TRENTON — South Florida residents continue their preparation for the storm as a New Jersey woman rides out the storm in the Dominican Republic and the New Jersey Air National Guard delays its departure.

"The 120 soldiers that report to the armory are prepping approximately 40 trucks for the convoy. They'll be departing sometime on Friday. They were originally supposed to depart today but it got pushed back because of several factors," Air National Guard spokesman Kryn P. Westhoven told New Jersey 101.5.

The soldiers still need to be processed and the vehicles prepped for the long trip to Florida, according to Westhoven. He said a final destination for the members of the 253rd Transportation Company needs to firmed up.

New Jersey 101.5 Chief Meteorologist Dan Zarrow is on vacation with his wife and son at Disney World in Orlando keeping an eye on the storm to make sure they can leave as scheduled on Saturday.

"Irma is definitely a hot topic of discussion around Disney World this week, amongst my fellow tourists and especially the Disney cast members," Zarrow said

"We do have backup travel plans in case our flight is cancelled or delayed, but I really hope it doesn't come to that.

The storm is headed next toward Cuba where a hurricane watch is posted. A hurricane watch has been issued for south Florida, the Florida Keys, Lake Okeechobee, and Florida Bay. The National Hurricane Center expects the watch to be expanded northward later Thursday.

Projected path of Hurricane Irma (NHC)

"There is still quite a bit of uncertainty regarding Irma's track and intensity through this weekend. We're eventually going to see some rain and wind, but how much is still up in the air. Right now, it looks like that would arrive around Tuesday-Wednesday," Zarrow said.

Rachel Marie, co-host of "The Joe and Rachel morning show" on Cat Country 107.3 in Atlantic City, rode out the storm at a resort in Punta Cana. She said that her vacation was going well until the winds picked up Tuesday and the staff handed out notices about their plan of action for Irma, which was moving all the guests to a convention center on higher ground.

"Me being a very privileged young woman from New Jersey was like, 'A shelter ... what do you mean?' It was quite horrifying," Rachel said.

She said they put mattresses out and set up games for the guests, "but it felt like you were getting onto the Titanic. You knew it was so beautiful, but you knew your were getting into something that wasn't going to end well."

It got real for the 22-year-old when they were informed that they were no longer guests but refugees of the Dominican Republic government.

Everyone was kept away from the windows but loud bangs could be heard outside. "We couldn't see the outside.  We could only hear what was going on. No one really slept because of the anxiety of what was going outside," Rachel Marie said.

Their "refugee status" was ended when they were allowed back into their hotel rooms Wednesday morning as the storm passed.

The extent of the damage around the resort was palm trees were bent over, huts pulled out of the ground and beach chairs in the pool. On a resort excursion she and other guests got to see damage to the surrounding mountainside.

"They live in huts and shacks. It's a very poor area. I came out and saw how minimal the effects were to our hotel and couldn't help but cry knowing how blessed we are to be in this situation versus what they're going through out there. It's very surreal," Rachel Maire said.

Former Toms River resident Nick Piccione lives in Vero Beach, Florida, with his wife and was preparing his home before leaving to head inland.

"I move down here a year ago, they didn't have a hurricane here for 10 years, a little drought. I get here last year they have a hurricane (Matthew) and now we have another one on the way," Piccone said.

"Everything is built more securely and most of the houses have hurricane shutters ready" to protect windows from flying debris and branches. Many homes are built of concrete.

There is still the "freak out" factor that Piccone compared to preparing for a snowstorm in New Jersey with heavy traffic heading north away from the storm.

"This is a very significant storm, very strong storm. Still the pathway could go to the east of us or the west of us but there's projections showing the cone right through the middle of the state and if it does it could be very bad," Piccone said.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com.

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