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Irma Weakens But Still Packs A Punch As It Moves Toward Georgia

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Here is just one account of what it was like to be on Florida's Gulf Coast this weekend.

HAYDEN DEAKINS: Massive wind gusts.

And all at once, the entire forest is just moving parallel to the ground. It kind of sounds like when you're in a car wash. It had just, like, this grumble to it, as if, like, you know, a jet was passing over us.

GREENE: That was Florida resident Hayden Deakins (ph), who called us from his home in Naples.


Now, Hurricane Irma first made landfall as a Category 4 storm. It was downgraded, then downgraded again. Irma is now a tropical storm, moving north toward Georgia. And Georgia is where we just reached Jessica Lee. She's in Valdosta, which is right near the Florida-Georgia state line. She's hosting family members who had fled Tampa. And now the storm is headed toward them again.

JESSICA LEE: Yeah. We're just going to hide out. And if it gets too bad, we'll just hide in our hallway and gather the animals and the family and just kind of try and ride it out and hope for the best.

GREENE: So what is next? We have reporters on the ground across Florida to assess the damage and talk about the recovery effort that's going to go forward. And Leila Fadel, our colleague, is in Tampa this morning. Hi, Leila.


GREENE: So such an interesting time this must have been to live through in Tampa. First, it looked like the worst of this was going to be in Miami. Then the hurricane sort of shifted to the west coast, and it looked like Tampa was going to get this terrible hit - the mayor, Bob Buckhorn, saying it was going to punch Tampa in the face. But it sounds like it wasn't as bad as it could've been.

FADEL: That's right. I mean, this was a very confused weekend, where people felt - Floridians were sort of driving all over the state as the storm shifted. So I met people who had come to Tampa, thinking that other parts of the country were unsafe. They get to Tampa. Tampa has to brace for the brunt of the storm. So they're like, OK, well, let's shelter in place here. And then all of a sudden, the storm shifts again and weakens. So, really, Tampa was expecting a really big hit from this storm. But looks like it has largely spared. That doesn't mean there isn't damage. There are downed electricity poles, gas stations in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area. But it is not the devastation they were expecting.

GREENE: You know, it's amazing. I just want to play a voice of one of the residents we've been listening to because it sounds very much like what you're describing - this driving all over the place. Her name is Tracy McDaniel (ph), and she was she was evacuating from Naples, heading to Gainesville. And she went to this rest stop off the highway.

TRACY MCDANIEL: There's no place to park. People are just sleeping in their cars, walking around in a daze. There were pets loose. It was just, like, the end-of-the-world type of stuff. It was crazy.

GREENE: So end-of-the-world type of stuff. Is - as things - as you're waking up in Tampa this morning, are people beginning to feel like they can put that behind them and start thinking about, you know, cleaning up and taking care of the recovery?

FADEL: Yeah. At this point, the emergency operations center is now moving into the recovery portion of this. 911 services are back in force. Police are responding to 911 calls again. So people are now moving to that next step. What happened to my house? What is happening across the state? Where I'm from, is it OK? Because this is a combination of people who are from here in Tampa, who escaped to Tampa from somewhere else. And that scene that she described are scenes that I saw all weekend, as well - people squabbling over that last amount of gas at the gas station, those last bottled waters. And so now, at least in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, the next step happens. People start looking at what has happened.

GREENE: And what other images kind of stick with you as you've been spending a few days in the state that was sort of taken hostage by this storm?

FADEL: Well, you know, the thing is that in moments like this when you don't know what's coming, so many people have to make really hard decisions about, what do I take with me? Do I leave, or do I? Stay. We met one woman over the weekend that brought all her children - three of her - four children, actually. And she had five kids originally. One of those children passed away, and she brought his ashes with him. That was something she shared with me quite quickly. She said, yeah, I have five kids. I brought one child who passed away. And his ashes are with me. And that really shocked me. So, yeah, these tough decisions is what stuck with me.

GREENE: Not knowing if you're taking this stuff, and what's going to be left when you go back home.

FADEL: Yeah.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Leila Fadel - she's one of many of our colleagues who are covering this hurricane in Florida this morning. She's in Tampa. Thanks, Leila.

FADEL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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