Tom LaMaida worried about Hurricane Irma on Sunday even through his family was safe, having driven to Columbia from Tampa, Fla., to escape the monster storm.
“The biggest concern is what we’re going to see when we get back,” LaMaida said, as his children played at EdVenture, a day after a trip of nearly 500 miles. “We’ll be going back to devastation.”
LaMaida’s family is just one of scores making Columbia a temporary home for the next few days.
A few days ago, LaMaida waited four hours to get sandbags and fill them, placing them around the doors at his home and building a wall in his backyard near a pond. But, unable to find boards and other materials to place over his home’s windows before having to evacuate, LaMaida’s home now is largely at the mercy of the storm.
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The LaMaidas were tempted to stay in Tampa and ride out out Irma. But the couple decided that “is not where you want to be,” said Whitney LaMaida.
The couple initially planned to go to Savannah. But evacuations were ordered there as well.
The LaMaidas felt lucky to find the last room at a Blythewood motel that also is allowing the family’s two dogs to stay.
The LaMaidas consider their stay in Columbia a chance to explore a community that they never have visited. “It seems like a good town, but this is not something we had on our schedule,” Tom LaMaida said.
‘We weren’t prepared’
Other Floridians found themselves in Columbia as well Sunday.
Luigi Baltodno settled into a shelter at Dent Middle School after an overnight drive from Tampa.
Like the LaMaidas, Baltodno wonders how much damage there will be at the home that his extended family shares.
“We weren’t prepared,” said Baltodno, a 19-year-old metal-coating worker from Costa Rica who is applying for U.S. citizenship. “The change (in the storm path) came out of nowhere.”
Short of money, Baltodno and his family went to the shelter at Dent to size up their next step after concluding Columbia was far enough from the storm.
“For now, we just want to rest up and see where things go,” Baltodno said.
About 40 families from the Lowcountry and Georgia were at the shelter Sunday, Red Cross officials said.
Meanwhile, the LaMaidas say they will cope with Irma’s aftermath, regardless of what that turns out to be.
“In the end,” said Tom LaMaida, a mortgage banker, “we’ll be all right.”
Tim Flach: 803-771-8483