Marshall native waits out tropical storm in Florida

Hurricane Ian hit the west coast of Florida on Wednesday, flooding homes and roads and knocking out electricity to millions of people. While she wasn’t seeing the worst of the storm, Briatta Buntjer said Thursday that the effects of Ian had reached her home along Florida’s Atlantic coast.

“It rained all of yesterday and really picked up in the evening. The strong winds and rain rolled in about 9 p.m. for me and there was a tornado about a half a mile from my place to kick off the big portion of the storm,” Buntjer said. “People don’t realize that half the risk during hurricanes is the tornadoes and wind damage, not just the water.”

Buntjer, a Marshall native, has lived in Florida since 2018. Over the past couple of days, she’s been waiting out the storm at her home in Port Orange, near Daytona.

On Thursday, Buntjer had been without electricity for more than 12 hours, and she said cell phone service in her area was spotty. She shared her experiences with the Independent through text messages.

“I am fortunate to live on the top floor of a high sitting building, so I just had to worry about wind damage and power outages,” Buntjer said. However, heavy rains and storm surges had flooded homes and low-lying roads in other parts of town, she said.

“There is a ‘Caution: Wildlife’ sign along the pond outside my house that is about five feet tall, and only the top six or seven inches of it is visible right now, so water levels are very high,” Buntjer said.

She said the county she lives in was projected to have rainfalls five to 10 inches higher than anywhere else in the state.

“That rainfall is why we are having so much flooding and such high water levels even though we only have a few feet of storm surge from the ocean and inlets,” she said.

So far, Buntjer said she had some damage to a sliding patio door at her home.

“The winds completely separated the glass from the seal even though I had it wedged shut at all the seams,” she said. “I have it duct taped shut as well as I can with garbage bags, but it’s currently a little wet and windy in my living room. Could be much worse!”

Buntjer said most people in her area had stayed put instead of evacuating as the eastern side of the state wasn’t projected to have a massive storm surge.

“Down here, we get hurricane days, not snow days,” Buntjer said. “The energy is very much the same where you know a storm is coming and know you’ll probably have to hunker down. Here it’s just a little different because there is a lot of potential for infrastructure damage and property damage.”

She said some of the things residents do to prepare for storms include protecting property with sandbags and tarps, having portable phone chargers on hand, keeping a day or two’s supply of water and putting food in a cooler to avoid opening the refrigerator or freezer during a power outage.

“Usually you don’t see a majority of residents evacuate unless they put mandatory evacuations in place,” Buntjer said. She said one interesting thing is that now there are a lot of people who came to Florida during the COVID pandemic who have never experienced a hurricane before. The less-experienced people tend to be the ones who buy out supplies of water or batteries at stores, she said.

Back in Marshall, Briatta’s father Monte Buntjer said he and his wife used FaceTime to keep in touch with Briatta up until she lost a lot of cell phone service. Now, he texts Briatta information on the weather forecast.

“We’ve watched the Weather Channel more in the last two days than in the last 10 years,” Monte Buntjer said.

“It tugs at your heartstrings a little when they’re that far away,” he said of being in Minnesota while Briatta waits out the storm in Florida.

“I feel for the people down in Florida because of what they’re going through,” he said. Buntjer said he also has relatives on the west coast of Florida he hasn’t heard from yet.

Briatta Buntjer said most people in her area would be back to work as soon as they can.

“If there’s any clean up to do, it will be done whenever we are able to access our workplaces,” she said.

“I think everyone back home is more worried about the storm than those of us down here experiencing it,” Buntjer said. “But I appreciate all the concern and love they send.”

The Associated Press reported Thursday that Hurricane Ian flooded homes on both of Florida’s coasts, and knocked out electricity to 2.67 million homes and businesses. At a news conference, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the storm was a 500-year flooding event.

Ian was downgraded to a tropical storm by Thursday morning, but the National Hurricane Center said storm surge and flooding rains remained a threat. The storm is expected to head north to South Carolina.


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