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updated: 9/14/2017 10:22 AM

Spared by Irma, suburban natives say storm was still terrifying

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  • Video: Hurricane Irma in Naples, FL

  • Former Elk Grove Village police officer Tom Sturgulewski, who now is a police officer in Naples, Florida, took a photo of some of the destruction in Naples from Hurricane Irma.

    Former Elk Grove Village police officer Tom Sturgulewski, who now is a police officer in Naples, Florida, took a photo of some of the destruction in Naples from Hurricane Irma.
    Photo courtesy of Tom Sturgulewski

  • Former Elk Grove Village police officer Tom Sturgulewski, who now is a police officer in Naples, Florida, poses in front of one of the uprooted Banyan trees toppled by Hurricane Irma.

    Former Elk Grove Village police officer Tom Sturgulewski, who now is a police officer in Naples, Florida, poses in front of one of the uprooted Banyan trees toppled by Hurricane Irma.
    Photo courtesy of Tom Sturgulewski

 
 
Editor's note: The story's been updated to correct the description of a family relationship.

Hurricane Irma wasn't as apocalyptic as predicted, but suburban natives who weathered the storm in Florida say it was still scary and surreal.

As the storm blew past the Naples Police Department, where former Elk Grove Village police officer Tom Sturgulewski now works, trees were blown horizontally and, at one point, the wind sucked the building's doors open.

The howling wind was louder than the police department's generator, he said. A 142-mph wind gust was reported at the Naples airport.

While the storm wasn't disastrous or deadly in Naples, Sturgulewski said there was considerable tree damage, including toppled banyan trees with exposed roots two stories high.

"The power of (Irma) was just incredible," he said. "I've never seen anything like it."

Suburban transplants on Monday reported power outages (and therefore, hot, dark, unairconditioned homes), spotty cell and cable service, minor street flooding, and downed trees.

"We got lucky," said Cori Perry, a former Lakemoor resident who moved to suburban Jacksonville in June. "It wasn't as terrifying as we thought it would be -- we were waiting for the roof to blow off. There was debris hitting the back window. It was kind of scary."

Heidi Marquardt, a former Vernon Hills resident who holed up in her in-laws' solidly-built house in Punta Gorda, worried most about the storm surge and had prepared for the worst -- life vests for her five children, ages 3 to 15, and an ax to cut open the roof in case the water rose so high they had to climb up there.

"The newscaster kept saying, 'It is going to be the most frightening thing in your whole life,'" Marquardt said, although the worst they experienced was flickering power and a flooded driveway. "It was anticlimactic, but that's a good thing for us."

Meanwhile, Marquardt's mother-in-law, Dawn Marquardt, a former Wheeling and Libertyville resident, evacuated to a friend's house in Nashville. Worried about her grandchildren, she refused to take her friends' offers to go out to eat or sightsee, preferring to stay home and text her son and daughter-in-law and monitor the news on TV and Facebook.

"I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. I could care less if the house fell down, all I cared about was those kids," she said. "It was like God's hand was protecting them."

It was storming Monday in north Georgia, where Elgin native Ashley Scheffler was camping out in a friend's basement that was lighted by candles since the storm knocked out the power. Scheffler moved to Daytona Beach, Florida in July for school, and she was set to take finals this week at Palmer College of Chiropractic. The college remains closed, since it has no power.

Carolyn DeSanti has endured several hurricanes since moving from Des Plaines to Wellington, Florida in 1986, and thinks her town dodged a bullet. Now she's focused on Hurricane Jose -- she fears it could take a path similar to Hurricane Wilma, which badly damaged her house and greenhouse.

"We took down some of our shutters today," she said, "but not all of them."

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