Former pro surfer talks Hurricane Irma preparations in FL: Safety over swell

Wednesday was a rough night for Puerto Rico as the beast of a storm known as Hurricane Irma swept just north. Despite some flooding, this U.S. territory was spared the worst as the storm skirted just north of the island.

“We got super lucky. No major damage — just foliage,” diver/surfer/filmmaker Anthony Dooley told GrindTV from Puerto Rico Thursday, where there was no power or running water.

Tony Dooley of The Uncharted Studio had his business prepped for the worst, but much of Puerto Rico was spared from Hurricane Irma. Photo: Courtesy of Tony Dooley

Dooley, the owner of The Uncharted Studio in Rincon, reported, “Rincon was completely spared. I talked to friends in San Juan and they made out OK too. They had sustained winds of 60 mph, but it should have been much worse."

On Tuesday, Dooley and his partners boarded up his storefront and posted this Facebook message:

“Everyone be safe and smart the next 48 hours. If You are in need of a safe place to stay tomorrow night Come by the apartment above Uncharted. Just stop up anytime. Antonio, Geo or myself will be around. Anyone who needs a place is welcome.”

The Virgin Island were not as lucky. Yahoo News is reporting eight fatalities on the island of St. Maarten and an official there is claiming that 95 percent of the island is destroyed.

Thursday, Irma was showing just how powerful she is, maintaining her Category 5 status for several consecutive days with top sustained winds at 180 mph and gusts still reaching 220 mph.

While Barbados had a day of epic swell on Tuesday, the waves are not much of a focus of Irma today as it passes north of Hispaniola, although Dooley did report that the surf had turned on by midday.

Much of the southeast coast is registering long-period Irma groundswell in the waist- to shoulder-high range. Swell has now filtered into the mid-Atlantic. South Florida, which could take the brunt of the storm, is still flat, blocked by the Bahamas.

Florida begins a fourth day of bracing for what could be a historic landfall. As of Thursday morning, the model agreement has Irma plowing into the Florida Keys/Miami region as a Category 4 storm early on Sunday.

Miami Beach and other coastal areas of Miami-Dade County are under mandatory evacuations. At Wednesday night's press conference, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said, "Irma remains a strong Category 5 hurricane. Significant weakening is not expected."

The county has a population of 2.7 million, many of whom will be on the few northerly routes out of the city.

Up in St. Augustine, Florida, some 300 miles north of Miami, former World Surf League World Championship Tour surfer Gabe Kling has made his preparations. He and his community are watching the storm intently.

“We just boarded up the house and put out the sandbags. My wife, the kids and I have a spot in Tallahassee, but I am keeping an eye on the track. We don’t want to go there if it takes a more westerly track,” Kling told GrindTV.

Hurricane Irma has already thrashed parts of the Caribbean and is unfortunately headed for Florida. Photo: Courtesy of NOAA

A year ago, Hurricane Matthew passed by the coast, 30 miles off St. Augustine.

“That was a Cat 3 and it was all storm surge. It wrecked a lot of downtown. Here we are, a year later, and a lot of our friends are just getting back into their homes,” said Kling.

He noted that Matthew passed during a high tide and full moon, but there was no wind damage.

“The full moon was yesterday, so that’s passed. I’m trying to be optimistic. Every storm is different. I’m just hoping it loses some steam before it hits Miami. I feel terrible for whoever takes the direct hit,” Kling added.

Hurricane Harvey, which struck near Corpus Christi, Texas, on Aug. 25, was the first major hurricane to make U.S. landfall in 12 years. Hurricane Wilma, which hit Southwest Florida and cut right across into the Atlantic Ocean, was the last before that, in 2005, the same year that Katrina struck New Orleans.

While Irma is sure to bring swell to a lot of the East Coast, this could be very dangerous. Readers should know their abilities, proceed with extreme caution and not put first responders in harm’s way.

More Hurricane Irma coverage from GrindTV

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