Hurricane Irma pummeled parts of Southwest Florida, but limited her wrath in others
Mat Tyler heard a snapping sound as his roof peeled away. The rain came in through cracks in the rafters. Soon, the room at his Bonita Springs apartment was flooded. It was just a few inches of water, but it soaked the mattress he sleeps on.
“I mentally prepared myself to lose everything,” Tyler, 35, said from his place near the Everglades Wonder Gardens.
“I have nothing to lose. I have nowhere to go,” he said. “I’m going to spend my time helping the neighborhood; volunteer with anyone that needs it.”
Residents across Southwest Florida on Sunday night, scrambling in the wake of Hurricane Irma, mostly had one question on their minds: How bad was it?
Worse for some than others. The massive storm pummeled Everglades City, Marco Island and Immokalee. It struck downtown Naples as a Category 3 hurricane with winds exceeding 130 mph.
But the storm weakened to a Category 2, with sustained winds just over 100 mph, as it moved north.
Several feet of water stood on Marco Island — mailbox high in some parts, said Dan Summers, director of the Bureau of Emergency Services. And Irma slammed trailers in Immokalee and mobile home parks.
Immokalee saw up to 3 feet of water, including high levels of flooding on Jefferson Avenue. Many vehicles were submerged. At Farm Workers Village, at least 20 structures collapsed, according to early reports.
Robert Mendoza, a battalion chief with the Immokalee Fire Control District, said he’s never seen anything like it.
“I’ve been through a lot of hurricanes, but this is the worst,” Mendoza said as he drove through flooded areas.
But in downtown Naples, the initial indication was the city avoided major structural damage and flooding, Mayor Bill Barnett said.
Still, in its path Sunday, which appeared to track north almost directly along U.S. 41, the storm ripped off roofs, tore at building fronts, downed power lines and upturned thick-rooted canopy trees.
After the storm passed, when Dorys Tarabilco tried returning to her place at Oasis Apartments in Naples, she found a downed coconut palm with a 2-foot bucket blocking the path of her Toyota Camry.
She got out of the car. Sticking two hands in her jean pockets to lift her pant legs from nearly 6 inches of standing water, she waded around the tree. There, by her front door, she saw a tangle of overturned canopies. She couldn’t get home.
“Oh my goodness,” Tarabilco, 54, said. “Oh, oh, oh — I don’t want to go in there. I’m scared.”
She returned to the car with her two daughters, ages 21 and 30, in the backseat. They were going to head back to shelter at The Carlisle Naples, where she works, she said.
Downed trees were everywhere in Collier County. Clearing the roadways of debris was the first task for emergency crews Sunday.
Water rose up over large parts of the county’s roads, including Airport-Pulling and Goodlette-Frank roads. There was several inches of flooding on Golden Gate Parkway on Sunday night west of Goodlette-Frank Road, near Naples High School and Coastland Center mall.
But in Bonita Springs, Charlie Herwick made it through Irma unscathed.
“A bunch of preparation makes sure everything is fine, but nothing happened,” he said.
Beer and a hot mahi-mahi dinner at a friend's business kept the group happy Sunday night as the winds subsided.
“We’ll stay here tonight then go out and see what’s there,” Herwick said. “Life will go on.”
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Naples Daily News reporter Brett Murphy contributed reporting.