Howling Wind, Torrential Rains, Long Night; Former Bridgeport Residents Share the Irma Experience

By Julie Perine on September 12, 2017 via

Hurricane Irma tore through Florida with a vengeance, said former Bridgeport residents now living in the Sunshine State. 
"It was pretty scary from 10 p.m. (Sunday) through 2 a.m. (Monday)," said Eric Stoneking of the Orlando area. "We had wind gusts to 90 miles per hour and could hear things beating into the walls and roof of our apartment."
A tree was completely uprooted in his backyard and palm fronds were flying in all directions, he said.
A full-time employee of Polk County Schools and part-time employee of Disney World, Stoneking said schools are still closed Tuesday, but despite some damage the famed theme park will be open Tuesday after being closed for two full days.
"I picked up a shift at Magic Kingdom, where we'll be having our regular 3 p.m. parade, 9 p.m. fireworks and 9:45 p.m. projection show as usual," he said. "The show goes on!"
As per a preliminary damage assessment, there were a number of trees down and debris across all parks, as well as Disney's All Star Resorts. Winds were recorded at 90 miles per hour at Disney's Contemporary Resort where nearby transformers exploded. There was flooding at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge and some minor roof damage at Disney's Polynesian Village Resort. 
Spook Hill Elementary, where Eric and Crystal Stoneking both teach, is being used as as a shelter and was filled to capacity, he said. 
Living in Ormond-by-the-Sea, former Bridgeport Fire Captain Randy Scott had planned to stay in the area as Irma approached, but there was a change in plans for he and his wife.
"I said I would be sheltering in place for Irma as I did for Matthew because Christy was supposed to be locked in at work (as a nurse at Florida Hospital Ormond) again," Scott said. "In the end she was not and we evacuated."
That was indeed the deciding factor.
 "I will always stay where she is no matter the size or direction of a hurricane," he said.
Larry Coltelli and his family remained at their home in Ormond Beach as Irma blasted through Sunday night. 
"We lost power at 10 p.m. I only had social media, but it kept me informed of tornados only two blocks from me," he said. "I made the family sleep downstairs as water came through our doors and windows. It wasn't flood water, but wind-driven. One door blew open and it was a nightmare getting it closed."
The Coltellis lost their boat dock and their boat. Despite a very difficult night, they consider themselves fortunate.
"The home fared well with just mop-up and one ceiling leaked," he said. 
Of Ponte Vedra in the Jacksonville area, Cathy Guy and her family experienced Irma a bit later. 
"It was most likely a category 1 when it went through, but I have no idea since power has been out since about 11 p.m. Sunday," she said. "No power, internet or cable. We have a generator running the essentials for now and no estimation of when anything will be restored."
Guy said as was expected, there was no flooding in her area.
"We did have some small pines and debris in the yard and on the roof," she said. "Some other larger trees uprooted in the development. No bridges have opened up either and we have no idea of the damage with flooding, etc. to the intercoastal or beaches."
Even late Monday, she said her town was still receiving a good amount of wind, but that the rain had stopped. 
There is still no school in St. Johns County, Fla. on Tuesday.
Donna Lilly Orange said her Jacksonville neighborhood was hit by a tornado.
"I have a lot of yard damage," she said. "The difficult part is not being able to clean it up. You don't see people running to help and with health conditions, it is difficult breathing, getting in all that dirt."
Orange, too, said she feels fortunate.
"We are truly  blessed to be alive," she said. "I've lived through many hurricanes in Florida, but this was the worse."
Editor's Note: Photos from top: Downtown Jacksonville area, provided by Donna Lilly Orange; Orlando area provided by Eric Stoneking; and last three images of Ormond Beach provided by Larry Coltelli.

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