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Hurricane Irma: Eye on the Storm

By: Paolo Skyrus

Photos by Nicole [Nikki] DeRyke
It was a rough Sunday evening when the hurricane washed through Florida. The rain relentlessly smashed into the windows of the house of Nicole DeRyke at 120mph, making her wonder if she really made the right choice to stay with her roommates in their house north of Miami. Peeking past her upturned bed pinned to the window, she could see some of the trees bending sideways and the streets clogged with water like a massive river delta. Ducking back down, she checked her phone under the blinking lights to see yet another emergency alert warning her about tornados in the area. Her roommate told her it wasn’t going to be that bad, despite the fact that she bought several packs of water earlier that day, her actions betraying some fear of what was to come. Even though it seemed like the world was ending, what DeRyke feared the most was if the house started flooding or if, “a tree comes flying into my room.” Thankfully, none of that ended up happening, and she was able to emerge from her home the following day to survey the mess the neighborhood had become.

Let’s take a look at how another two Floridians survived the largest hurricane in the area to date.

Photos by DeRyke, depicting early flooding and then major flooding before and during the storm.

Take 17-year old Wesley (last name withheld) for example. When he first heard the hurricane was going to be a category 5, he thought “we would be screwed.” Like DeRyke though, he chose to stay, mainly because “the traffic was really bad, not to mention it was impossible to get gas… it took me four hours instead of 20 minutes of driving past stores that had signs on them saying ‘no gas’ to find [a tool to secure our shutters with].” Later, once his family’s house was secured, he drove to his friend’s house to hang out. However, he ended up staying at his friend’s house, mainly because by the time he was ready to leave the streets were too flooded to drive through.

Instead of seeing this as an inconvenience, Wesley and his friend, “like dumb[explicit],” decided to play outside in the flooded water during the hurricane. And as one could imagine, Wesley reflected that “the rain and water were moving really, really fast, and the rain felt like needles against bare skin. My friend decided it would be a good idea to lie down in the water, which it really wasn’t. He wasn’t able to get up until he was like a block down the road.”

When describing the damage after the storm, Wesley said that “everything was a huge mess.” According to him, most of people’s fences and smaller trees were torn up or gone, and streetlights were out. The only bad damage he heard about was that a miniature tornado took out his aunt’s back porch, but other than that nothing serious went down in his area. After years of being exposed to hurricanes, Wesley believed that in the end, “it really wasn’t that bad,” contradictory to the fact that live and homes were lost because of this storm.

Photos by DeRyke. Fierce rain during the storm, and flooding of a nearby school after

Meanwhile, 54 year old Sam Haim was in a panic. Even though he lives on the Florida panhandle in Pensacola (the Northwest end of Florida near Alabama), Haim is homeless by choice and was very afraid. He knew he needed to get out of Florida fast, despite some of the locals telling him it was no big deal. Three people he knew in the area seemed fairly confident that nothing bad was going to happen. When he told them he was leaving, one stated,  “You are not leaving here. Irma’s going into Miami… Sam, I got the information from the cashier at Walmart yesterday. She is very reliable, and I’ve known her for five years.” Another stated, “No Sam, you can ride out the storm at my house, also I have three days of part time work for you working on the roof. If you leave you’ll miss the work. I know you need the money.” The other person said, “Sam, you don’t need to go. Just stay in a shelter and save money. We’ll go to CiCis pizza, on me.” Not a native Floridian himself, Haim couldn’t believe how calm everyone was acting with a monstrous storm like Irma approaching.

Despite all the offers, Haim decided he had to leave. As soon as he got the chance, he took a shuttle that ran to a casino in Biloxi, Mississippi and managed to escape the tail end of the tropical storm.

Experiencing a hurricane is different for everyone, but as Californians who only get a heavy rain every so often, it can be difficult to really grasp the intensity of being in a massive storm. If you or your family can, then consider giving direct aid to victims of Irma and other natural disasters this season from the relief efforts highlighted in this article.

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