Danielle Ignacio-Pacunayen planned to cap off her summer with a sun-drenched vacation in Miami, where her boyfriend goes to university.
Instead, she and Joseph Anid spent more than three days holed up in his parent’s house in Odessa, Fla., near Tampa, with no electricity or running water.
The Yellowknife resident had just arrived in Miami when media began reporting that a category 5 hurricane – one of the strongest storms ever recorded off the Atlantic Ocean – was barreling toward Florida.
“My boyfriend’s family were really, really nervous about the storm,” said Ignacio-Pacunayen in an interview Wednesday, before boarding a flight back to Calgary, where she goes to university.
In an attempt to avoid the hurricane’s projected path, the young couple fled to the Tampa Bay area on Friday, where her boyfriend’s family, lives. Three days later, an updated forecast showed the storm heading on a more westerly track – which would take it right over Tampa instead.
It’s a five-hour drive from Miami to Tampa, and gas stations along the way were clogged with people fleeing the storm. Drivers were agitated, yelling and honking at each other, fighting for fuel.
“A lot of gas stations where actually running out of gas,” she said. “So that was pretty terrifying.”
Hurricane Irma had weakened somewhat to a category 1 storm by the time it reached Tampa on Saturday. It was raining, but winds, said Ignacio-Pacunayen, were comparable to “a pretty windy day” in Yellowknife.
The storm was, however, strong enough to knock out power at the Anid house Saturday night. When Ignacio-Pacunayen spoke with Yellowknifer four days later, electricity had yet to return to the family’s neighbourhood.
For four days, Ignacio-Pacunayen and the Anid family hunkered down, playing board games and eating snacks under dim candle light to pass the time.
“It was really hot, obviously, because when the power goes out, there’s no air conditioning,” said the University of Calgary student.
There was no water either, as the house relies on electricity to pump it from a nearby well.
“We (had) filled the bathtub so we could flush the toilet. It was not enjoyable at all,” she said. “I needed to wash my hair so I had to stick my head in a bathtub of cold, old bathwater and it was really gross …
You take a lot for granted when you have power.”
Back home in Yellowknife, Ignacio-Pacunayen said her mother was panicking.
“Oh my goodness my mom was so nervous,” said the 22-year-old. “When we found out about the hurricane, my mom was like, ‘You need to get out, you need to book a flight now’ … I didn’t really want to end my vacation early and I was kind of being stubborn about it.”
Apart from losing power, Ignacio-Pacunayen and her boyfriend’s family survived the storm unscathed. There were downed trees and some flooding in Odessa, but the house stood up against the storm.
Stranded in Florida, Ignacio-Pacunayen missed her first two days of school at the University of Calgary.
“Before the storm, it was kind of terrifying,” she said of anticipating Irma’s arrival in the U.S., which sparked a mass exodus of Floridians north. “It was definitely an interesting experience.”