WATERLOO — Several current and former residents with Cedar Valley ties were spared serious damage as Hurricane Irma took a sharp right hook avoiding the Florida Gulf Coast areas where they live.
“We’re fine,” said Heidi De Silva, who with her husband, Julio, operate Petersen & Tietz Florists & Greenhouses in Waterloo and have a residence in Fort Myers, Fla. “We’re on a third-floor cement-block building,” built to tough standards after Hurricane Andrew in the early 1990s. Emergency officials said, “If you’re third-floor new construction, batten down and invite anyone you know” to take shelter.
“We asked some friends to come over and they did,” said De Silva. “It actually went east of us, which was a godsend.” The storm was originally headed straight for them.
But it was close enough. High winds and heavy rain hit the area.
“There’s no power here,” she said Monday morning. “We lost power here about 2:15 p.m. (Sunday). We’re sitting in the car charging our cell phones.”
There was damage.
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“I have heard a lot of trees were down, palm fronds,” De Silva said. “We had 16 inches of rain two weeks ago, so some of the trees were just uprooted with the storm surge.”
The couple bought their Florida home — a condominium unit in a larger building — more than two years ago. Longtime neighbors coached them on what to expect. Heidi had been through a storm in Homestead, Fla., in the 1980s but this was much more intense.
Irma lost strength but was still a Category 2 hurricane by the time it neared their location, she said.
“It’s different” than straight-line winds sometimes experienced in Iowa, De Silva said. “It’s a swirling wind. It’s constant. And it punches. The gusts are like, if somebody pushes into you, and keeps pushing on you, you can probably stand your ground. But if they punch you in the face, and keep punching you in the face, you fall down. That surge is like a boxer getting punched.”
Fortunately a tidal surge projected to hit the area did not occur. A nearby marina sustained only minor damage.
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De Silva noted she was impressed with Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s leadership through the ordeal.
Other residents in nearby Cape Coral, Fla., hit the road.
“We’re fortunate, we left earlier and went to Orlando,” said longtime Waterloo photo studio operator Sid McKenna. “We’re at a hotel in Orlando. We let people who stayed use our house” and ride the storm out.
Like the De Silvas, McKenna said his home is without power. They planned to leave for home this morning, after roads were clear of debris. He noted some areas are under curfew.
Like McKenna, former Cedar Falls residents Cindy and Nick Zubak, now of Cape Coral, headed for Orlando when it was projected Cape Coral would bear the brunt of the storm. As it was it resulted with some debris and power outages in certain area.
“We talked to friends that were there and they said that they fared OK,” Cindy Zubak said.
Retired Waterloo educator Tom Arthur, now living in Sun City Center, Fla., also reported escaping the brunt of the storm.
“The hurricane fell apart south of us, because Irma came in to the north over land, and that caused it to lose its punch,” he said in an e-mail. “We are so fortunate.”