Atlantic Beach residents, others ride out Hurricane Irma at assisted-living center
The wind whistled outside. Inside an assisted-living facility in Atlantic Beach, a television tuned to the Weather Channel showed images of Hurricane Irma battering the other side of the state.
Not that anyone was watching the TV as the hurricane slowly made its way north Sunday evening.
The sound of the TV reporter yelling over the wind drifted into a nearby room on the ground floor of the building in Anthem Lakes, where everyone — from elderly residents to children — was focused on the small balls spinning around a wire cage.
One ball rolled out, the letter and number on it called out.
“Bingo!” said the 9-year-old daughter of Kimberly Crawford-Stokes, sales manager at Anthem Lakes.
The facility, which opened in February, was built to withstand a Category 4 hurricane. As Irma grew into a Category 5 storm, with initial tracks leading up the east coast of the state, management lined up alternatives.
“We’re not going to do anything stupid,” said Wes Sperr, co-owner of the facility. “If we’re built for a four and a five is going to hit us, that’s easy math.”
The math for Anthem Lakes — for millions of Floridians — became complicated as Irma’s track and forecast continued to change, shifting to the west, with less than hurricane-strength winds by the time it reached North Florida.
Anthem management talked to staff and residents, and eventually decided the best option was to ride out the storm. All but three residents stayed. The facility opened the doors to others, at no charge, and ended up with 62 more people — family members of residents, staff members, family members of staff and a Times-Union writer.