Belfast Telegraph

NI-based journalist tells of surviving Irma

Joyce flew to Florida to be with mum as hurricane hit

By Allan Preston

A Co Antrim-based journalist from Florida who flew back to help her mother through Hurricane Irma has spoken of her relief to escape unharmed.

Joyce Ferder-Rankin (58) made Portballintrae her home 21 years ago, but flew back to Delray Beach on the east coast last Thursday over fears her mother Marlene Ferder would be in harm's way.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph yesterday, she described hiding in a specially designed safe room in her mum's house as the category five storm raged.

"There was one point I thought the storm was really coming for us," she said.

"It was like a freight train going past and it went on for 45 minutes to an hour. I was hugging mum saying: 'I love you and I hope we get through this'. I thought it was really time.

"When her cat finally came out from under her chair an hour later and stretched we realised the storm was over."

Although Delray Beach escaped the severe flooding seen in other parts of Florida, the trail of destruction was still plain to see.

"We were lucky as the storm didn't hit us," said Joyce.

"We know it came up through the neighbourhood as you could see the trees were ripped apart, something serious had to do that. It missed us and I was thrilled, to say the least."

With high temperatures and widespread power cuts, Joyce made the decision to send her mother to stay with her brother in Washington DC.

"My mum's still really active, she loves dancing and going to happy hour with her friends. She was very grateful I was there and that we came through it all without a scratch.

"As a journalist I've covered wars, hurricanes and floods so I've been in situations like this before - but never with my mum around to protect."

Joyce said the destruction made her question if it was safe for her mother to ever live in Florida again.

"We know her house will be underwater in the next 15-20 years anyway. Do we really need for this to happen? It's not a nice thing to say, but the writing's on the wall for south Florida, it's not long for the world. So we're having that discussion now.

"In places like the Florida Keys, for example, I don't know how they'll ever come back from that, because so many places are flooding and being destroyed time and again.

"I also have a friend in Miami who had her catering business flooded. She doesn't know when she can get back to earning a living, so things are tough."

As efforts continue to clear the damage, Joyce said she was surprised at how well people were keeping their good spirits.

"There's even been phone charging parties, where people gather round a generator and relax for a moment with a gin and tonic," she explained.

More than four million homes and businesses are still without power in Florida and neighbouring states.

Since hitting the Caribbean last week, Hurricane Irma has claimed the lives of more than 55 people.

Yesterday US President Donald Trump visited Florida to survey the aftermath, meeting rescue workers at Fort Myers.

"When you think of the incredible power of that storm, and while people unfortunately passed, it was such a small number," he said.

"People thought thousands and thousands of people may have their lives ended and the number is a very small number, which is a great tribute to you."

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