‘We just played it by ear’

Former coach from Corn­wall shel­tered-in­place with mother dur­ing Irma

Standard-Freeholder (Cornwall) - - NEWS - TODD HAMBLETON

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.

SUP­PLIED

Some of the de­struc­tion in res­i­den­tial Mims in Florida, one of sev­eral pho­to­graphs taken by former Colts owner/coach Al Wa­gar.

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