Floridians joke through Hurricane Ian fears: ‘Think it’s time to party!’

Chloe Mayo packed up her first-floor apartment on the Tampa waterfront this week as police cars arrived with megaphones urging everyone to evacuate.

The 22-year-old insurance agent cleaned out her fridge, packed her suitcase and drove 15 miles inland to her mother’s house, hoping to escape Hurricane Ian’s potentially catastrophic fury. Then she opened TikTok.

“Just left my apartment in Tampa to evacuate,” she wrote, in audio that sounded like a silly pep talk: Here we go! Here f— we go! Here! F—! We gisland!

“I just needed to lighten the mood,” said Mayo, one of the 2 million Floridians under evacuation orders — and one of many navigating fear with humor on social media. As Ian approached Category 5 strength, they danced in empty grocery stores. They chugged tequila. They slept through warning sirens (but woke up as soon as the fan turned off).

Mayo had shared her life with about 12,000 followers for fun, but now the online community began to feel like a support group. People from all over the country told her they were praying for her and made their own jokes. “Just a little rain, all good,” someone commented on her video of Tampa’s eerily red sky.

“They definitely help ease some anxiety — even if it’s just for a second,” said Mayo, who wasn’t sure if she’d ever be able to return to her apartment.

Ian slammed into Florida’s west coast Wednesday afternoon, unleashing catastrophic flooding and winds that could reach 155 mph. Pictures showed wind-bent palm trees and meters under water.

“This is going to be an ugly, ugly day,” Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) told reporters.

Communities across the low-lying Tampa Bay region — with 700 miles of coastline and over 3 million residents — face a particularly high risk of being submerged. One Pinellas County resident, 38-year-old Kieram Litchfield, thought he was on high enough ground to stay put.

The EMT, who works in digital marketing, boarded up his windows, stocked his pantry and found a solar-powered portable charger. Even though the power was cut off, he would continue to post survival tips to his 110,000 followers on Instagram.

“Let me show you how to install your windows without using a drill,” he said in a video. “You’ll need a tape measure, hammer, turnbuckles, plywood, primer … and swag.”

Each of his segments contained practical advice with a touch of levity. Recently, Litchfield, who launched his platform with mini-CPR lessons, had published his personal strategies for dealing with Ian.

“If you want to educate people, you have to entertain them,” he said. “I can literally reach millions of people with valuable information.”

About 130 miles south, Preice Anderson, a full-time TikToker, entertained herself with silly videos. It was better, he said, than thinking about the wind shaking his home.

The 34-year-old Cape Coral resident, a Florida native, had weathered decades of hurricane seasons.

“I know a lot of people who have never been through one, and I see them panic,” he said. “I know this is a serious thing, but let me make a little fun of it.”

Before it was time to pounce, Anderson went to Walmart and shot a skit with the headline: HOW NON FLORIDIANS BE NHN A HURRICANE IS COMING.

“Oh! Oh God! It’s a hurricane!” he wailed, frantically throwing rolls of toilet paper into a shopping basket.

He ended with the reverse: HOW FLORIDIANS BE WHEN A HURRICANE IS COMING.

“Hi!” he said brightly, hoisting a case of Coronas. “I guess it’s time to party!”

Life imitated art – something. Yes, Anderson bought toilet paper, but he didn’t show signs of a panic attack. And instead of Coronas, he got his favorite snacks.

“I got my Cheez-Its,” he said. “I got my Slim Jims. I got my pistachios. I’m ready for this.”

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