Updated: Hurricane Irma makes landfall as Winter Park resident continues to document storm (with video, photo gallery)
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
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.
Sky-Hi News will continue to update this story and photo gallery as Hurricane Irma approaches the Florida coastline.
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Winter Park is hosting a dedication ceremony for its new public works building, named after longtime resident and former town official Jim Myers, on Tuesday with tours of the new structure planned.