Riding out Hurricane Irma

By Jesse Hollett
Posted 9/14/17

ORANGE PARK — Some brought air mattresses and thick fleece blankets to lay their laptops on so they could tune out the sounds of chatter in the shelter.

Others evacuated quickly, bringing with …

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Riding out Hurricane Irma

Posted

ORANGE PARK — Some brought air mattresses and thick fleece blankets to lay their laptops on so they could tune out the sounds of chatter in the shelter.

Others evacuated quickly, bringing with them cigarettes, thermoses and instant coffee.

When Amany Tafish and her children evacuated, they brought children’s books, a loaf of bread and their holy book, the Quran.

On Monday, shortly after the gusts from Hurricane Irma reached their height, Tafish, 39, and her children, Louay, 13, and Hamzay, 6, sat on green, mesh cots chatting amongst each other in the center of the brightly lit cafeteria of Orange Park High, one of four Clay County high schools converted to a shelter during the storm.

Tafish shared similar concerns as many of the 700 county residents who took refuge in a Clay County shelter during the storm – whether or not they would find their home in one piece.

“I want to know what about my house, did the water enter the house, did anything bad happen to trees, I want to know,” Tafish said.

Officials placed a curfew on travel within Clay County Monday that would last until 8 p.m. that night. Tafish said if she could, she would have travelled to her Fleming Island home to assess the damage.

Louay, who occupied himself with books, had on his mind something undoubtedly shared with most youngsters cooped up in the shelters Monday. Boredom.

With little she could do about her worries, she waited.

Tafish moved to Florida from Egypt a year ago, so Hurricane Irma was her family’s first experience with a hurricane, but not her first with a natural disaster.

“Once, when I was in high school in 1992, an earthquake happened,” Tafish said. “It was very severe. Old Cairo was destroyed, but our city was safe. We had about three weeks vacation to repair the houses and the schools.”

The earthquake left 50,000 homeless.

Tafish had time to prepare for the hurricane, and spent Sept. 7 bringing items inside the house to minimize potential damage.

She, and undoubtedly others in the shelter waited for the moment when they would return to their homes and take those first nervous steps towards whatever damage awaited them.

It was an anxiety that would touch many across Clay County and the state as Hurricane Irma, which made mainland landfall Sept. 10 as a Category 4 hurricane, ravaged homes and businesses.

Many who left as evacuees hoped they would come back as homeowners.

Among the hardest hit were homes hugging Black Creek. The storm caused a three and a half foot storm surge that swallowed homes and cars.

At a press conference Tuesday, Clay County Emergency Management Director John Ward addressed the reaction of homeowners along Black Creek and across the county.

“I think that it blindsided them,” Ward said, “…I don’t think they expected this.”

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