During a time of worry and confusion, one Florida woman happened to find a stroke of sweet, sweet luck.
As Hurricane Irma approached her home in Ocoee, Tiffany Hatfield and her three young daughters prepared to make a 700-mile drive to Virginia to stay with a family friend. Hatfield drove all night through heavy traffic on Sept. 8 until she reached Rocky Mount, N.C., where she pulled over at a convenience store early the next morning for a bathroom break.
“We were rushing because it took us awhile to find a store,” Hatfield, 28, tells PEOPLE. “But while my daughter was in the bathroom, I bought two lotto tickets.”
Hatfield says she doesn’t usually buy lottery scratchers, but buying the two $5 Diamond Dazzler tickets while “in the middle of nowhere” paid off exponentially.
“After I put my daughter back in the car, I stood outside and scratched the ticket,” Hatfield recalls. “On the first ticket I didn’t win anything, but on the second, the very first number I scratched matched for a thousand dollars—then I kept scratching and they kept matching.”
Turns out, Hatfield won a $10,000 prize—but even after all of the numbers had been revealed, she still couldn’t believe her luck.
“I thought I was seeing it wrong,” she says. “I never bought a lottery ticket in North Carolina, and I thought there was no way the first time I buy one, I would win.”
In her astonishment, Hatfield handed the ticket to her 12-year-old daughter to confirm the winnings.
“She started screaming, and then we all started screaming!” Hatfield says.
In all of the excitement, Hatfield locked the doors to the car and became extremely anxious about somehow losing the ticket. The family was still two hours out from Virginia, so she quickly composed herself and returned to the road. But her daughters were far less nervous, and on the two-hour drive, they brainstormed about all the things they would do with their mom’s new winnings.
Because the lottery office was closed during the weekend, it wasn’t until Sept. 12 that Hatfield was able to visit the lottery in Greenville, N.C., to claim her prize. (Which, after taxes, came out to $6,951.)
Hatfield and her daughters returned to Ocoee Thursday night, where they found a tree toppled over in their yard, but electricity back on and only minimal damage to their home. They are fortunate, Hatfield says—much of the area on their drive back is still covered in water.
Hatfield says she is going to use her newfound money to plan a much-needed vacation for her daughters and husband, Ryan Hatfield, who is out on deployment in the Navy.
“The girls haven’t seen him in almost a year and he’s coming to town in December in between deployments,” she says. “So I think we’re going to have an awesome Christmas vacation this year.”