A CHESTER man who moved to Florida two years ago is bracing himself for the arrival of deadly Hurricane Irma.
Robert Washington-Nance, 45, is now living with his husband in the waterfront city of Pensacola in the north of the state where 180mph winds are forecast between Sunday and Monday.
The category five hurricane – the most powerful on the scale – has already caused widespread devastation across the Caribbean, leaving at least 10 people dead.
Robert, who grew up in The Quillets children's home in Little Sutton, Ellesmere Port, said he was used to storms and hurricanes – but not on this level.
He told the Leader: “When it’s a number 5, like Irma in the Caribbean islands, the damage is so severe it normally destroys everything in its path.
“If you can imagine the noise of six huge steam trains, then that is the sound. The volume is deafening.
“Doors shake violently, cars and roofs, if they get caught in the gusts, fly through the streets like toys. More people die from flying debris than anything else.”
He added: “Hurricane season starts June 1 and ends November 30 so it’s a wide window and Florida generally gets up to 20 a year.
“Over the past few years, the hurricanes have got stronger and lasted longer and caused more damage. It looks like Pensacola may just get the tail end of Irma now but hurricanes can turn in seconds and head in a new direction. They can also become static and sit over one area for several hours.”
Robert, who moved from Chester to the USA three years ago and now works as a patient transporter at a hospital, said he and his husband had joined the throng at the shops to stock up on 100 bottles of water as well as batteries for the radio, cooler boxes, ice-cubes, dog food and basic first aid supplies.
They also plan to remove all loose objects from the garden such as pots and ornaments.
“It’s basically ride the storm out and hope for the best,” he said.
Lower strength hurricanes can be cause for parties in Florida, he said, as people batten down the hatches, buy in a crate of beers and turn the music up.
But when they hit categories four and five, residents have to think about boarding up their homes and even heading out of town to the hills and other safer spots.
Robert, whose family still live in the Chester area, said: “If the hurricanes are on a scale of 1-3, generally people stay put. In fact I have seen people still go out shopping!
“But most people, if unable to get into work have hurricane parties with plenty of alcohol and finger food. They just turn on the radio and listen to the reports.
“If the hurricane is level four, you will go and get shelter in your safe area.
“For the majority of people that is in the bathroom, unless they have a cellar, and then they all go into a safe room that’s waterproof and sturdy.
“Other people head for their local hurricane evacuation centre, normally a sports hall or cinema or school gym and basically ride it out.
“When it’s a category five, everyone boards up their homes and heads out of the area.
“In Florida they normally head for the hills of Tennessee or head to Texas. This year that’s no good as the poor people of Texas have had it just as bad as Florida.”