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What it was like sheltering 50 miles from where the eye of Hurricane Ian hit

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The eye of Hurricane Ian made landfall this afternoon in southwest Florida. Sustained winds got up to 150 miles per hour. Ian is tied for the fifth strongest hurricane in U.S. history. Well over 1.3 million people have lost power. Governor Ron DeSantis said the storm surge topped 12 feet in some places. For many Floridians, the rain and wind have been continuous since last night. We have reached Chelsea Rivera, who's sheltering with her parents in Sarasota. That's about 50 miles north of where the center of the storm hit. Thank you so much for making the time to speak with us, Chelsea.

CHELSEA RIVERA: Of course. Thank you for having me.

CHANG: Can you just tell us what it was like mid-afternoon when the eye finally came ashore? Like, what did you see? What did you hear?

RIVERA: Oh, so this - for hours, we've been waiting for this storm. It started last night, and it's just been intensifying all day. If you - actually, I'm looking out my window right now. I see palm trees swaying back and forth. The scariest part is probably the wind. It's - like you said, it's going 150 miles an hour. It's shaking the house.

CHANG: Wow.

RIVERA: Rain is pelting, you know, the windows. Luckily, our power didn't go out. I think it has to do with, you know, maybe having solar energy. But everyone in our neighborhood, you know, power is out for them. And then I heard that all the houses on the coast are submerged in water, which is, you know, devastating. It makes me sad, you know, just thinking about the restaurants, you know, the homes on the waterfront, you know, places that I love, you know, destroyed by the storm. So it's going to be a really, really hard week.

CHANG: Yeah. Well, you know, we reached you on a cell phone, so I guess that there's at least some connectivity. But you said...

RIVERA: Yes.

CHANG: ...Every house on your block in your neighborhood has lost power. Is that correct?

RIVERA: Yes. Or at least from what I can tell.

CHANG: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I understand that you were not in an evacuation zone, right? But...

RIVERA: Yeah.

CHANG: ...Have people in the neighborhood mostly evacuated anyway?

RIVERA: Yeah. So that's a good question. So we are close to an evacuation zone. So, yeah, we didn't have to evacuate, but in my neighborhood, a lot of homes are, you know, evacuated. But my neighbors - you know, us and my two neighbors have stayed behind from what I know.

CHANG: And why did your family decide to stay?

RIVERA: So I am originally from St. Pete. I'm a Ph.D. student, going to the University of South Florida. So, you know, I'm up there. And originally Ian was said to, you know, hit St. Pete. But then last minute, it changed course.

CHANG: Right.

RIVERA: And, you know, it seemed to hit Sarasota, where I am right now. So I went to Sarasota thinking that I'd be safer there, but I actually wasn't.

CHANG: Ah, I see.

RIVERA: So yeah. And then by the time we found out, it was just too late. And, you know, we have a dog, and so we just boarded up the house and, you know, decided to ride it out.

CHANG: How did you and your family prepare?

RIVERA: So we are originally from Jersey. So we've been through Hurricane Sandy. And...

CHANG: Ah, yep, yep.

RIVERA: ...It was a Category 3 storm. So it was bad, but it wasn't this bad. So what we did was, you know, we boarded up our house. We have really nice neighbors. So they kind of showed us how - you know, how it's done. And, you know, we spent yesterday moving furniture all around, charging up our devices, getting gas. You know, the grocery stores down here are pretty much pillaged. But, you know, we tried to get what we could.

CHANG: Jeez. Well, how have you and your parents been just getting through this day today?

RIVERA: Oh, well, I've been trying to busy myself with work all day, but it's just been so hard to focus. And we've just been watching the news constantly.

CHANG: Well, I hope you and your family keep staying safe where you are.

RIVERA: Thank you.

CHANG: That is Chelsea Rivera in Sarasota, Fla. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us.

RIVERA: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.