Irma: What it's like inside the hurricane battering Florida with 130mph winds and deadly storm surges

Lights are flickering in and out, trees are swaying in the wind and the streets are mostly empty

Clark Mindock
Hollywood, Florida
Monday 11 September 2017 16:46
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Hurricane Irma: Storm changes path towards St Petersburg

Many people in south-east Florida were likely woken up Sunday morning by the unnerving buzz of their phones, announcing the threat of tornadoes nearby as the effects of Hurricane Irma began to be felt.

At about 7.30am in Hollywood, one of those alerts rang out, while trees bent under the strengthening winds outside. Intermittent bands of thunderstorms have rolled in from the Atlantic throughout the morning, pounding streets and making driving dangerous as large pools of water collect on the side of the road.

The winds have become strong enough here – 130mph in some parts of the state, but likely closer to 70 in Hollywood – that anyone standing in them is liable to be pushed off balance. Strong bursts make it difficult to hold onto mobile phones outside, too.

Reports on local television say that cranes have broken on the top of skyscrapers in downtown Miami, and normally wind-resistant palm trees have been uprooted in Miami Beach.

The streets are mostly empty, however. Officials have implemented curfews in many portions of the region, hoping to keep people indoors where they are safer – and less of a liability for first responders.

Even emergency vehicles are a rare sight as Irma, after running through the vulnerable Florida Keys on Sunday morning, moves north into the western part of the state.

The strengthening winds have torn at the trees and shrubbery alongside roads. Branches and palms dot the streets, creating hazards for anyone brave enough to drive. As late as Saturday night, police could be seen stopping to remove debris, hoping to keep emergency routes clear for whatever response Irma might require.

At the Quality Inn in Hollywood, Greg Rogers pulled up next to thfetce front entrance of the hotel, using the awning there to shelter himself from the rain as he fetched some supplies from the bed of his white pickup truck. His licence plates read “Texas”.

“The hurricane!” Mr Rogers said, when asked why he had come to Florida when a major hurricane was on the way. He meant a different storm, though: he’d fled the effects of Hurricane Harvey in his Houston home to South Florida, only to be dogged by yet another major storm.

“Houston was just a lot of rain,” Mr Rogers said, looking out at the sharply slanting rain and wind hitting the street nearby. “These winds are something, though.”

While winds picked up throughout the morning, howling as they passed through creaking trees, lights in the hotel occasionally flickered out, then on and off again. Luckily, guests in the building weren’t among the more than one million people in southern Florida who have seen their power go out as Irma inches closer. At least, not yet.

However, other systems did fail.

While sleeping guess at the Quality Inn were startled by the harsh tones of the tornado warnings, another alarm was buzzing outside. Toward the back of the hotel is a lift pump, and the alarm meant that it wasn’t working anymore.

The hotel, along with several others nearby, sits below the sewage plant that treats and processes all of the waste water from guests. The pump is crucial to ensuring that the hotel parking lot isn’t flooded with sewage.

“We hope it doesn’t come to that,” hotel manager Greg Winn said, noting that the hotel has about three days before the sewage drainage might be overrun.

Mr Winn is telling guests to conserve water as much as possible, just in case Irma leaves them stranded longer than initially expected.

“Try not to run your water. Try not to use your toilet,” he said. “Do your best.”

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