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THE SNOOP September 14, 2017

with
KEITH MOORE
A Personal Account of Hurricane Irma
While watching the news reports over the weekend and the threat Irma made on Florida, we thought about people we know who might be in harm’s way. We immediately thought of Sarah and Kimberly Copeland, daughters of Scott and Annette Copeland, of Ava. We knew both girls were attending college in Florida.
First we confirmed that both were safe – or had taken precautions necessary to be safe. Then I thought, wouldn’t it be neat to have an eye-witness account of what it is like to ride out such a storm.
I asked if one or both girls would be willing to send us a report from Florida. This is what Sarah reported from the Lakeland area.
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Truth be told, I was less concerned than I probably should have been. Category 5 (+157mph) Hurricane Irma hit southern Florida hard, but by Sunday evening, she had fizzled to a Cat 2 (96-110mph), and was projected to be a Cat 1 when she reached Tampa – only about thirty minutes away from Lakeland on the Gulf shore. Make no mistake – a Cat 1 is still no small thing, with winds up to 95 mph (think what would happen to hit something with a car moving at 95 mph), but I remember being in a double-wide trailer while waiting out several Cat 1 and 2 hurricanes in Florida when I was little. Still, after the deadly storms we have seen – Charlie, Wilma, Katrina, Harvey – no one, including me, wanted to take any chances.
The likelihood that any part of the state would escape impact was slim; satellite images revealed that the storm was larger than the entire state. Many people evacuated and many people remained, but everyone was out in traffic during the week leading up to Irma’s arrival either stocking up on supplies or getting out of town.
My roommate and I braced ourselves in an empty room in the newly built dorm on our university’s campus. The whole of Sunday was overcast and windy, and generally rainy, but the winds really picked up as the sun went down. I could hear the rain loudly pounding the building and the wind knocking things loose and throwing them around on the roof. The heaviest part of the storm hit us just after midnight, and I could actually feel the brand new dormitory shaking as it was beaten by the storm.
We kept power throughout the night, which was a bit surprising. Ironically, we lost power on campus at about 9:30 a.m. on Monday – after the storm had almost completely passed. Go figure. Most of Lakeland had lost power throughout the night, including our neighborhood, which means there is currently no air-conditioning, electricity, internet, or coffee.
We are blessed though. Irma could have been far more violent than she was. There are tree branches and leaves scattered everywhere, with a fallen tree here and there. I saw an overhang that had been badly damaged. Some power lines were downed on one of the main roads in Lakeland. Some fences, including ours, have been blown away.
Still, this is all relatively minor. We experienced no flooding, although the many lakes that give Lakeland its name are rather swollen and the retention ponds are filled to the max. No local buildings have been blown away, to my knowledge. Casualties across the state are minimal. The swans have survived. (The story goes that many years ago, a Lakelander wrote a letter to the Queen of England, and in response she sent two of her own swans, and their descendants still grace Lake Morton in downtown Lakeland. They’re something of a mascot.) It will take time to repair power lines and clean up debris from the streets, but the aftermath of Irma is far less difficult to deal with than might have been expected.
Granted, that does not apply to the whole state. Naples and Fort Myers took the brunt of the storm, and are dealing with flooding. Roughly two-thirds of the state has lost power. It is going to take some time for the state to recover, but at least in Lakeland, we are doing okay.
–Sarah Copeland, AHS class of 2013

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