Hurricane Irma, packing winds in excess of 155 mph, is expected to lash south-western Florida early this morning, after charting a path of destruction and misery throughout the Caribbean - namely the Leewards Islands and Cuba - within recent days.
The dangerous, category three system, which at its peak was a category five, forced the evacuation of an estimated nine million residents.
Trinidadian Pamela Perez, now resident in Florida, said although she and her husband may not be in its direct path, they were likely to feel Irma’s devastating impact.
Perez, who lives in Coral Springs, Broward County Fort Lauderdale, some 30 miles north of Miami, told Sunday Newsday they had resigned themselves to waiting out the storm after curfews had been imposed from as early as 4 pm yesterday.
She said Floridians were bracing for the worst. “On the east side where we are, as of yesterday (Friday) by about midday, all the Home Depots, pharmacies, everything was closed up.”
Perez said gasoline also was a problem. “Most gas stations were either out of gas or have already closed up. People waited over and hour and half to get to the lines in the gas station. Sometimes when they got to the pump there was no gas .
At the time Perez spoke to Sunday Newsday, around 3 pm, she said the streets were empty but the area in which she lived was experiencing gusty winds.
“As the wind picks up, any loose branches on the palm trees, they become airborne and people can be injured if they are outside.”
Perez and her husband only moved to Florida last December. But they have friends who have lived in the state for 25 years.
“I was shocked to see them preparing so early, from since last week Sunday, people were gassing up and getting water. Water was becoming a problem even by last weekend.”
Perez reasoned people were taking extra precautions because of Hurricane Harvey which devastated Texas. “People see so much water and they say, ‘Let me start early.’”
She said they had no choice but to wait out the hurricane in their home. “It is up to the guy above (God) to do what he has to do. But we have water, food supplies. We are in pretty good shape. As long as we have TV, we are good to go. If it goes off we will just listen to the radio.”
Trinidadian, Ivor Ferreira, who has just moved to Clearwater in Florida’s Pinellas County, decided not to take chances and joined his wife, Bella, a nurse, who will be riding out the storm as a member of an emergency medical team at Largo Medical Centre. The hospital determined that it should offer shelter to family members of its personnel who will be on duty.
The Ferreiras migrated to Clearwater just three weeks ago. They previously lived in East Orange in New Jersey, having left Trinidad several years ago.
“This is more than we bargained for,” Ivor said . “I was with 610 radio when we covered the aftermath of Hurricane Flora that hit Tobago in the 1960’s, but the reality of the threat of Irma hit me only yesterday when I saw people boarding up their homes and businesses during yesterday (Friday).
“We were not as concerned when the bulletins on Irma as a threat began circulating,” he said.
“This was principally because focus was being placed on the eastern side of the Florida Peninsula. But with the storm shifting closer to the west, given Clearwater’s location, we thought it best to see how we should best protect ourselves. Because Bella would be working throughout as part of the hospital’s emergency crew, I thought it best to take up the offer of shelter.”
Harvey Patrice, who has lived in Orlando for the past 20 years, told Sunday Newsday the majority of people in Miami had evacuated.
“Some of them headed further inland and a whole lot of them got on flights and left Florida itself,” he said.
Patrice said the Florida Keys was a virtual ghost town.
“Everybody has evacuated, gone. So, if there is anyone there in the Florida Keys, they stayed back on their own but at least about 99 per cent of the people evacuated down there.”
He said Orlando residents also left the city to go to other states but he has opted to stay put.
“I am in Orlando but the elevation where I am at is way higher than a lot of other areas in Florida.”
Patrice said although he did not expect to get a direct hit, he had taken safety precautions.
“I took a full sheet of play wood and boarded up everything. I just have one window open and the one I did not put any plywood on is the one on the side that the wind is not going to be beating against.”
Patrice said he has had more than his fair share of hurricanes, having survived Charlie, Jean, Francis, Matthew, Katrina.
He extended kudos to Florida Governor Rick Scott for the leadership he has shown ahead of Irma.
“He is doing an awesome job before this hurricane even get anywhere close to us, he started warning everybody to get prepared, ‘This hurricane is coming and it is going to be bad.’ From the moment he realised how it started destroying the islands, he just got down on Floridians and he started telling us, ‘Who want to get out, get out’.”
Dalton Narine, who also has experienced hurricane activity over the years, said he had no intention of leaving his home in Kendall.
Narine, a cultural aficionado who frequently visits Trinidad for Carnival, said he was awakened by a strong gust of wind at around 7 am yesterday and thought for one moment that Irma had indeed arrived.
“I lost my home to Hurricane Andrew 25 years ago and this morning’s experience reminded me about that,” Narine told Sunday Newsday. But Narine was confident he could survive this storm although he felt it to be twice the magnitude of Andrew.
Recounting the Andrew experience, Narine who has been living in the US for more than 55 years, said he took refuge in a closet just as he is doing this time around.
“I saw a green light when Andrew struck and the next thing I knew was the windows were blown out and everything started to collapse around me. But I survived. I remember how shocked all my neighbours were when they emerged from shelters and from what was left of their homes. I wonder what their situation will be in a storm that is twice as strong as Andrew.” He said his home was demolished and it took him between six and eight months living in a hotel while he rebuilt.
Narine spoke about some changes in the house which is structurally stronger. He removed carpets and replaced it with tiles “so I do not expect to have to deal with the “smelly” items in the aftermath of Andrew.”
Narine said he has secured his Mac computer which has his “life” on it. In particular, he was writing a screen play at the moment and wished to ensure his work so far is preserved. Narine, a Vietnam veteran, refused to join the Florida throng heading north to escape Irma’s wrath, and he said he did not wish to go to a shelter to live among so many people.
“I am a loner,’ he told Sunday Newsday, “And I am prepared for this as much as I can be.”
He said he has stocked up on water and other supplies and he has filled the bath tub with water in case the main supply went and he had to take a “cowboy” bath.
Later, in updating Sunday Newsday on developments, Narine said a tornado twirled menacingly within the precincts of his home.
He said his house was holding its own against the tornado.