‘We just played it by ear’
Former coach from Cornwall sheltered-inplace with mother during Irma
Millions of people last week looked to escape Florida, when Hurricane Irma came closer.
Cornwall resident Al Wagar did the opposite – he headed into the path of the storm.
It’s one of the stories that has emerged in the wake of the devastating hurricane, one that caused damage on Sunday and Monday over much of the U.S.’s third-most populated state.
Wagar, the former head coach of the Cornwall Jr. A Colts and the Cornwall River Kings, flew from Ottawa to Florida last Wednesday, thinking he’d bring his mother back to Canada before the storm hit.
“I wanted to get her out of here, get her somewhere safe,” Wagar said in a phone interview from Mims, Fla., on Tuesday afternoon.
It didn’t happen. Flights for people looking to leave Florida were scarce, and Interstate 95 northbound was a virtual parking lot.
Wagar made the decision to instead shelter in place, his mom Doreen Wagar, 84, and other family members staying at the Moose Lodge in Mims, which is a small town in Brevard County near Titusville on the Atlantic side of the state.
“I didn’t really know (what the ultimate plan would be), I just came down and we played it by ear,” Wagar said. “We rode out the hurricane. . . it was quite an experience. We didn’t get it as bad as in Miami and the (Florida Keys), but there’s a lot of destruction.
“There were three tornadoes within yards of our house.”
Doreen Wagar’s home was undamaged, but many home owners in her neighbourhood weren’t as fortunate.
“Some people, there places are gone,” Wagar said. “Two doors down they lost their car ports. The roofs are off some of the houses here.”
But on Tuesday, Wagar still believed staying in Florida was the best option.
“(Interstate 95) was bumperto-bumper (before the storm),” he said. “There was no water, no gas. At the gas station, there were 250 cars (lined up).”
Hurricane Irma likely wreaked the most havoc in the Florida Keys, where it rumbled along as a Category 4 storm.
After a fly-over of the Keys on Monday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott said “it’s devastating,” describing washed-ashore boats, overturned mobile homes and extensive flood damage.
All three hospitals in the island chain were shuttered, and a Navy aircraft carrier anchored just off Key West to assist in search-andrescue efforts.
About 13 million people, twothirds of Florida’s population, lost electricity in the storm, and millions still don’t have it back.
Six deaths in Florida have been blamed on Hurricane Irma, along with three in Georgia and one in South Carolina, and at least 35 people were killed in the Caribbean.
One of the worst hit areas was an unexpected target: Jacksonville, in the northeast part of the state, where there was record flooding, including the downtown core.
But where so many snowbirds stay each winter, the Gulf Coast, damage appeared to be more modest, despite the centre of the storm moving up the state’s west side. In Tampa-St. Petersburg, and in the Naples and Fort Myers area, there was nowhere near the devastation as in other parts of the state.
Irma was downgraded to a tropical depression that has pushed into Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee.
Some of the destruction in residential Mims in Florida, one of several photographs taken by former Colts owner/coach Al Wagar.