‘You could feel the floor shaking’: Canadian expats on experiencing Irma

Hurricane Irma thundered up the Florida peninsula Sunday and Monday, bringing a 680- kilometre-wide belt of raging winds and pounding rain. The storm ran down trees such as blades of grass, turned streets into rivers and knocked out electricity to six millionnbsp;houses.

One of the inhabitants riding out or fleeing the tempest were a few of the approximately half-million Canadians who call the Sunshine State home. While the hurricane’s timing meant most of the snowbirds who winter in Florida were secure in Canada, many expatriates who live there year-round were caught up in thenbsp;storm.

A number of the spoke to The Globe and Mail about Irma and voiced a particular nonchalantness about the wholenbsp;item.

Carol and Donnbsp;Stamp

The sixty-something couple’s grown children invited them to leave their Fort Myers house for what was believed at the time to be the comparative safety of Jacksonville, where they have family, but the Stamps chose to weather Irma atnbsp;home.

“We are old and crabby and just did not want to leave,” a chuckling Ms. Stamp said over the phone. “We wanted to remain and guard thenbsp;home.”

The high winds snapped two three-storey ficus trees in the lawn, taking out the power lines, and also knocked down a smaller avocadonbsp;tree.

The pair passed the time chatting, watching the hurricane in the living-room window and texting using their worriednbsp;kids.

In their 23 years in Florida, the Stamps — she a nurse, he an electrician have been through two previous hurricanes without difficulty. Hurricane Charley in 2004, she said, had rattled the windows harder thannbsp;Irma.

Besides which, they used to live in Saskatchewan — with sub-40-degree winters as well as the occasional summer tornado — that steeled them for harshnbsp;weather.

“If you get a opportunity to see a hurricane, then take it,” Ms. Stamp advised. “Do not be chicken like ournbsp;children.”

Bruce Layman

Fifty kilometres to the south, Bruce Layman passed the storm reading crime novels by flashlight in his Naples-area residence. He lost power around noon Sunday and found himself directly in the path of thenbsp;storm.

“The wind once the eye came through — it was something else,” Mr. Laymannbsp;stated.

On Monday, he awakened to find trees and shrubs around the area felled by the storm, which also damaged the display on his pool. Fortunately, however, he said it did not appear any homes had beennbsp;ruined.

A Thunder Bay native, Mr. Layman moved to Florida 10 years ago after retiring from an executive job at CIBC’s New York office. He sells real estate with a focus on the Canadian expatnbsp;marketplace.

Mr. Layman will need to find the pool rescreened, but the aftermath of this storm did not look toonbsp;severe.

“It is basically just cleanup,” henbsp;stated.

Helen Gonzalez

Close to the centre of the country in Orlando, Ms. Gonzalez and her husband spent the storm in the hospital where both function as nurses. Together with the town covered by a curfew, employees needed to camp out in the hospital for days to be certain that they were there for theirnbsp;changes.

Ms. Gonzalez, 53, packed food and water for three days and slept on an air mattress at an office. She brought her 12-year-old daughter, who made a cake for thenbsp;nurses.

Ms. Gonzalez spent the hurricane working the night shift in the neonatal care unit. One of the concerns were sporadic power outages: The hospital has a backup generator, but each time it kicked in, she would need to look at the ventilators of her fees to make sure they werenbsp;working.

Working on the sixth floor of this building, the extreme winds out werenbsp;noticeable.

“You could feel the floor shaking — it was pretty extreme,” shenbsp;stated.

The following day, her neighbours sent her photographs of her neighbourhood, including one of the alligator drifting across a residential road. The harm mostly seemed to involve felled trees and ruined pool displays. 1 pine tree next door split in two and fell in hernbsp;lawn.

“Individuals with chainsaws were out cutting trees and making room for people to go around. It is great how people actually pulled together,” shenbsp;stated.

That exact same conviviality was evident around town in the runup to the storm, Ms. Gonzalez said. Buying supplies in the supermarket, customers were favorable with one another thannbsp;usual.

She remembered a similar soul after a former storm in 2004: That moment, she and her husband had just returned from Alaska with a source of halibut. With the power knocked out, they hauled a grill in their driveway and encouraged the neighbours into a post-hurricanenbsp;celebration.

Originally from Milton, Ont., near Toronto, Ms. Gonzalez came to the U.S. after completing nursing school in 1996, searching for work elsewhere amid the Ontario government’s cut to nursing tasks in the moment. She worked in Texas, where she met her husband, prior to the couples’ tasks took them tonbsp;Florida.

And she’s been in the Sunshine State long enough to be calm and collected aboutnbsp;hurricanes.

“Initially, I was in panic mode as a Canadian,” she told The Globe Sunday night before the storm rolled in. “But now, it is sort ofnbsp;old-hat.”

Ashley O’Kurley

Living on Key Biscayne, a barrier island off the coast of Miami connected with one bridge to the mainland, it was not tough for Mr. O’Kurley and his spouse to decide what to do. The couple and their 11- and eight-year-old kids decamped to Orlando Wednesday and spent the storm at the comparative security of anbsp;hotel.

On Monday, a friend sent Mr. O’Kurley a photograph and video of this scene back in the home: The road outside his condominium building seemed like a canal, while the lobby and parkade sat in 2 toes ofnbsp;water.

An Alberta indigenous and financial planner who moved to Florida 16 years ago for graduate school, Mr. O’Kurley, 46, said Canada’s harsh winters maintain the storm season of his adoptive home in view: More people are killed by the cold in Canada than by hurricanes in the U.S., henbsp;stated.

“People adapt. In Florida, they are used to this and they know what to do,” he said. “I understand people more fearful of four-foot snow drifts than Category 4 hurricane-forcenbsp;winds.”

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

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