When Hurricane Irma veered toward Naples, Fla., it was too late to evacuate

L.A. TIMES – EVAN HALPER

Underneath the historic pier near downtown Naples on Saturday, Katie Alvarez hugged her son Jordan and sobbed.

Hurricanes are part of an Alvarez family tradition. Katie Alvarez has photos of her kids on the pier before and after every major storm that has affected the coastal southwest Florida city. Sometimes they take photos during the storm. She was there Saturday to snap the before shots of her now-grown children.

Alvarez was in tears because she was certain there will be no photographs after the storm this year.

“It’s going to be gone,” said the Naples native, who joined her family at the beach in a homemade “Irma You Suck” shirt and visor with the Confederate flag emblazoned on it. She knows hurricanes, working at a company that installs storm shutters.

Florida has been bracing for Hurricane Irma for days, but the westward shift of the storm caught this manicured Gulfside town, known for its yachts, quaint canals and beachfront mansions, off guard. By Saturday, it was directly in Irma’s path. Naples wasn’t ready for this.

Not long after the nearby city of Estero opened a 7,500-bed shelter at the Germain Arena, its immense parking lot was teeming with evacuees. The line snaked up and down, and it appeared there might be more people than beds. Other shelters were filling up fast, leaving city officials scrambling to ready new locations.

“They didn’t tell us we were being evacuated until the very last minute,” said Barbara Sobol, a 70-year-old Cape Coral resident who looked deflated as she took a timeout from the hours-long line, while her husband kept their place. Just minutes earlier, an elderly woman had fainted and was taken away by ambulance, suffering from what seemed a bout of heat exhaustion.

The line was filled with yapping pooches, which were permitted to accompany their owners inside. But Sobol said the commotion of the shelter would probably upset her cat more than the commotion of riding out Irma in an empty house. “I left food for her at high elevations in different places. She’ll find it,” Sobol said. “This shelter is a strange, noisy place. She’d be scared here.”

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