Steve Fleischer has lived in Florida long enough to see his share of hurricanes.
When we spoke with the 67 year old Naples resident on Friday, he was preparing to ride out Irma at his home just blocks from the beach. Constructed after the tougher hurricane building codes were enacted, Fleischer was confident his home could withstand Irma’s winds.
Speaking with him Tuesday morning, Fleischer said his house fared well through Irma’s 140 miles per hour winds. But, his nerves were battered by the storm when it hit Sunday.
“It was a scary day,” Fleischer said. “I’m not a guy who typically gets scared, but it was unbelievable before it got to 142 miles per hour, which was recorded in Naples. But, when it was 75 to 80 (miles per hour) it was starting to get a little edgy.”
Fleischer decided to stay in his house. He was by himself. His wife and son were both out of state at the time.
It was a decision he now regrets.
“It got so bad, the pounding against the windows, the storm was horizontal. The rain was horizontal,” Fleischer recalled. “I just watched the storm blow by…it shook the house.”
Fleischer won’t’ forget the sound.
“You knew there was a freight train out there. It’s true what they say. It sounds like a freight train.”
By Sunday afternoon Naples was experiencing Irma’s full fury.
“It was an hour, hour-and-a-half, around 3:30 in the afternoon it was scary. Absolutely scary.”
For the first time in his life he feared for his own safety.
“I have never feared it until Sunday,” Fleischer said. “I’ve feared for my kids. I’ve feared for my wife. I never feared it for myself. But, Sunday it was obvious I made a mistake and stayed down here. I should have gotten my tail out.”
He won’t do it again.
“I would not stay for the next one,” said Fleischer. “Now I survived 142 (miles per hour) so I suppose if we have a Category 1 that’s like 70 it’s a ground ball for me.”
Fleischer says his house and those around him are evidence that tougher building codes help to increase the integrity of structures. He lives in a newer development and says his home and those around him took a beating but withstood Irma’s strong winds.
The trees and foliage around his house did not.
“What we lost is unbelievable,” Fleischer said. “The street cleanup is beyond anything. It’s going to be months. They’re trying to get the big trees out of the way just for fire and ambulances to get through. They’re not cleaning them (streets) up, they’re just opening them up.”
Fleischer believes it will take months to cleanup and repair the damage that Irma left behind.
“It is a daunting task,” Fleischer emphasized.
He says trees that have been around for decades were wiped out Sunday afternoon in a matter of hours.
Fleischer says while it will take time for the area to recover from Irma, there are already signs that the community is bouncing back. He says some of the big chain stores are starting to reopen–especially grocery and home improvement stores. Radio stations are making announcements as local stores and restaurants are able to open their doors once again.
While he knows the area has a long road to full recovery, Fleischer is keeping a sense of humor and says he has a newfound appreciation for Mother Nature.
“Absolutely! Absolutely! Mother Nature, she wins every battle!”