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A&E Exclusive: ‘We’re All Praying and Preparing’: Florida Braces for Incoming Irma

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Hurricane Irma
Hurricane Irma

In October of 2016, Florida residents braced for what was predicted to be the largest hurricane to strike the coast in nearly a decade-Hurricane Matthew-the 12-day tempest that eventually lost strength and headed out to sea. Despite record rainfall in its tumultuous trip up the South and North Carolina coast, residents felt like they had dodged another hurricane. Now, less than a year since the Category 4 hurricane skirted up the eastern coastline, awards and engraving retailers and manufacturers in Florida and the Southeast U.S. are bracing for Hurricane Irma-the second largest Atlantic storm on record.

On Thursday, awards retailers in the Miami-Dade area frantically prepared for the storm, which has its eye set straight for the city. “We’re doing the best we can and hoping for the best,” says Sandy Liebowitz of L&M Engraving & Trophy Co., located at 9465 SW 56th Street in Miami. “That’s the bottom line.” Other awards retailers could not be reached for comment following the mandatory evacuation order issued on Thursday morning for the county.

In Jacksonville, 300 miles north of Miami, Holmes Custom President and CEO Bryan Croft has been watching and preparing for the Category 5 storm barreling toward the coast since Monday. After each major update from meteorologists is released, the Holmes Custom team meets in the conference room to adjust plans. “Every scenario-from the building is destroyed to it doesn’t even rain-is being discussed,” Croft tells A&E magazine. “All the cards are on the table.”

Croft is no stranger to hurricanes. When Hurricane Matthew grazed the Florida coastline, the management team hunkered down at the Holmes Custom headquarters, 2021 St. Augustine Road in Jacksonville. The building, located significantly inland outside of an evacuation zone, is built to withstand incredible 150 mph winds, Croft explains. “I was very nervous last year when we went through this with Matthew and there were a few parts of town that got some damage, but about 80 percent of the city wasn’t really too affected by Matthew,” he notes. For Floridians, however, the mindset has shifted as they witness the continuing devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey across Houston and the Texas coast.

Further, if meteorologists’ predictions stand, Hurricane Irma is expected to be a different monster entirely-the second largest Atlantic storm in recorded history after Hurricane Allen slammed into Mexico and Texas in 1980 with top wind speeds of 190 mph. The National Hurricane Center said Thursday that a hurricane watch will likely be issued for parts of South Florida after Irma’s Category 5 forces with 185 mph winds ravaged the Caribbean, leaving at least 10 people dead.

“This is the largest hurricane we’ve ever seen,” Croft says. “A lot of locals in Jacksonville can take one approach-that it’s just another false alarm like Matthew. Then we see what’s still going on in Houston and think, ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve just sent donations and water to Houston; let’s take care of ourselves this time.'”

Croft recounts the city’s frantic preparations as early as Wednesday-gas station and grocery store lines around the block waiting to stock up on supplies. “There were cars backed up literally a mile long to get into Costco (Wednesday) morning, and even before they opened their doors, they were out of water and other supplies,” he adds. “With what’s going on in Houston, I think Florida residents are taking (Hurricane Irma) pretty seriously.”

Croft’s family, he says, is evacuating, though he is unsure of whether he will join them in Atlanta. “I’m still kind of on the fence. Am I going to stay and keep an eye on the business?”

While many Floridians are faced with a similar choice, Croft says he has rallied with his company to keep in constant communication.

While waiting out Hurricane Matthew last year, Holmes Custom utilized the company’s private Facebook page-a platform for employees to share stories, ideas on how to grow the business, and all types of conversations. “We learned last year that we could use our private page as a communication tool where employees could post pictures of the office, for example, and keep in contact. That was something that everybody liked because employees didn’t have to worry about what was going on. It was a cool and fun way to embrace Facebook and technology.”

Croft has also reached out to other local businesses in the industry-no matter friend or competitor-to exchange phone numbers and email addresses and lend a helping hand. “The email was more like, ‘We’re praying for you guys and if there’s anything we can do, let’s all have cell numbers and email addresses. If you need me to help you fulfill some orders because of potential damage, just know that I’m here to help.’ At the end of the day, we’re all humans trying to feed our families,” he stresses. “We’re just keeping an eye on it. We’re all praying and preparing. We hope it stays off-shore. That’s the best-case scenario, but we’re preparing for the worst-case scenario,” Croft says. “And if we have a bunch of leftover bottles of water, so be it.”

This is an ongoing event. A&E will update this story with details from voices around the industry as we receive more information. 

Do you have a story you want to share about your experiences with Hurricane Irma? Please contact us here.

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