Hurricane Irma was a monster storm causing a still untold amount of damage as it ripped through the state of Florida this weekend. FOX News Radio reporters Eben Brown and Jeff Monosso were on the ground as the deadly storm made landfall.
Did you ever feel you were in danger during Hurricane Irma?
EBEN BROWN "The most I guess dangerous part for me with Irma, was being outside in the thick of it late Sunday night when we really were getting those hurricane force winds and certainly the rain. The wind is extremely strong, people who've never been through tropical weather don't necessarily understand that this wind will knock you over. It will push you. You can try and push against it, you'll probably lose. But not only can it push you, it can push something into you. So if there is a broken tree branch or any other type of debris, even small rocks, they can become airborne and you have to really watch out for that. Then there is the rain and in the middle of a tropical storm or a hurricane, rain doesn't really fall, it just travels kind of horizontal and it can travel horizontal at you. And it will hurt when it hits your face. It will feel at the very least pins and needles, at the most it feels like pebbles being flicked at you pretty hard. So it can be painful, so I've learned to duck behind columns and other things, cars or whatever that's around, to avoid getting hit. In previous hurricanes, I have not been all that successful. I at one point in Hurricane Charley, back in 2004, also here in Orlando, I noticed what was either a very small tree trunk or a very large tree branch flying at me and I hit the deck in this parking lot and that happened to have a foot and a half of water in it and there went my cellphone. So I tried to make sure I didn't do that this time. Back then it was just a cheapy little flip-phone, not it's a smartphone, they're a little more expensive to replace. So I tried to not be in that position."
JEFF MONOSSO "Couple of different things. I flew into Atlanta and I drove down I-75 South, so about every 50 miles or so as I was going south, it was kind of a lonely trek because everybody was going north-bound. It was me with some power crews, maybe a tanker truck or two headed south. My worry was being stranded running out of gas. So that's why I stopped every 50-100 miles or so to pick up gas cans, gasoline, water and food so I could make my way down here. I mean that's a seven-hour ride over 400 miles, so that was the worry that was a concern for me. I didn't want to get stranded in or around the Georgia-Florida line, that area where Hurricane Irma would then turn into a tropical storm and there wouldn't have been any resources because hotels were booked and supplies were really limited. Then we came to Tampa, I was here in Tampa and we were staying downtown, a pretty fortified hotel. At that point we were expecting a Category 4 to hit us and so we were in the planning stage, but then yesterday (Sunday), early in the morning, about 5-6 in the morning, we went out to St. Petersburg where we are now to do a story, to check out the beach, to check out what's going on there preparation... fast-forward a couple hours later and we're talking to the president of one of these resorts that line these white sandy beaches in one of the barrier island beaches, St. Pete Beach, and then we're staying there. That's when I felt like I was probably in danger. The most danger when we made the decision 'alright, we're gonna stay, we're gonna do this.' Not knowing what to expect other than a Cat 4 120 mile-an-hour winds, by the way we're right up along the beach and you know it's anybody's guess on what will happen and remember, these buildings they haven't experienced those type of winds. This particular hotel was built in the 1960's with poured concrete and so everybody said it was safe. But what gave me some confidence, is this guy, the president of this hotel, his 87-year-old mom was staying with him. So I'm like well she can stay here, I guess I'm good."
What was the craziest thing that you saw?
MONOSSO "In terms of the craziest thing that I saw, it was people that decided to stay. You know, hindsight's 20/20, you can Monday morning quarterback like some people are doing, but yesterday (Sunday), the day before, and last week as we were tracking Hurricane Irma into Florida, it was time to go, it's time to get out. So some of the people that decided to stay, I thought that was pretty nuts. I was just talking to one gentleman here who said he stayed because he's on dialysis. We heard from another woman who said that she stayed because she's got dogs and they don't want to disrupt their lives and that's just stupid. We heard from the Pinellas County sheriff's deputies that we talked to. They were telling us a story about law enforcement officials to the north, I believe in Pasco County, who were talking to this guy who was on his boat. He had his 10-year-old son and they were on the boat. And this guy is telling the sheriff deputy's look it is my right to be out here and I'm going to be out here, you can't stop me. And they said look, we're not going to stop you, but we're taking your son away from you. And if you don't want us to do it, you'll be arrested. They got the son and this guy he eventually got off the boat. Hopefully charged with child abuse, because that's just dumb and people make dumb decisions during major storms like this."
BROWN "So people were remaining calm, but a lot of people who are here, are here from the same part of Florida that I'm from and that's in South Florida, Broward County specifically, the Ft. Lauderdale area. And a lot of them have friends and relatives and neighbors that chose not to evacuate and when we made the choice to leave, it was because the track of the storm was not going to go up the west coast of Florida, but essentially go straight up the center. And we were expecting those super high, major hurricane force winds. The possibly still even in the 150 mile-an-hour range and I didn't want to have my family be there while a roof could get ripped off the top of the house and then we're scrambling for shelter. I didn't want to do that with my family, a lot of people here had that same line of thinking. We have friends and relatives that made the choice to stay behind or neighbors to stay behind... and I don't know how well they fared, I haven't heard from them yet... So there's that uncertainty. There's also the uncertainty about my own home, whether or not it's damaged or its okay or whatever. One of the things I did before I left was to get digital copies of all my insurance policies and put them up on my cloud account so I could always get at them and not have to worry about keeping track of paper copies. And just in case I need it, I can now email this policy to anyone I need and hopefully get the ball rolling on any type of rebuilding that needs to be done, if any."
What advice would you give to journalists that will be sent out to cover a major hurricane?
MONOSSO "First of all, don't ride with an insane television crew that will take you over to Pinellas County in St. Petersburg where you'll be stranded, your suitcase, your SUV that you rented is still in tap (joking), but no this is a great crew and I couldn't have asked for a better crew to be with. Surround yourself around good people like I did. Listen to emergency officials, supply up, get as much water, get as much food, as much gasoline that you need and be safe. Because look, this story, it's going to be told thousands of other ways and it doesn't matter when it comes to your life. I mean that's the most important thing, is getting you home. So safety is paramount. Surround yourself with good people and just make sure you stay safe and heed the same warnings that emergency officials are telling others."
BROWN "The first thing is, don't be a hero. You can't report the news if you're injured or even worse, so do try to keep yourself safe. Stock up on supplies. Be prepared to be on your own for a day or two if necessary. You may not have the comforts of the hotel, if you're lucky you do. But you may not have those kinds of comforts. Be prepared to just sort of be able to camp out on your own if you need to. And the other thing I would tell journalists is that the story of any natural disaster, whether it's a hurricane or an earthquake or a monsoon on the other part of the planet or a tornado or whatever. You know the event itself can be dramatic, there can be high winds and horrific rain or storm surge or there could be molten lava from volcano, whatever. That stuff is very dramatic and makes very good 'spot news' as we call it. But the real story about these things is what happens afterwards. And I can tell you what will happen afterwards in the state of Florida and essentially, the entire state of Florida was affected by this hurricane because it was so large. You have a lot of local businesses who may not have had business interruption insurance. They may not have had the proper insurance in their equipment and they may not be able to open up. And if they don't open up in a few days, they're going to lose money and the owner's going to have to shut them down because he's not going to be able to maintain the operation. He's going to have to put a few people out of work. If that's happening to him, it's happening to the next business over and the next business and the next business. Before you know it, you'll have tens of thousands, if not 100,000 people out of work. This becomes an economic nightmare for a community and in this case for a state, you could see those numbers be very much higher. What we have to be mindful of is that in a couple of days when the wind is totally gone and the storm surge recedes, this really isn't over and it won't be over. It takes years to rebuild for this from these things. From the very personal stories of repairing and rebuilding one's home, fighting with their insurance company, trying to get their FEMA benefit to extend just a little bit longer until the home is finished. All the way to the macro-level where large towns may face large quantities of unemployed persons and that wreaks havoc throughout a community and even beyond because of the tax effects. If someone is out of work and they can't afford their property tax and then the next guy has the same issue. The lack of property tax collections leads the local town to not be able to perform its services and so on and so forth. So you run the risk of bad economies, possibly leading towards recession at least in a certain area. And we have to remember that these people who are victimized will endure this for a number of years to come."