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Escaping the Sunshine State with my life

Posted Monday, January 30, 2012, at 2:18 PM

This the view we saw for almost 3 hours, as we tried to leave Florida yesterday--Interstate 75 was backed up for 4 miles.
Country road, take me home

No, I'm not talking about the political candidates this time--I'm talking about myself!

In leaving our Ft. Myers vacation spot yesterday, we made the unwise decision to take Interstate-75, the "fast way" back to Missouri.

Big mistake! Little did we know about the ill-fated reputation of that interstate route. Four years ago, four people were killed and 38 were injured on another nearby Florida highway, when the smoke from a brush fire obscured the road.

The same thing happened in the early morning hours yesterday, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2012. As we were sleeping, chaos was afoot on I-75 south of Gainsville, Florida. The smoke from a wildfire obscured the road, and 19 cars, trucks and campers came crashing into each other, injuring 18 and killing 10.

One woman described the horror of hearing the sound of the crashes and the screams of the injured. Another survivor described how he and some friends were in their car in the darkness, when another vehicle hit the second car, going at least 80-miles-an- hour and hurling the man underneath a tractor trailer truck. The man was killed.

Paramedics, responding to the emergency, had to listen for the screams. They couldn't see amid the smoke of the fire and the burning vehicles. The fire was so hot that the pavement melted.

We left Ft. Myers about 7 a.m., unaware of the havoc which awaited us. There was nothing on the news, though a Facebook friend of mine said she saw it on MSNBC quite early. Unaware, we chose to take the interstate home, instead of taking Hwy 27.

Shortly after going through Ocala, we hit the traffic block. It was 11:30, some 8 hours after the accident. Traffic was heavy in the three north-bound lanes; there was hardly any in the south bound.

It didn't take long to realize we were in trouble. As the hours dragged by, men began to leave their cars to go the bushes. After awhile, the dogs began to bark from car windows, and their owners took them out to the grass.

After about an hour and a half, we could see drivers beginning to panic and bolt for the shoulder of the road. In typical Florida fashion, many of them tried to change lanes, pushing their way in front of the more compliant drivers.

As the lock-up entered the third hour, I myself began to lose my grip on sanity, and I watched the side of the road for a secluded place to relieve myself. We were moving along at the rate of about two miles an hour. We had hit a patch of road in which there were no exits for 18 miles, so we were stuck.

I'm sure the conditions were horrific on that awful Sunday morning, but I've spent the month of January observing Florida drivers, and I have to say that they are truly frightening--especially on 6-lane highways. The way they weave back and forth, from lane to lane, with no regard for their own safety or that of others, it's as they don't care if they live or die.

We should be home in Missouri late tonight. I pray to God that I will live to see my grandchildren again.

From a bumpy highway south of Jackson, Mississippi, this is your roving reporter, longing to be back in Stoddard County.

Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

Have a safe trip home, Madeline. You sure know how to turn a not so pleasant situation into interesting reading. Thank you.

-- Posted by Just Lucy on Mon, Jan 30, 2012, at 7:00 PM

I would love to retire to Florida, but would probable move to a retirement community where there are fully stocked grocery stores, restaurants and no reason to get in the car and enter Florida highways.

-- Posted by Dexterite1 on Tue, Jan 31, 2012, at 6:06 AM

Thank you for posting that story, Rick. I saw a picture of the family on the news this morning. How heartbreaking! It really makes you stop and think about the coincidences in your life, doesn't it? Each of the people on that dark Florida highway had a story they could tell. Now they're gone.

I have read and reread the stories that the survivors told of that horrible morning, thinking, "If only they had done this--or if only they had done that...If only...If only.."

I thank God for the ones who--like us--came along too late to be involved--or who, by some miracle, made it out alive.

Call your loved ones and tell them you love them! You never know....

-- Posted by Madeline1 on Tue, Jan 31, 2012, at 11:30 AM

so glad you all made it home safe. i hate any interstates,,,,dread it every time i have to get on i-20!!!!!!!!but love going to sam,s town!!!lol

-- Posted by brndoakley@yahoo.com on Sun, Feb 5, 2012, at 10:18 PM

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Madeline DeJournett
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Madeline (Giles) DeJournett is the Advance writer for the North Stoddard Countian. A retired high school English/history teacher, she spent 32 years teaching in 5 schools in Missouri and Alaska. These days, she lives quietly with a menagerie of wild and domestic animals on 52 secluded acres in the remote Tillman hills south of Advance. She graduated from Dexter High School in 1960 and Southeast Missouri State in 1964. She can be contacted at advancensc@sbcglobal.net.
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