Written and filmed by Dan Whittaker
Hurricane Irma was a historic storm and will be long remembered. It was the strongest hurricane in the Atlantic for almost 12 years, and caused billions of dollars in damage. Notably, Irma was also the most powerful hurricane on record to strike the Leeward Islands.
When the threat of Irma focused on Florida, I decided to meet the storm and document what I could on September 10 & 11, 2017. The farthest into Florida that I was able to go was Gainesville, due to the lack of gasoline. Gas stations with deactivated pumps started becoming an issue as I drove through central Georgia, and the problem only worsened as I entered Florida.
I spent the night of September 10th in Gainesville, as Hurricane Irma made landfall on Marco Island, Florida. The projected path put the storm slightly east of Tampa and over Gainesville in the early AM hours of September 11. I got a quick rest and woke up at 4 AM to check on the storm.
The time was 5 AM as I listened to the local emergency broadcast station saying that the Gainesville emergency services were to stay in a safe location until further notice. I drove around the empty streets as the eyewall came overhead, and found many instances of wind damage and the start of localized flooding.
As the storm moved north, so did I. Interstate 75 was my chosen route out of Florida back to North Carolina, but it meant 10+ hours of driving through tropical storm conditions. The start of the drive on I75 in northern Florida showed the most tree damage, and at times all three northbound lanes were blocked.
As I continued into southern Georgia (south of Macon), I noticed that a lot of the billboards and signs were destroyed, and I saw trees down along the highway as far north as South Carolina. Eventually I was able to find gas in South Carolina, and made my way back home to central North Carolina.
In total, the wind damage alone will cost Florida at least 19.4 billion dollars. The death toll was estimated at 12 for Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, and affected over 1.2 million people in the Caribbean. Much of Florida lost power and storm surge created many issues for the coastal areas.
Estimates suggested the two recent hurricanes, Harvey and Irma, could together cost the US economy $290 billion.
The areas affected by the hurricane will need all the help they can get, and abc news created a comprehensive list of charity options.