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In Florida, Irma's High Winds And Heavy Rain Batter Fort Myers


As Hurricane Irma traveled up the Florida coast, it traveled over Fort Myers. That's a city about two hours south of Tampa. In nearby Bonita Springs, Melinda Jarbo (ph) described to us galloping, wet, wet wind.

MELINDA JARBO: Just a lot of wind, torrential rain. Just pounding, pounding wind and rain right now, basically.

KELLY: Like many others, when Jarbo found out she was in Irma's shifting path, it was too late to evacuate.

JARBO: By the time we figured we probably needed to get out, the traffic was horrendous and the gas was running low and we just felt like this was probably our best bet. Better to stay here and be safer in our home.

KELLY: NPR's Camila Domonoske was in Fort Myers for all that pounding wind and rain, and she joins us now from the studios of member station WGCU. Camila, good morning.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Good morning, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So that storm passed just right over you? What was that like?

DOMONOSKE: You know, the heaviest winds were on Sunday afternoon as the eyewall was approaching us. And at that point trees were bending, there were sheets of rain, it was extremely noisy outside. Once the eye passed over, it got quieter from there. And the second half of the storm was much calmer. I mean, all told, it lasted a long time. The stormy weather started Friday evening and just kept going. But last night everything got a lot quieter.

KELLY: And right now what are you looking at? It's still raining outside?

DOMONOSKE: Right now the rain has stopped. It's looking pretty nice outside.

KELLY: Wow. I mean, the thing we keep hearing from officials over and over across Florida is just because the wind is dying down does not mean the danger is past. We're hearing about danger of a storm surge. Is that an issue in Fort Myers?

DOMONOSKE: Yeah. And, you know, another thing is the high winds have stopped, but they leave debris behind. And absolutely one of the biggest risks is the water, and that danger remains after the storm is over. There was a potential risk for a storm surge all along the coast of Florida, and as the storm continues to move, waters will continue to move around. That's absolutely something that people, especially right on the coast, need to be particularly aware of and cautious of.

And, you know, in Naples, just south of here, near where the storm made landfall as a Category 3, made landfall for the second time in Florida, one tide gauge measured a 7-foot rise over an hour and a half. So when a storm surge can hit, even if it's not as bad as the worst projections of 15 feet, it can still be extremely dangerous, and they move very quickly.

KELLY: So the advice still - stay put where you are.

DOMONOSKE: Absolutely. Until you get the all-clear.

KELLY: Until you get the all-clear. Now, it sounds like one of the biggest challenges where you are, in Fort Myers, was that people didn't know that the the heart of the storm was going to - was going to come there.

DOMONOSKE: Yeah. For a long time it didn't - it didn't look like it was coming in this direction. There were just a few days to prepare. But, you know, when mandatory evacuation orders were put in place in low-lying areas, a lot of people did relocate, even if just moving a few miles inland to get farther away from the dangerous coast. And 32,000 people were staying at Lee County shelters. That's the county around in this area which is - you know, particularly Floridians often don't want to evacuate. I think the response was actually pretty strong, especially given the short notice here. One of those shelters did spring a leak in its roof, but everything does seem to be stable there still.

KELLY: I was going to ask about one of the other challenges, which of course is power outages. Are a lot of people without power around you right now?

DOMONOSKE: Yeah. We do know that most of the county lost power during the storm. People - two million people across Florida lost power in the storm. That was definitely one of - one of the big dangers. And I think overall while this was not the worst-case scenario for this storm and for this area, we still know that it's going to take some time to evaluate the full extent of the damage that was actually caused here. The sheriff's office again, just like you said, reiterates that people should not be trying to travel on the roads yet. There is a risk of downed power lines, and of debris of felled trees and of standing water in areas that flooded.

KELLY: All right. NPR's Camila Domonoske there in Fort Myers, Fla. Camila, stay safe.

DOMONOSKE: Thanks, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.