived through Hurricane Andrew in 1992—the costliest storm in US history before Katrina—as proof that they can endure anything. Virtually all have their children worried sick from their new homes, where one of the few options they have left is to name and shame their parents on Facebook.
Back when Alex Wall was a kid growing up near Fort Lauderdale, her backyard had a tree in it with a flaky bark that would peel off like sunburned skin. During Hurricane Andrew, it was thrown through her neighbor's house and landed in their garage "like it was a Q-tip," she remembered.
When news about Irma first started percolating on Wall's news feed last weekend, "evacuation" still wasn't a term that was being thrown around very much. But in the days since, it's become the only thing she can think about. The 31-year-old said her parents now live about four miles away from a mandatory evacuation zone in Plantation, Florida, and seem to think they they can stick out the storm there. Wall said she prides herself in keeping a measured tone online, not feeding into sensationalism or hype. But when it came to shaking some sense into her mom, she went full tabloid.
"At first, my Facebook was like, 'Hey, guys, don't panic,'" she told me. "But now it's, 'OK, get the fuck out of Dodge, get out.'"
Liz Perlman's very first memory is putting a mattress in her garage in 1992, during Hurricane Andrew, before watching half of her neighbor's homes essentially blow away. She's since moved from Miami to Austin, Texas, where she's juggling volunteering in Hurricane Harvey relief efforts with keeping an eye on Irma and the situation back home. For days, she's been texting her mom practically every hour, trying to convince her to leave already. The 28-year-old has been frustrated that her parents refuse to acknowledge not only that this storm is way bigger than Andrew was—but that they're less equipped to deal with a superstorm than they once were, too.
"They're old," as she put it. "They were in their 40s during Andrew. It's been 25 years. They're not really survivalists. My dad can't even, like, climb a ladder."
So, like Kuhn and Wall, Perlman took to Facebook: "Old cutler after Andrew....still want to stay??" she captioned an old aerial photo of a boat that had been pushed onshore into someone's yard. She tagged her mom in a photo of the evacuation zones and added the location as "underwater." Friends offered places to stay and chimed in with comments like, "You'd never let Liz stay down there."
After their social media campaigns, Kuhn and Perlman achieved their desired results: Their parents reluctantly packed up and moved north, or at least inland. Wall, for her part, was still contemplating a 21-hour drive to Florida, so she could at least keep track of her mom when cell service and the internet inevitably go down. But conditions on the road were expected to be increasingly dangerous Saturday, and she's losing hope of convincing her mother to do the sane thing and leave.
"Everyone is comparing this to Andrew," Wall told me. "They think, We got through Andrew. But this thing is gonna be worse than Andrew. It's just a mentality of, We're hurricane surfers. That's what we do in Florida."
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