PERRY, Fla. — Deborah Green wept when describing what Hurricane Idalia did to her town.
“I saw all the power lines down and the trees and buildings . . . I just didn’t know what we were coming back to,” she said. Green, her husband, and six children had fled as the ferocious storm approached Perry, a small mill town located just inland from the coast where Idalia made landfall.
Like many Florida residents whose homes and towns felt the brunt of Idalia’s winds and storm surge, the Greens saw tough evidence of the storm’s power. Idalia arrived as a high-end Category 3 hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 125, splitting trees in half, ripping roofs off hotels and turning small cars into boats before sweeping into Georgia and South Carolina.
When they came back to Perry on Wednesday afternoon, Green family members were happy that their home was still largely intact. But the sight of the destruction in many other parts of town was overwhelming.
Green’s decision to leave was fueled by her experience with Hurricane Hermine in 2016, which separated the roof of her bedroom from the walls and then blew the walls away. It took months to finish but her bedroom was completely rebuilt with the help of all her immediate family, who live only blocks away.
On Wednesday, the family cleared debris from their yard. Their back porch was smashed by a fallen tree, and there was light roof damage elsewhere.
“We were blessed that we had our home to come back to,” Green said as she smiled at her youngest daughter.
Vulnerable areas, such as low-lying and coastal parts of Florida, were the hardest-hit by the hurricane. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis reported that while properties had been severely damaged and areas were blanketed with debris, there were no immediate reports of fatalities.
As many residents emerged from the disaster to see hazardous conditions and mangled neighborhoods, communities and local authorities pressed on with recovery efforts.
Where did Idalia make landfall?Maps show damage, aftermath of storm’s destructive path
‘Never seen anything like this in Perry’
While the rain had subsided, evidence of Hurricane Idalia’s shearing winds was everywhere in Perry on Wednesday afternoon. The storm shredded commercial buildings signs, tipped over powerlines, blew out windows and ripped a gas station canopy off its foundation.
Main roads that connect the city of 7,000 to the rest of the state were lined with live oak trees and long leaf pines, uprooted and snapped at their trunks. Residential neighborhoods were covered in mossy tree limbs and mangled sheets of wood and metal, riddled roads, driveways and lawns.
“It sounded like a freight train was coming through here,” said Sheila Houston, 57, who was inside her house when the winds started late Monday.
With Houston was her boyfriend, Harold Flowers, and Smokey, their tiny chihuahua, jack russell mix. She took three mattresses into her bedroom, put two against the windows, got on the floor and held the last mattress over herself, her boyfriend and Smokey.
“I didn’t know what would happen,” she said. At some point in the night, a thick branch of an oak tree that’s been beside the house for decades fell on the side of the house.
When she saw her neighborhood blanketed by debris in daylight she “couldn’t believe it.”
“I’ve never seen anything like this in Perry,” she added. “And I hope we don’t ever again.”
Cedar Key residents initially blocked from entering island
Jordan Keeton wishes he had stayed on the island city of Cedar Key when Idalia hit. Instead, he bunkered down with family farther inland.
But on Wednesday afternoon, he found himself among a group frustrated they couldn’t enter the island. Law enforcement blocked civilians from entry right at city limits, marked by a sign right across a bridge lapped by high waters.
“We shut the city down,” Cedar Key Police Chief Edwin Jenkins said to an inquiring reporter.
Keeton owns 83 West, the largest restaurant on the island. He wanted to check in on the building, which juts out into the water of the Gulf Coast. He was fairly certain he’d at least lost a deck. He also wanted to get a generator to the business, to save his frozen food.
“It’s probably like $10,000 dollars, at least,” Keeton said, hefty winds whipping his long, brown hair. “It’s frustrating when you’re not able to access something that you need to access. Your livelihood, your home, everything. I’m weighing my options right now on just going down there, plugging in my generator and telling them to take my ass to jail.”
That wasn’t necessary, as residents were allowed in 45 minutes later, at around 3:15 p.m.
Lieutenant Scott Tummond of the Levy County Sheriff’s Office said the restriction had been about safety.
He said the main priority was making sure the bridges were structurally sound. And he said the city accessed by those bridges was still in a hazardous condition. Tummond added that there were no deaths in the city and only one minor injury, caused by a fall.
“I can’t stress how fortunate we are,” he said.
Hurricane Idalia’s dangers explained:Will forecasters’ worst fears materialize?
‘I love it here’: Cedar Key resident hopes to rebuild
On the evening after Idalia hit, those driving around Cedar Key had to steer around a lot of obstacles.
Sticks. Sand. Signs. Stones, scattered across one length of lane as if thrown by a giant. In some places, the storm surge through the city had created clogs, bulging masses of wreckage that blocked traffic.
Below Wednesday’s evening blue skies, Chuck Adams stared at a pile of debris, a cane in his right hand and a paddle in his left. His townhouse faces the Gulf Coast and a chunk of dock that was torn from it.
The hurricane had ruined his bottom floor. While it has break-away walls, the laundry room, bedroom and garage were more outside them than inside. His washing machine had smashed through to lay face down in the grass. Nearby, his television stood upright in mud.
Adams had remained on the island during the storm, staying with a friend a block away. He wanted to reach his property as quickly as possible to assess the damages and start cleaning things up.
Those damages were worse than he expected.
“It made me sick,” he said. “It’s distressing.”
He’s lived there for three and a half years. Despite the destruction, he says he’s not going anywhere. He’ll rebuild.
“I love it here,” Adams said.
Georgia resident surprised by Idalia
Idalia brought rushing waters and damaging winds as it crossed into Georgia. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency for his state ahead of the system.
But some residents scrambled to get away from the storm’s impacts.
Outside his home in Valdosta, Georgia, howling winds woke up Jonathan Wick who rushed to get his young nephews from a trampoline in their backyard where waters were at his knees. Wick said he didn’t take Idalia seriously until the hurricane came Wednesday morning.
As Wick and his nephews piled into his vehicle, a tree toppled in front of them. Another family member ended up rescuing them from the storm.
“If that tree would have fell on the car, I would be dead,” Wick told the Associated Press.
‘Kind of used to it’:Not everyone chooses to flee possible monster Hurricane Idalia
Contributing: The Associated Press