Riders in the Storm

Springers buffeted by Irma

by Anita Peltonen

Shelagh Speers of Cold Spring has just started a new job in Miami. Her husband, Greg Gunder, videographer for The Current, plans to follow her in a few months.

But the couple recently got a strong dose of how Florida is different from the Highlands as Shelagh was forced to evacuate from her coastal home due to Hurricane Irma. Like millions of other Florida residents, she heard shifting predictions of where Hurricane Irma was heading and that it might be traveling at 150 mph and spread 500 miles wide.

Shelagh Speers on Sept. 10 with fallen tree limbs in Clay Hills, Florida, after she drove north from Miami to escape the brunt of Hurricane Irma (Photo provided)

Speers drove west on Wednesday, Sept. 6, then corrected, driving north and east hundreds of miles in buffeting winds and rains and heavy traffic to St. Augustine, where friends from Garrison, Dan and Cindy McEvoy, had offered their vacation home. On Saturday, Sept. 9, she drove inland to a home in Clay Hills owned by the family of the organist at her church in Miami.

“I am safe and sound,” she reported by email from Clay Hills. “We made it through the night! It is still very blustery with gusts of 50 miles per hour but the general wind is about 20 miles per hour.

“No more rain, thankfully! Power is out and internet is very spotty. Outside is a real mess, with tree branches and Spanish moss strewn everywhere.

“The house is absolutely fine. Solid as a rock. Several pecan trees blew down in the night, and our only real drama was when a huge branch broke off with a mighty crack and crashed to the ground right outside my bedroom window. That was about 2 a.m. We dragged my mattress into the other room, and I slept in the closet there. The wind got worse but eventually we all went back to sleep.

“Now we just wait around for things to die down and the power to come back. Could be a while. I feel God has truly protected me this week in every way. I am blessed and very thankful.”

Debbi Milner, of Cold Spring, who has a home in Ormond Beach, on the coast northeast of Orlando, says when Irma first hit the news the eye was heading their way. “We made evacuation plans for Atlanta and spent the week boarding up the house and preparing for devastation,” she said. “As the storm got closer, it began to veer west and then was on a path for Atlanta.

“The roads were getting clogged by cars that had run out of gas, so we switched gears to the plan to stay in our home and create our own shelter. In the end, we stayed when the storm was heading far enough west.

A satellite image of Hurricane Irma (NASA)

“The house is 122 years old and we counted on her strong bones to protect us. When the storm began, the winds howled and the sea churned. At 7 p.m., three hours into the storm, a gust of wind blew off the lock of a hurricane-rated window in our bedroom. We had tools and lumber ready to seal it right up.

“Otherwise, we suffered minimal damage. We lost the landing to the steps we inherited after [Hurricane] Matthew, and have two small downed trees, one with our prized bunch of bananas. (Yes, we have no bananas.) In the morning, we saw the trail of the gust of wind by following the plants whose leaves were scorched off.

“Overall, the damages are far less than with Matthew, which cleared a lot of things away. We still have no power, but we are so very grateful to have come through this successfully and wish the best for all those in Irma’s wake.”

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