In Florida, Fort Myers Residents Prepare For Hurricane Irma

Sep 9, 2017
Originally published on September 9, 2017 4:06 pm
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The first rain bands of Hurricane Irma come ashore in South Florida. Irma has weakened a bit but is expected to strengthen once again before the eye of the storm makes landfall tomorrow. Irma's track has shifted slightly and now threatens cities along the southwestern coast. We spoke with the mayor of Naples, Fla., this morning, Bill Barnett. And he told us people have been leaving ahead of the storm.

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BILL BARNETT: I can tell you that Naples looks like a ghost town now. We're just preparing for the worst and kind of praying for the best.

SIMON: But just north of Naples is the city of Fort Myers, also in the danger zone. John Davis is a reporter from member station WGCU in Fort Myers.

John, thanks for being with us.

JOHN DAVIS, BYLINE: Oh, thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: And what's it like in town now?

DAVIS: Overcast and blustery, no rain yet. It's kind of really calm considering the 15-foot storm surge that's projected to come our way that's going to put a lot of our barrier island communities potentially completely underwater. That's higher than, you know, a lot of the one-story homes that we have a lot of down here. So our newsroom staff is really, you know, working hard to keep everybody informed, but we're trying to wrap our heads around the potential for damages ourself right now.

SIMON: Well - and thank you for all the work you're doing for the community and for our national audience, too. How have people received the news that the hurricane has shifted in your direction?

DAVIS: Lee County residents, where we are, continue to evacuate their homes this morning. My colleague Jessica Meszaros visited a nearby shelter this morning to talk to people who were, you know, leaving their homes. She spoke with a woman named Joanne Cicero (ph) who has lived in Fort Myers for 30 years. And she says she's never had to evacuate, but she decided to come to a shelter to ride out Hurricane Irma because she expects her home to be flooded with 8 feet of water.

JOANNE CICERO: We have two cats. We had to concern ourselves with prep to the house - all our papers, all our documents, extra clothing. I have uniforms for work if I'm - if everything with my house blows off. That's my life right now.

SIMON: John, the state's ordered mandatory evacuations of millions of Floridians. How many have heeded the call? How many have not?

DAVIS: Hard to say. Governor Rick Scott's message yesterday to residents here in southwest Florida was that if you were planning to evacuate the area, you really needed to hit the road by midnight last night. Interstate 75, which would be the main route north out of southwest Florida, for the last few days, in my experience, has been really smooth. There hasn't been much congestion. Lots of folks have left.

But, you know, I know several shelters here in Lee County are already at capacity. Many others just opened this morning. So we don't really have accurate head counts for, you know, how many people are fleeing versus how many people are going to shelters versus how many are going to ride out the storm in their homes.

SIMON: Do officials worry that the last time Florida had to contend with a huge hurricane has been so long ago people get complacent?

DAVIS: Absolutely. Southwest Florida's population alone here has turned over by more than 60 percent since that tumultuous season in 2005. That means roughly 60 - or 6 out of 10 people here today have absolutely no hurricane experience. So that's always a concern.

SIMON: John Davis with member station WGCU in Fort Myers, thanks so much for being with us.

DAVIS: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.