West Michigan family makes ‘horrific’ exodus from South Florida

Johnny and Beanna Hartger had to evacuate from South Florida due to Hurricane Irma.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A young West Michigan family that moved to South Florida less than two months ago found themselves making the harrowing journey back to Grand Rapids as Hurricane Irma bears down on the state.

Jonny and Breanna Hartger left Wednesday with their infant and toddler children in the car.

It’s a trip that usually takes about 19 hours, but it took them more than three times that amount of time to reach their parent’s driveway in Grand Rapids.

“It’s like the worst case scenario possible for a family to be in, ever,” said Jonny Hartger, a Forest Hills Central graduate.

24 Hour News 8 caught up with the family just as they were getting home.

The 27-year-old Hartger moved to this house in Pompano Beach earlier this summer where he is hoping to further his career as hip-hop artist in his alter ego “Jonny Fiction.”

But as what may be one of the worst hurricanes in Florida history bore down on the state, he packed his family into the car and headed north.

When he left Wednesday he said shelves were empty, gas was hard to find and people were panicking.

“All the gang members, they know what’s going on,” said Hartger. “They’re all getting ready to loot houses of people leaving. That’s not an area you want to be in.”

Even as they were leaving, they were assaulted by masked gunmen in an attempted robbery. They were able to fend the robbers off.

Hartger said he and his neighbors had to turn their homes into fortresses.

“All the windows are metal, my house is like a prison,” said Hartger.

But things were going to get worse.

“The traffic got to be hell, it was probably like we went five miles in two hours,” Hartger said. “Tampa to Georgia was horrific. Just frightening.”

He said people were driving on the shoulders of the highways which mostly ground to a slow crawl.

“That was just really scary ‘cuz everyone was starting to get very aggressive, people are honking, screaming at each other, people trying to hit other people and I’ve got my kids in the car and they’re crying,” Hartger said.

He says he has never been happier to see West Michigan.

“Very thankful to be out of there. Very thankful to be out of there,” Hartger said.

He hopes to return home in a week, but is fearful of what he’ll find.

“I’m thinking the worst, because it was already starting to flood and it was just sprinkling,” Hartger said. “The ocean’s right there there’s nowhere for that water to go, there’s nowhere for people to go.”

With the storm only expected to get worse, there will be a lot of people watching and waiting to see what they will have to go home to.

“Apart from a war situation, that’d be the worst thing I could think of,” Hartger said.