Rain had been falling for hours and a curfew was in effect, but a pair of Florida Keys evacuees managed to find a hot meal Sunday afternoon, just before Irma officially arrived in Manatee County.
Ana Schibeci and her daughter, Alessandra, 18, arrived in Bradenton on Thursday morning after fleeing the Keys the night before. It was the first time in about 20 years of living there that Ana left the island because of a storm.
After seeing a woman enter their hotel on U.S. 41 in Bayshore Gardens with food, they asked where she got it. Considering a curfew had already taken effect and winds and rain were picking up, the answer was almost too good to be true: right next door.
From the road, the neon lights in the window of Bella Cafe Amalfi were a beacon of hope, promising one last warm meal before the storm hit.
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Owner John D’Atria said he opened his restaurant because he knew it would be safer to ride out the storm there than at his house.
“Somebody’s hungry, and I got all this food,” D’Atria said. “I’m not doing it for the money, I’m doing it to help the people.”
Though Ana and Alessandra made up about half of his customers by 4 p.m. Sunday, he said he did three to four times his normal business Saturday. By Saturday night, most of the businesses in the county were shuttered.
Ana and Alessandra ordered their food and dashed back to their hotel through the wind and a steady rain.
At least they got a meal in Manatee County. They thought they had left Irma’s fury behind when they evacuated their home in the Keys in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Then, Irma changed tracks after pummeling the Keys and headed west, following them to the Gulf Coast. They are awaiting word on the fate of their home in the Keys.
“I had friends send me, like, Snapchats of her house like underwater. And this city above us, Marathon, is all underwater and their house is just right there. Lord knows if we’ll have a house,” said Alessandra, who said three of her friends stayed behind.
“I haven’t had contact with them. It’s a little freaky,” she said.