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Lakeland Man Says, 'I Knew It Was Coming Here'

Robin Sussingham
Duane Jacobs in front of his Lakeland home

Polk County took a direct hit from Hurricane Irma, with the storm hitting Lakeland just after midnight Sunday night.

The winds caused widespread damage -- but no reported injuries -- throughout the county, toppling massive trees onto houses and power lines.

About 80 percent of Polk is without power, and towering piles of debris line the roads.

Duane Jacobs is a retired air conditioning mechanic who worked for the Polk County School Board for 35 years.

WUSF reporter Robin Sussingham found him in front of his house on a cul-de-sac in Lakeland, surveying a tree limb that had fallen against his front door.  As his electric generator hums in the background,  she asked him about his experience during the hurricane:

"I've been living here a long, long time, and I've been through all the other hurricanes. And when Charlie and Jeanne and Francis came through, they all came right here! The eye of the hurricanes came  right over Polk County, and I was here for all of them.

So when Irma came through Key West, I got out my road atlas and I drew a mark from Key West up to Lakeland.  I drew it right on that map and I said 'it's coming up here.' Because they always do!

And so as it was progressing through the strait I was marking it off about every hour, and it was following that line just as pure as could be. ...

So I knew it was coming.  And it got down by Wauchula and Arcadia and it started really picking up here. And when it got down to Bartow, it really started howling around here, and I knew it was coming.

And I was sitting right there at the table. And I had a candle, which was the only power I had by that time. And I was just there waiting, looking at my chart. And I'm thinking, 'here it comes...here it comes. It's in Bartow...it's in Bartow." And then it came up here, and it was howling. And that's when that branch blew down.

And I said, 'well the heck with this.' And I sat at that table. And it was howling, coming in big gusts. You could hear it when it was coming. WHOOOOO and the gust would roll over, and everything would just roar! And it was scary! And thank God I was in there by myself; if I'd had a family I don't know what I would have been thinking about.

I was just sitting there at the table. Just quaking, and praying. Saying 'oh come on, come on, let's get through this, get through this!' And finally, when the eye came over Lakeland, I got up and I went outside to see what kind of damage I had. And all I had was that branch that came down. It blew off that old tree, and I'm going to get rid of it. And it fell down there on my little porch."

Robin Sussingham was Senior Editor at WUSF until September 2020.
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