Former Irontonians face two Florida hurricanes

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Marty and Ted Kirtz thought they were moving to a Florida paradise but may have instead taken up residence in "hurricane alley."

The Kirtz family envisioned trading in the hills of southern Ohio for golden-sanded beaches and cool breezes, but have been faced with 100-mph winds and airborne debris during two hurricanes and another one potentially on the way.

"We were coming down here to kick our shoes off and lay back," said Ted, who is physically disabled and has endured more than a dozen surgeries. "It hasn't really worked out that way."

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Their adventure began in June. The couple of 35 years realized a life-long dream when they packed up their Ironton home after three and a half decades and headed for Haines City in the central part of the Sunshine State.

Little did they know, that Mother Nature had some nasty surprises in store for them.

In the past three weeks, the family has endured much, despite living in a new double-wide trailer that was built to withstand the conditions. First, Hurricane Charley pounded the central part of the state causing power outages, 108-mph winds and supply shortages.

"Many trees were uprooted and power poles were snapped like toothpicks. Restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores and basically all stores were closed within a 50-mile radius of us," recalls Marty Kirtz, a life-long Irontonian who had never seen a hurricane. "We had no power for a week, which meant we lost all of our refrigerated food and had no air-conditioning. Gas stations were out of gas, there was no ice anywhere, and we had to leave our home because of the 90 degree weather and no air conditioning."

As quickly as the hurricane came, it was gone. Was it time to catch their breath? Not hardly.

Three weeks and one day later,

Frances reared its ugly head. Though a

much slower and less windy hurricane, Frances brought more rain and flooding.

The Kirtzes and their miniature schnauzer, Gretel, packed up again and spent the night in the community recreation hall, making the pool-side lounge chairs their beds for the evening.

"Every now and then, we would get up the nerve to go peek out a window to watch flying debris," Marty said, explaining that it was not uncommon to see awnings, siding, trees, gutters and parts of driveways careen by. "It's the scariest experience we've ever had."

Luckily, their home was once again spared, in part because they have become good at preparing. With both hurricanes, they brought in all their yard decorations and tied everything else down.

"When you live here long enough, you learn how to batten down the hatches," Marty said.

When Charley hit their town, it was called a fluke.

Frances drenching the area was even more improbable. The couple hopes and prays that with Ivan, the third time is definitely not a charm.

"We have been told that it was 45 years since they had a hurricane that did any real damage here," Ted said. "Now we have had two in the last three weeks and a third possibly on the way."

Overall, the pounding winds and driving winds could not dampen their spirits or diminish their dreams of a sunny home.

"We still love Florida. It has just been an experience," Marty said. "But once you have been through a hurricane, you don't want to go through another."

Only time will tell if Ivan cooperates.