Our man in Hurricane Irma

People stand in line for breakfast in the disaster shelter at Riverview High School in Sarasota, Fla. on Sunday, where former Stockotn resident George Caldwell retreated during Hurricane Irma. (Mike Lang/Sarasota Herald-Tribune via AP)

Doug Caldwell, a former Stockton resident, moved his family to Sarasota, Florida — which was pounded by Hurricane Irma. Caldwell’s cell phone is down, but he sent a couple messages from a shelter describing his situation:


“Looks like Irma was a frustrated arborist who didn’t like fences when she finally got here.

“Tree limbs and a few trees down. Leaves everywhere. Suspect this might be a rake and broom cleanup for most. Fence repair companies ought to do well.

“Power off in parts of the city with some traffic signals not working. This tests the brains of Florida drivers and very few remember that part of the driving test that said that when signals don’t work, treat it as a four-way stop.

“Met a lot of nice people in the shelter, Riverview High School. It is a recently-built building, designed to withstand a Category 5 hurricane. It has its own generators and other provisions. A contingent from the National Guard was on hand, but I don’t think they had a lot to do.

“The school admitted about 4,000. After the gymnasium was filled, the hallways in the three-story building were filled. I was struck by the large number of infirm elderly people, many in wheelchairs or using walkers. At least the building has elevators!

“One evacuee told my wife that she had just come to Florida from Texas to get away from the Hurricane Harvey mess.

“Another evacuee was from France. He had just bought what he plans to be his vacation home in Sarasota. Not a happy camper from what I observed.

“A middle-aged woman and her hussband – she from Puerto Rico and he from an unnamed Middle East country — kept watch on their house via an iPhone. He had installed outside security cameras a week or so ago (they bought the house three months earlier) and he could watch what the cameras saw remotely. They were most concerned about storm surge as the house itself was of poured concrete and steel – unlikely to be bothered by winds.

“Now there’s an opportunity: concrete houses!”


“We survived unscathed.  No damage to the apartment. Holly’s house had a tree fall onto their garden shed. There is tree litter everywhere… mostly leaves and small branches.  Very little water issues here.

“Power is on at the apartment but out at Holly’s.  Comcast is DOA.  I’m using ATT on the iPhone to link to the internet.

“Two nights in the shelter were about as good as could be expected.

“Food in the cafeteria was edible.  With 4,000 housed there, by dinner last night they were pulling out whatever was on the shelves and this morning’s breakfast was a health bar and milk. Noooooo coffee!!!  Good thing Sandy packed a lot of food ….

“We do not know what damage was done on the barrier islands or to downtown Sarasota. The newspaper and local TV station have been less than brilliant in their efforts.”

If we’re not all Irma-ed out by tomorrow, I may interview Caldwell in more detail.  Sarasota, incidentally, is where that wonderful manatee rescue took place.



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    Michael Fitzgerald

    Mike Fitzgerald is The Record’s award-winning metro columnist. His column runs in the paper three times a week. Born in San Francisco, he was raised in Stockton. His column covers diverse beats including, sometimes, the offbeat. Read Full
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