‘It Was Howling, It Sounded Like It Was Alive’: Pittsburgh Transplants Frightened By Irma’s Fury

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — From the Florida Keys to the Georgia border.

In places like South Beach, Bonita Springs, Ft. Lauderdale, Naples, Delray Beach, Bradenton, Daytona, Tampa and Orlando, those who met Irma will never forget her.

As chainsaws whine and power is restored over the coming weeks, they will share their stories. It’s a common story, but a very personal brush with mortality.

“It was really real for a second,” is how former KDKA-TV Anchor Sonni Abatta put it after riding out the storm in Orlando.

Listen to Sonni’s interview on KDKA Radio:

Abatta, her husband, Andrew, and their three children buttoned up their home and spent the night with Andrew’s family. Sonni and her daughters in one bedroom, Andrew and their son in the next.

“It was howling outside. It sounded like it was alive,” says Sonni. “It was terrifying. I have to say, I thought I was a pretty tough person – I am a pretty tough person – but to know something with that force and magnitude is coming for you, and the force at which it is coming at you, is pretty scary. It sounded like someone was blowing a train whistle outside our bedroom window. I was up all night, every hour on the hour worried. Was a window going to break, was a tree going to fall on the house? The sound and the theater of it was like nothing I’d ever experienced before.”

In Bonita Springs, it was an equally disquieting experience for Linda Pool who just moved to Florida in July from Fox Chapel. Irma’s eye wall came knocking on the Pool’s front door Sunday afternoon.

“Things got very, very serious, and about 5:45 [p.m.], the eye passed directly over us,” Pool says. “It was still and calm and we had about a 20-minute break.”

So, she says they went outside and looked around until they heard the backside of the storm coming.

“Then, we went back in, and it started all over again. We went in a hallway. We [Linda, her husband and three dogs] huddled in there completely closed off, and it was that freight train sound,” Pool said. “It was very upsetting, very frightening, and the walls were vibrating and you could hear the roof rattling. The scary thing was hearing things flying around, bouncing off the house.”

And it didn’t stop until after daybreak Monday morning.

“Now I know, after listening to it for 30 hours or so, how scary and upsetting it is. It’s a very unnerving thing,” she said.

KDKA’s John Shumway Reports —

Between Pool in Bonita Springs and Abatta in Orlando sits one of the most popular spots for transplanted Pittsburghers, Bradenton.

As the storm tracked up the Gulf Coast of Florida, Bradenton braced for the worst, but when the eye veered right into Bonita Springs and Naples, it was a turn of good luck for Bradenton.

“It turned it to the east and we wound up getting a Category 1-plus storm,” says a very relieved Elliott Falcione, ‎the executive director at Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Still, Irma had plenty to unnerve the faint of heart in Manatee County.

Falcione says, “A lot of squalls and wind gusts, and it’s really the gusts that are the scary stuff because when the gust come, you think, ‘Is this going to be the gust that takes something down?’”

And, indeed, it did take things down – trees, powerlines and signs.

Fortunately, much of the eastern part of the county has powerlines underground, so by midday Monday, Falcione says most of Manatee County had power restored.

He also said the devastating storm surge they feared would take a toll on Anna Maria Island, Bradenton Beach and Longboat Key never materialized.

Falcione tells the “KDKA Morning News” as of Tuesday there are still many residences without power in Bradenton.

“The only area that we are working on is power. About 60,000 residents in Manatee County are still without power…The great news is no loss of life from this storm,” said Falcione.

In Bonita Springs, it could take a bit longer for things to return to normal.

Pool says, “We have no power and an immense clean up job. No one can get around, nothing’s open, nothings functioning.”

Pool says she lost eight trees in her yard.

“We have a huge tree down leaning on our roof,” she said. “But I think it gently slid on our roof, so I think it’s okay.”

Pool’s home is high and dry, but many other areas of Bonita Springs and Naples are waiting for the flooding to recede.

CBS’s Kenneth Craig Reports —

There are also some low lying areas around Orlando waiting for the water to recede, but for the most part, Abatta says, “Thankfully, we seemed to have gotten off pretty scot-free where we are right now.”

She says her home lost its screens and the landscaping, but overall, it’s in pretty good shape. Oh, and Sonni says her children slept soundly through the whole thing.

Falcione says he knows Pittsburghers will want to help those whose lives have been devastated by Irma. Beyond that, he suggests people keep the tourist-dependent state in mind in the coming year.

“Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, The Keys, have been hit really hard. We’re still trying to access the damage down there,” he said. “But when it’s cleaned up and open for business, I’d encourage Pittsburgh vacationers to give Florida a chance because we’re going to need all the help we can get at that point.”

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