Hurricane Irma: ‘It was a frightening experience’

Andrew Mounsey outside his villa.
Andrew Mounsey outside his villa.

‘Relentless wind and noise’ – an Amble man caught up in the devastating Hurricane Irma has described it as a ‘truly frightening experience’.

Andrew Mounsey and his family took refuge in their villa as the full brunt of the storm – with gales in excess of 100mph – battered Polk County, in the American state of Florida, at the weekend.

Hurrican damage in Polk County.

Hurrican damage in Polk County.

The deadly hurricane took a different path than forecast and the centre of the storm roared right over where the Mounseys are staying.

“We felt the full force of a category-2 hurricane, with winds of 100mph-plus and the noise was just relentless,” said the 21-year-old.

The hurricane has ravaged large areas of Florida, but thankfully the part of Polk County where Andrew is staying got off relatively lightly, in terms of damage.

“Damage to our villa is minimal; some window screens and a couple of roof tiles are off.

Hurricane damage in Polk County.

Hurricane damage in Polk County.

“We have been incredibly lucky,” says Andrew, who is enjoying the rest of his holiday now that Irma has passed.

But it is an experience that he will never forget. He said: “When we arrived in the area, we were told that Irma was forecast to go up the East Coast, but we were encouraged to stock up on bottled water, food and supplies to last two to three days and to fill the baths with water to use to flush toilets and sanitation.

“The shelves in the supermarkets and pretty much everywhere else across Florida were bare of bottled water and tinned food.

“Publix super market had just received a shipment of water that morning so we took the opportunity and got the maximum allowed – two packs of 24 bottles per customer.

“This was a whole three days before the hurricane was due to make landfall in southern Florida.

“Leaving Disney’s Epcot on Saturday was a sight to behold; literally hundreds of utility vehicles, tree surgeons and rescue vehicles were waiting to jump into action once Irma had passed. Disney had drained lagoons at water parks and theme parks, cling-filmed all of its outdoor lighting and announced a full closure of all parks, for only the fifth time in the resort’s 45-year history.

“On Sunday morning, we awoke to rainfall and blustery conditions. Overnight, the National Weather Service had issued a hurricane warning for our area, as Irma’s path was now headed up the West Coast and would affect us as it hit Tampa.

“As the day went on, the conditions slowly worsened as the early bands of Hurricane Irma moved up the Florida Peninsula giving us tropical storm-force winds.

“As we headed to bed, the winds started to whip up more. And then came the 11pm advisory from the National Hurricane Centre; Irma was now a category- 2 hurricane but was heading straight north towards us in Polk County – something we were not expecting.

“Around midnight, the centre of Irma was directly above Polk County where we’re staying. The winds were relentless and the noise was frightening, as if the windows were going to come through. With gusts of 100mph-plus, we were advised to stay in an interior room and stay away from windows. The eye-wall lasted around an hour before conditions seemed to ease off. Our power was flickering and surging sometimes, but was holding on.

“Waking up the next morning was very strange; tropical storm-force winds were still hanging around, but we had power, running water and the ground was dry.

“News was breaking that 80 per cent of the county was without power, but we’d barely sustained any damage to the villa, compared to the devastation in southern Florida.

“We had been incredibly lucky and the spirit of the people in Florida has been incredible.”