Wet and wild: New Jersey teens drive 1,000 miles for Matthew

A bridge at a church is surrounded by flood waters from Hurricane Matthew, Friday, Oct. 7, 2016, in St. Augustine , Fla.  (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
A bridge at a church is surrounded by flood waters from Hurricane Matthew, Friday, Oct. 7, 2016, in St. Augustine , Fla. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

ST. AUGUSTINE, FL (AP) – Millions of people were warned to flee Hurricane Matthew’s path. Two 18-year-olds, however, were determined to be in the thick of it in the nation’s oldest city, even if it meant traveling nearly 1,000 miles to St. Augustine.

“I have an obsession with severe weather, snowstorms, hurricanes tornadoes, anything crazy that most people wouldn’t go towards,” Lucio Bottieri of Jackson, New Jersey, said Friday. “I’ve been obsessed since the 2005 hurricane season when there was storm after storm after storm.”

That’s when he was 7. While he rode out Hurricane Sandy at home four years ago, this week was the first time he’s traveled to see a hurricane.

“My mom was really against my trip. I had to keep talking to her to calm her fear,” he said.

Most of his friends thought it was a bad idea, too. Except Bailey Lilienkamp.

“He’s not a weather nut like me, just a good friend,” Bottieri said. “Nobody was willing to make the journey with me and he didn’t hesitate to come. Bailey’s mom was worried. Not quite like my mom.”

They packed canned food, snacks, bottled water and a first aid kit, and left early Thursday morning, driving straight through to St. Augustine as the storm closed in.

Meanwhile, an estimated 2 million people in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina were being warned to evacuate.

As winds and rains from Matthew battered the coast on Friday, the teenagers stood by a seawall at the Castillo de San Marcos, a 17th century Spanish fort. Salt water blasted into the air and hard, driving rain pelted them. Soon, too much water was coming in and they decided to go back to their hotel room for a quick break. They planned to venture out again just as the strongest winds were approaching the city.

Bottieri said he chose St. Augustine because he thought it would be safer than points farther south along the Florida peninsula.

“I thought too far south would have been too bad, because I’ve never really done this before and it was supposed to be a little easier here,” he said. “I hope it doesn’t get too bad for the sake of the people who live here, but I hope it gets a little worse.”

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