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Evacuees mulling return trip

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ATLANTA—Thanks to reconnaissance by a neighbour who stayed behind, Pam Szymanksi knows Hurricane Irma blew out the living room window of her southwest Florida home.

But she isn't sure when she'll get to see the damage for herself.

“All I know is we have to check out of here tomorrow [Tuesday] because they're booked,” she said yesterday, sitting in the lobby of a downtown Atlanta hotel where she arrived with her mother, two children, and two dogs.

A hotel reservation in Valdosta, Ga. is next, Szymanksi said, but that's still 350 miles from their home in Fort Myers.

“I don't want to run into closed roads but I want to get home and start cleaning up,” she noted.

Szymanski's family helped make up one of the largest storm evacuation efforts in U.S. history after Florida Gov. Rick Scott urged more than 6.5 million residents, one out of four of his constituents, to leave.

Now, with Irma advancing inland, a potential reverse migration from across the U.S. Southeast raises new worries of jammed roadways amid uncertain gasoline supplies, empty grocery store shelves, standing water, and widespread power outages that in heavily-damaged areas could last for weeks.

Scott cautioned evacuees not to rush back home.

“Storm impacts can continue well after the centre passes,” the governor said from his official Twitter account, asking residents to follow local officials' advice on when to return.

He later retweeted FEMA's warning that Irma involves “disruptions to daily activities” long after it passes.

That's not necessarily a message Floridians want to hear—even as they contemplate reliving the day-long and overnight drives they endured just days ago.

Stephanie Clegg Troxell was near Nashville, Tenn., where her family caravan includes three cars and a trailer, five adults, five children, 13 dogs, three mini-horses, and a pet pig.

The trek from New Port Richey, Fla., north of Tampa Bay, took more than 17 hours, beginning last Wednesday.

Troxell said her husband stayed behind and now is working with friends to remove a tree that fell on the roof of their house.

They also had no power.

“We don't know when we're leaving and now there's another hurricane coming,” Troxell said, referring to Jose, which was offshore.

“I'm trying to sneak out when it's not 30 miles per hour-plus winds.”

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