Earthquake-prone residents of the Santa Clarita Valley reached out to friends and family in hurricane-prone Florida this past weekend as Hurricane Irma cut a swath of destruction across the eastern state.
Local residents in touch with loved ones living in Irma’s path relayed stories of worry and concern, downed trees and damaged buildings, but reporting no accounts of injury.
Hurricane Irma sliced through the state Sunday from the southeast corner of the state to the northwest corner, in a 5 o’clock to 11 o’clock fashion, with winds of up to 120 miles per hour, forcing many to get out of its way.
By the time the hurricane reached Atlanta, late Monday afternoon, the National Hurricane Center had downgraded it to a Tropical Storm with maximum sustained winds of between 50 miles per hour.
Gretchen Blee returned Monday to her home in Naples, Fla., after having found refuge in a hotel, only to find her Naples’ neighborhood littered with downed branches and broken signs. Blee is the sister of Signal Editor Jason Schaff.
Her home, however, was left intact.
“We got back to the house a few hours ago,” she told The Signal on the phone from Florida Monday.
“As we got to our community, I got nervous because there were trees down everywhere,” she said. “But, our home was as dry as a bone.”
Blee’s husband, Richard, calling on years of storm prep experience, applied duct tape to doors and windows, secured metal shutters and piled sandbags around the house.
“My husband did a lot of work,” she said.
The Blees moved to Naples from their home in Long Island, New York, in 2012 after Super storm Sandy battered their beach home there.
“I said, ‘Let’s go and live the good life in paradise’,” Gretchen Blee was quoted as saying. “And here we are.”
By mid-afternoon – SCV time – the couple still reported having no power and had received no official word on how long the power outage would last.
“We dodged a bullet,” Gretchen Blee told The Signal. “We’re very grateful.”
Another Irma-threatened family with SCV ties is the family of concert pianist and composer Oksana Yurievna Kolesnikova who years ago found a home in Santa Clarita, far from her original home in Siberia.
Her relatives, however, including her parents still reside in Tampa.
Unlike the Blees, they decided to stay put.
“They decided to ride it out,” Kolesnikova’s manager, Alex, told The Signal Monday. “We’re a little worried because we haven’t heard (directly) from them.”
A message, however, was relayed late Monday afternoon by Kolesnikova’s sister that no one was hurt.
“Oksana’s sister said it seems like everything is under control,” Alex said.
The family is still waiting to hear, however, from Oksana’s brother-in-law, Sisinnio Concas, who lives in Tampa.
“There’s been no communication with his family since yesterday,” he said, referring to Sunday.
Only two weeks after Hurricane Harvey devastated the coastal cities of Texas and a death toll of at least 70, Hurricane Irma threatened to do the same in Florida this past weekend.
Having ravaged through parts of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Irma made landfall in Miami and the Florida Keys Sunday. She strengthened throughout the day, slamming into areas not originally considered to have been threatened.
Jennifer Lanner Parrott just moved to Santa Clarita from Florida three months ago. Her parents and sister still reside in the city of Cape Coral.
“I’ve been trying to get my parents out [of Florida] since Monday and the flights couldn’t even get them here,” said Parrott said Saturday.
Cape Coral, a city known for its many canals and waterways, was under mandatory evacuation Sunday but Parrott’s family was unable to leave.
“They have nowhere to go because if they get in a car now and drive there’s a gas shortage, there’s no hotels, they don’t know anybody. They don’t know where to go,” she said.
SCV resident Kathy DeStackelberg had been corresponding with her step son Jared in Sarasota, a town 50 miles south of Tampa.
With his wife and two kids, along with other immediate family, Jared boarded up his house to weather the storm.
“Evacuations have already come and gone for all of the coastal areas,” said Jared on Sunday. His home is several miles inland, and was not explicitly ordered to be evacuated.
Out of the dozen or so houses that stand on the street where the DeStackelberg’s live, eight of them had evacuated, according to Jared.
“About a week ago we had kind of discussed, ‘should we evacuate or not,’ and then all of the models kind of projected everything to go up the east coast of Florida, so we assumed that we would probably be OK,” he said.
Since then, projections showed a shift in Irma’s path to travel up the state’s west coast running right through the town of Sarasota.
“I grew up in Virginia, and we’ve been in Florida for about ten years. This part of Florida doesn’t usually get hit with hurricanes so this is the first hurricane that we’ve been part of,” said Jared.
Alan Armani in Valencia attended the University of Florida and has many friends that still reside in the Sunshine State.
“Most of my friends are staying put. Boarded up, sand bags. Only one of my friends [left the state].” said Armani on Saturday.
Having gone through Hurricane Charley in 2004, Armani knows what a major storm is like, but was concerned at how much bigger Hurricane Irma was projected to be.
“Disney has only shut down five times in history so when you know Disney shuts down you know that things are getting pretty serious.” said Armani.
Further north in Clermont, a town just west of Orlando, one of Armani’s friends, Lou Lewandoski, awaited the storm with his parents.
Lewandowski and his family sat at the ready with duffel bags packed in case the storm turns toward their direction. They planned to stay with a friend in Atlanta, Georgia.
“I’ve been in Florida since 2002 so I’ve been through a couple but this probably going to be the worst one,” said Lewandowski on Saturday.
While on Saturday, the weather in Clermont was sunny and in the upper 70’s, by Sunday heavy clouds and rain surrounded Lewandowski’s home.
The last hurricane to make landfall in the Orlando and Tampa area was in 1921.
On Sunday morning, Jennifer Lanner Parrott was getting increasingly nervous for her family.
“They’re probably doing better than I am to be honest with you,” said Parrot. “I can’t really talk to them because they have to conserve their battery power, so I’m just telling them to text me when they can when the power starts to go out.”
on Twitter @jamesarthurholt
Story by Jim Holt & Christian Monterrosa