As Hurricane Irma shapes up to be the strongest hurricane to make U.S. landfall in recent history, Florida communities are helping each other prepare to weather the storm.
In the Miami Beach town of Surfside, neighbors are lending a hand to those who have decided to stay home, awaiting the category 5 storm’s arrival.
Resident Joanna Hoffman remained in town until Friday, and spent some time walking the neighborhood to see who might need help.
“I stayed behind to prepare the house and make a plan,” she tells PEOPLE. “My husband is an ICU doctor and has been working 12-13 hour days this week, so he has been preoccupied.”
Hoffman checked on one of her elderly neighbors on Thursday who said he hadn’t been able to get water, so she brought him some.
“He said he never thought I’d come back. He was so surprised,” she says.
At another nearby house, the elderly women living there are refusing to evacuate. “They didn’t want to leave their cats,” Hoffman says.
And at a third stop to check on her elderly neighbor, Pat, she learned that he didn’t want to leave his home because he also was worried about his outdoor cat. Luckily, Hoffman and Pat’s friends were able to coerce him to stay with some friends further inland.
“I wish there was more to do for our elderly neighbors,” she says. “I delivered some food and helped with some shutters. Many people have nowhere to go and do not have access to transportation and supplies. I let the police know of the addresses of the elderly (that I know of) that aren’t evacuating. But, I fear for their safety.”
Technology is also allowing neighbors to easily reach out for help. Ella White is a single mother of 16-year-old twin boys. She didn’t have hurricane shutters when preparing to protect her home, and the person who she hired to put up plywood didn’t show. So she put a “help” notice out on the platform Nextdoor.
“I was so worried, as anyone would be,” White tells PEOPLE. “I got two responses immediately and then the janitor from the neighborhood Schul came and helped me. He was so generous, he’s been helping so many people.”
White is now on the road with her children, heading to be with relatives in D.C.
White poins out that technology, specifically Nextdoor, has “been such a great thing for our neighborhood in general but in this situation it’s especially amazing. I got the help I needed right away. The energy is wonderful to feel.”