PONCE DE LEON -- For some South Florida residents, free food and admission to the state park wasn't just another "picnic at the park."
Evacuees trickled into Ponce De Leon Springs State Park, 2860 Ponce De Leon Springs Road, on Saturday, benefiting from the free food and park admission during the annual Picnic at the Park event. Organizers say families and other evacuating groups saw the sign advertising the free event and took refuge.
"We talked about canceling it," said Jean West, organizer of the event. "Honestly, if it had not been for the evacuees, we would probably have cancelled the event. It's been really great hearing their stories, but it's scary."
Conrad Ross, 28, of Cudjoe Key -- a community on an island in the Florida Keys -- evacuated with five other friends. With the original intent to find lodging in DeFuniak Springs, they ended up booking with Airbnb in Santa Rosa.
"I have two boats and I own my house down there -- so, I might loose everything," Ross said.
"We bought two cars and packed everything, the important stuff," he added. "We prepared the house for a flood," and expect waters "to be chest high."
Traveling with Ross, Jana Johnson, 27, said it was her first hurricane since she moved to Cudjoe Key five years ago from Minnesota.
The experience, so far, has caused her to feel "traumatized."
"Hopefully the storm keeps going west then fizzles out," Johnson said. "Hopefully, it doesn't curve north."
If the storm moves on a stronger north-northwest path, it would slam into the Gulf Coast in Northwest Florida. As of 9 a.m. Sunday, Hurricane Irma made landfall in Cudjoe Key, with sustained winds of 130 miles per hour, according to Associated Press.
The same morning, the storm was a Category 4, 25-miles out from Key West, moving north-northwest at eight miles per hour with maximum sustained winds at 130 miles per hour, according to National Hurricane Center.
The storm's probable path cone illustrated much of the Northwest Florida Panhandle under a tropical storm warning with expected sustained winds ranging between 40-75 miles per hour and 2-8 inches of rainfall.
A few yards away from the concessions table, 21-year-old Maria Leon, of Miami, sat a shaded picnic table with her family, eating grilled food and other snacks from the community event.
"We honestly didn't know where we are going," said Leon, sitting with her mother, grandmother, sister, brother-in-law and their three pet Yorkies. "We just left -- and to see where we landed. We tried multiple places and hotels, all of them were booked. I tried Georgia, I tried Alabama."
The family evacuated 3 p.m. Thursday, in accordance with Governor Rick Scott's emergency evacuation advisory. In total, nearly six million people were under the evacuation order.
Most evacuees from South Florida expect to return to their communities Monday or Tuesday.
"There was no more time to wait," Leon's brother-in-law Louis Lourido, 21, said.
Hurricane Irma devastated the Caribbean since initially making landfall Wednesday. According to several reports, the storm has killed 25 people, left more than 100 million without power and leveled 95-percent of infrastructure in small islands Barbuda and St. Maarten.
"It's something we don't have any knowledge of what's coming," Leon said. "We don't know anything -- we don't know how bad it's going to be, if it's going to be floods, if we're going to loose our jobs."
The family found a hotel in Pensacola. They traveled back to the state park to attend the annual free event.
"Today was even more special because we were able to welcome those who have been displaced by the storm," said Park Services Specialist Fred Provost. "When they are already stressed, frustrated and angry -- there's a chance for them to relax and let the kids relax and everyone have a chance to take a breath from all of the stress they've had over the few days."
Members of Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) had helped at the event as extra-hands. Typically, they distribute informational materials about literacy; but, Saturday, they were there giving out food and warmly welcoming communities from near and far.
"It's good to help people," said FBLA member at Ponce De Leon High School Devyn Butorac, 17. "Especially with the biggest storm in a while."
"I just hope everyone is safe," she added, referring to Hurricane Irma's landfall impact anywhere. "The storm doesn't really scare me, it's just the people need to be safe."