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SLO woman drove her elderly father and his friend 17 hours to escape Irma

Lou Peluso, left, and his friend, Rudy, enjoy a meal after they arrived in Alabama. Marta Peluso drove the two elderly men for 17 hours in a bid to escape Hurricane Irma.
Lou Peluso, left, and his friend, Rudy, enjoy a meal after they arrived in Alabama. Marta Peluso drove the two elderly men for 17 hours in a bid to escape Hurricane Irma.

Marta Peluso had gone down to Naples, Florida, to take care of her 93-year-old father so her sister, who had been taking care of him, could go on vacation.

The retired Cuesta College photography professor and San Luis Obispo resident ended up taking her father and his 90-year-old friend for a 17-hour drive to Alabama in a bid to get out of Florida before Hurricane Irma hit.

Last week, Peluso was in touch with her sister, trying to figure out when she would fly back to California. That’s when her sister brought up the approaching hurricane.

“She said, ‘I don’t know if you’re up for this, but you could take my car and bring him north and fly out of someplace else,” Peluso said. ‘And I thought, ‘Oh my, can I do this? Is this gonna work?’ ”

Also hanging in the balance was their father’s friend, Rudy. Rudy’s daughter, who lives in Chicago, had fruitlessly been trying to get to Florida to bring her father back to Illinois. Rudy’s daughter asked Peluso if she could drive Rudy north, too.

Peluso packed up the car and made sure the tank was full before the group left, about 10 a.m. Wednesday. After a drive punctuated by bumper-to-bumper traffic, detours, gas stops, bad weather and Italian music, they pulled into Peluso’s aunt and uncle’s house in Dothan, Alabama, at 2 a.m. Thursday.

Hurricane Irma slammed Cuba overnight. It's now headed for South Florida, but it won't stop there. Forecasters predict the storm continuing on through next week possibly hitting Georgia and South Carolina.

Peluso recalled worrying they might not be able to find gas and described the number of car crashes they saw on the road. At one point, she said, there was “a big hunk of car” in the middle of the freeway that people were driving around.

She had to stop in a crowded rest area at midnight to change her father’s oxygen canister. Then, as they were driving through the Florida Panhandle about 1 a.m., Interstate 10 was unexpectedly closed and they detoured onto darkened back roads for about a half-hour.

But the crew kept their spirits up, listening to a CD of Italian music that Peluso made her father for his birthday, which featured everything from opera to folk music to Louis Prima.

“At one point, I said, ‘To keep myself awake, I may have to start singing Girl Scout songs,” Peluso said, laughing. “That’s where the old guys drew the line.”

And Peluso said her father kept his eyes on the road, looking out for her, during the entire drive.

I said, ‘Dad, you can take a nap,’ and he said, ‘Are you kidding me?’

Marta Peluso, retired Cuesta College professor

“You have to understand, we didn’t think my father was going to make it a month ago, and he’s come back much, much stronger,” Peluso said. “He stayed awake the entire 17 hours, being my additional eyes in the passenger seat.

I said, ‘Dad, you can take a nap,’ and he said, ‘Are you kidding me?’”

“It was an adventure, and everyone took it in that spirit, but it was stressful,” Peluso said, noting that it was difficult to transport two elderly people, especially when they were on the road for that long.

“I was just totally relieved,” she said, of finally making it to her relatives’ home in Alabama. “The health of these two guys was not wonderful, but they were still in one piece, and I was in one piece.”

Gabby Ferreira: 805-781-7858, @Its_GabbyF

Cameras on board the International Space Station captured new footage of Hurricane Irma passing over the Atlantic Ocean towards the Caribbean on Tuesday, September 5, 2017.

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