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Derry dance teacher Bridget battens down hatches as Irma ploughs into Florida

By Allan Preston

A Londonderry woman living in Florida was last night preparing to bunker down as Hurricane Irma battered the southern US state with 130mph winds.

As the storm pushed north through the Keys, electricity was knocked out for more than 1.5 million people and a large construction crane collapsed in Miami.

In the southern part of the peninsula, nearly 127,000 people took shelter while forecasters warned the entire state was in "extreme peril".

At nearly 400 miles wide, the storm was expected to move up Florida's west coast towards the heavily populated Tampa and St Petersburg areas by this morning.

Yesterday 29-year-old dance teacher Bridget Madden from Derry was bracing herself for the hurricane in the university town of Gainesville.

Speaking briefly to the Belfast Telegraph during the rush to make for shelter, she said: "We are just getting ready to bunker down in preparation for it hitting us."

She added that she hoped to post updates on social media for concerned relatives whenever she got the opportunity.

Last week, as the category five storm hit the Caribbean, she described the destructive weather front headed her way as "frightening".

She added at the time: "We have no idea what damage the hurricane will incur. All we can do is prepare and wait."

Joyce Ferder Rankin, who settled in Portballintrae 21 years ago, flew back to Delray Beach ahead of the storm.

"I'm concerned for my mom, she's not as young as she used to be so it's going to be harder this time to go through this," she told the BBC.

"She's already exhausted because I keep getting her up to take her to a safe room for the tornado watches. But there was a decision I took to come down here and be with her, because we couldn't get her out. So I'm hoping for the best. The storm is not as bad as I was first thinking it would be."

And American-born Michelle Page (53), who has lived in Belfast for 14 years, has family and friends in Florida, and owns a property in Naples, located on the south western coast of the state.

"I'm extremely concerned, I can't even believe what's happening. In Naples there's been a mandatory evacuation and the power's been out for several hours.

"I've several friends there and they've all left. My sister also has a property next door, luckily she's in Massachusetts. My apartment I share with my partner Katrina is on the ground floor, seven feet above sea level, and the surge from the sea is supposed to be about 10 to 15 feet."

She added: "It's just a very difficult time here as Katrina's mother has been put into hospice on Friday, so we're dealing with that while worrying about what we'll do. I might have to go to Florida next week, depending on what we find out happened."

Last week Irma was the most powerful Hurricane ever recorded in the open Atlantic, reaching a peak speed of 120mph and leaving 20 people dead across the Caribbean.

As yet no deaths have been reported in Florida due to the storm.

There are further weather warnings that a weakened Irma could push into Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee.

Belfast Telegraph

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