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Hurricane Irma spares homes of Florida residents with Valley connection

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After leaving a trail of destruction across the Caribbean, the most powerful Atlantic Ocean storm in recorded history, Hurricane Irma, crashed into the Florida Keys on Sept. 9, then travelled up the state's west coast, leaving flooding, power outages, and destruction in its wake.

The Category 5 monster storm, which was downgraded to a Category 4 by the time it made landfall, caused an estimated $30 billion to $50 billion USD in damage but could have been much worse for many residents.

Anticipated to travel up the middle of the peninsula, Irma's powerful eyewall instead travelled up Florida's east coast, leaving the west coast to get the worst of the rain and tornadoes as powerful winds moved north.

Valley resident Darin Hubscher and his family own a vacation home just off Florida’s west coast on Pine Island near Fort Myers. During the storm Fort Myers recorded 10.33 inches (26.2 cm) of rain and 84 mph (135 km/h) winds while just 44 miles  (70 km) south Naples received 11.87 inches (30.2 cm) of rain and 142 mph (228 km/h) winds.

“We were very, very fortunate,” said Hubscher. “The hurricane was predicted to go right over our island and it was only 40 miles (64 km) away when it took a turn, that’s what saved us. The edge of the eye was approximately five miles (eight km) from our house and we were very lucky we got spared.

“Our neighbour lost their seawall, which was connected to ours so we lost about three feet of that. And the screen in our lanai is all torn up but we were very lucky otherwise.”

Hubscher noted that the stress leading up to the storm and during it was far worse than any damage they received.

“We have a really good home watch company that looks after the place when we are away,” he said “We’ve had a great guy for the past 10 years that goes and puts the hurricane shutters on and ties the boat down.

“So, it wasn’t so much the damage that impacted us but the anticipation of the storm hitting. Even though you are insured, it’s not a good feeling. You don’t want to see devastation like that.”

On the other side of the peninsula, the storm's massive storm surge – caused when its strong winds sucked the tide out from the coast then slammed walls of water back into the shore – were arguably Irma's most dangerous feature, since it resulted in life-threatening flash flooding.

William Wolowich, who’s mother, Alice Varey, resides in Minitonas experienced the impacts of Irma on the east side of Florida.

Wolowich lives in Hollywood, approximately five  miles west of where the evacuation zone ended.

“I was not forced to leave and stayed through the storm,” he said, noting he felt relatively safe. “My house is built to Miami-Dade county construction standards with hurricane proof windows, walls and roof.”

Like Hubscher, Wolowich said that the anticipation leading up to the storm was perhaps the worst of his experience.

“The wait is terrible and you just have to keep yourself occupied,” he said. “Irma was nasty because we thought we would get a direct hit, but it went farther west.”

Luckily Wolowich’s property received no damage aside from some shredded foliage.

“Immediately after the shrieking howling winds subsided, people started to come out to survey and clean up the damage,” he said.

“It was far worse in Miami, where they had 80 mph sustained wind with gusts of 120, but we didn't get that. I would guess the damage is similar to what we say with Hurricane Wilma in 2006.”

“Hurricanes are nasty and they need to be taken seriously,” he concluded.

While residents in Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, and even Tennessee continue to survey the massive amounts of damage that Irma left behind, they can take a small amount of comfort in knowing that it could have been even worse and that the looming threat of Jose is further north.

Jose has been a persistent storm, having now existed as a tropical storm or stronger for 13.25 days. Minor coastal flooding is expected from Delaware to Southern New England as a result of the storm, and Jose could produce as much as five inches of rain over eastern Long Island and up the coast through the southeastern area of Massachusetts. But, the eventual movement of Jose to the east is predicted to limit the flood potential of the storm this week.