Floridians share their Irma stories
FLORIDA — A Key West chef defied orders to evacuate because he wants to feed first responders. A Miami man said the winds were so fierce he could feel the 37th-floor of his building swaying. And a mural artist left a message for the storm on the boards she used to protect her home’s windows.
Floridians in the path of Hurricane Irma have sent us more than 1,000 messages via text and WhatsApp since before the storm began barreling up the state’s Gulf coast. Here are some of their stories and videos.
We will continue to update this story as the storm rages on and as you share more experiences with us.
‘I wanted to wish her away’
As she boarded up the windows of her North Naples home, which sits three blocks from the Gulf of Mexico, Gina Fischer left a message for the impending storm.
“Irma go away!” it read in capital letters, painted in red.
Fischer has lived in Naples since 1982. She remembers painting a similar message 12 years ago when Hurricane Wilma hit the area in 2005.
“I was a mural artist in town for 20 years and when Wilma came on, I was on a lift up painting when it started. I wrote for Wilma to go away,” she told CNN on Sunday by phone.
“So 12 years later, I thought here we go again. I wanted to wish her away.”
The 61-year-old real estate agent evacuated to a friend’s home several miles away alongside her husband and three large dogs. Her friend lives on higher ground than her home, which is only 15 feet above sea level, she said.
“I feel like we’ve done everything possible that we can,” Fischer said. “We’re going to go to an interior hallway to be safe. We’ll wait until the noise is gone and until it’s quiet enough for us to come out and it’ll be ok.”
‘Everything is flooded’
Antonio Wilson said he is one of only a few residents who rode out the storm in the Icon Brickell towers, which are right on the water in Miami. He decided to stay because he thought he’d be safe.
“I have some complications with my health and my doctor refused to let me fly out,” Wilson, 35, told CNN on Sunday.
“Because I also have a dog and a cat, I am limited in what I could do. I figured my chances in surviving would be much higher with being in a high rise.”
Wilson knows a thing or two about outlasting a hurricane: He is a survivor of Hurricane Ike, which hammered Texas in 2008. He knew he had to get to higher ground, so he stayed in his 16th-floor condo.
At this point there isn’t much Wilson, an investor, can do. The water is waist-deep around his building, with white-capped waves lapping the foot of the property.
“Everything is flooded,” he said. “I’m literally stuck.”
‘She didn’t want to leave her daddy’s side’
While spending the night in a place she didn’t know, two-and-a-half-year-old Mya fell asleep nestled on her father’s back.
“She didn’t want to leave her daddy’s side, so she fell asleep on it,” said Melissa Tuccio.
Tuccio, along with her boyfriend Chris McInerney and their five children, live in San Carlos Park, Florida, but have been staying at a shelter in nearby Estero since Thursday.
“We have switched from food donations from the Red Cross to military meals,” Tuccio told CNN on Sunday morning.
Available cots there are sparse. Tuccio said her family gave up one of their beds this weekend to a veteran who is on oxygen.
There is coffee, though. The line for a warm cup of joe stretched about 20 to 30 people deep, snaking down the shelter’s hallway.
The family isn’t sure how long they will be in the shelter. They’ve been asked to stay put at least until Monday, she said.
‘I’m from Florida. I know how this goes’
The eerie video shows pendant lights swinging back and forth at different speeds.
It was shot by Tyler Ridgeway on the 37th floor of his building, Centro Tower, in downtown Miami on Sunday afternoon. The tower has been swinging with the heavy winds since Saturday night, he said.
“I thought that I was just misstepping for a while, but the building was actually swaying,” he told CNN by phone Sunday. “It’s one of those feelings when you get up too quick and have to catch yourself. Every now and then you get a stronger swing.”
The 27-year-old bartender decided to ride out the storm with a few other people in Miami. When asked why he didn’t leave, he gave a simple answer.
“I’m from Florida. I know how this goes. It’s all about being prepared,” he said.
‘I’ll be helping to feed first responders’
Key West resident John Hines hunkered down as Irma blew through Sunday. He has lots of reasons to stay: He lives in a concrete home, he’s stocked up on supplies and he didn’t want to fight other people for gas and hotel rooms.
The town’s mayor tried to convince him to leave, Hines said, but he lobbied with another reason to stay: He wants to help support first responders. Not with first aid, but with fresh meals.
“Every government official said staying is a bad idea, yet they’re staying, as are weather people and first responders,” said Hines, who is an executive chef at a Key West restaurant.
But for him, the reason to stay also is personal.
“My mom, dad, and little brother all died in the first 53 days of last year and I spread their ashes off the coast of Key West,” Hines said. “I’m not leaving.”
‘A huge bright spot in the midst of disaster’
Six families from Covenant Life Church in Tampa gathered to sing and pray in one of the church member’s homes in Riverview, Florida, on Sunday morning.
The pastor of the church, Justin Perry, livestreamed the group singing “Behold our God” together.
“Several of our members outside of South Tampa have opened their home to our south Tampa members. We had several families staying in the same neighborhood so we got together this morning,” he told CNN.
“Who can teach the One who knows all things? Who can fathom all His wondrous deeds? Behold our God seated on His throne,” they sang in unison.
Church member Hope Henchey told CNN about the moment via text message, saying, “It was a huge bright spot in the midst of disaster.”