After the devastation: Winter Park resident documents Hurricane Irma’s effects (with video, photo gallery)
September 11, 2017
Updated at 5 p.m. Monday
Hurricane Irma forced the nation to hold its breath over the weekend, with much uncertainty on how it would progress and what destruction its presence would bring.
With the storm now dwindling in size, hovering over Georgia and Alabama, downgraded to a tropical storm, the greatest of its destruction is now being realized as skies clear and people step outside.
Tyler Tomasello, a long-time resident of Winter Park, bravely followed the storm prior to its arrival onshore and now in its aftermath.
“I made it through. Some moments of yesterday are hard to put into words. But, I am happy I was a part of it. An undeniable fear fell over the entire hotel, nervous laughter filled the hallways as the building swayed and rumbled with each powerful gust. Many people huddled in the hallways to take shelter not just from the hurricane but from their humid, hot, mold stench-filled rooms.
Some braved the weather to grab a drag off a cigarette, while others ran to the parking garage to play in the newly-formed swimming pool. After many hours of stir craziness, the storm began to pass.
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Cars filled the road once again, flashing police lights pleased the eye with splashes of color as the sky began to darken. I laid down in my bed, sticky with sweat and began to enjoy the beautiful sounds of Irma’s howling winds. Until she finally sang me to sleep.
I awoke this morning, my eyes snapping open from a dream to find myself still in my moldy, wet, spongy-carpeted room. Immediately I grabbed my camera and sprinted downtown to inspect the damage. All that was to be found was many badly damaged trees and a few large puddles.
While Irma’s destruction was short-lived, the population was connected through it.
I spent most of my day wandering around and chatting with people who immigrated here mostly from Hatti and Cuba. They welcomed into their businesses with open arms so that I could use their electricity and edit photos.
This is the Miami I have learned to love. The people that somehow that came from the bottom but found a way to come out on top. I am so very thankful for this experience and look forward to telling the whole story.
Thanks for your well-wishes and positive energy. Until next time, Miami, stay you — stay humble, community first.
Nature will will always find a way to tell you she’s still here. Show her some love and it will be returned ten-fold — I promise.” – Tyler Tomasello
Updated at 1 p.m. Sunday
“The winds get stronger with each passing minute as rain water flows into the building from any route available. The cracks in doors, window seals and even up through the air conditioning unit making carpets squish under my feet. The growl of Irma’s winds harmonize with the sounds of fire alarms and sirens, while people begin to wander the halls of the hotel.” – Tyler Tomasello
Updated at 5:30 p.m. Saturday
“I was out walking around town, documenting this quiet ghost town, handing out granola bars to people who didnt have homes or shelters to go to, when out of nowhere an intense wind ripped through the street. Rain poured violently from the sky. A band from Irma tore through the area ripping palms from the trees, and uprooting small trees.” – Tyler Tomasello
9 a.m. Saturday
As more than 5 million people have been ordered to evacuate Florida, Tyler Tomasello was one of the few with airline tickets in hand, ready to fly into Miami, one of the cities in the already devastating path of Hurricane Irma.
But Tomasello, a 13-year resident of Winter Park and a professional photographer, showed no fear; his mission was to share people’s stories from the affected area and lend a hand wherever possible. He booked a one-way ticket to Miami early last week and didn’t look back.
His plane, departing from Denver, was delayed then rerouted, but he landed in Miami late Friday night, just as Irma was making landfall on north-central Cuba.
Now a A Category 3 hurricane but picking up momentum, the historic and ominous storm — the likes of which not seen in the Sunshine State since Hurricane Andrew in 1992 — was forecast to pave a destructive path straight up the middle of Florida, with Miami still in its crosshairs. The unprecedented storm is set to make landfall in Florida early Sunday.
Tomasello, 33, would be in an area preparing for sustained winds upwards of 150 mph, huge storm surges and widespread flooding — an area of impending desolation.
“I made it to Miami, home of South Beach, warm sandy beaches, crystal blue water and lots of beautiful people,” Tomasello said in an email to Sky-Hi News Friday night. He described Miami as a popular vacation spot for many around the world looking for a good time.
But on this trip, Tomasello wouldn’t have the mindset of a vacationer.
“I arrived in a place that will be an inevitable war zone, but much less predictable,” he wrote. “Stepping off the plane and into a place that will quickly turn into hell is a feeling that is hard to describe. But that won’t stop me from doing my part.
“Welcome to the eye of the storm,” he concluded.