Local nurse endures Irma

A nurse in South Florida, who grew up in Penticton and did her post-secondary in Kelowna, endured the brunt of hurricane Irma at her workplace over the weekend. 

Michelle Pedersen, who works in the labor and delivery department at Boca Raton Regional Hospital, 75 kilometres north of Miami, was on lockdown from Saturday at noon until mid-day on Monday as the storm passed through.

She has lived in south Florida since 1994, and said Irma was the biggest storm she has seen in 23 years.

"I think my first hurricanes that I really remember was after I bought my first house in 1999. It was (Hurricanes) Francis and Jean, and I had some palm trees fall on my house ... but this one by far was much scarier," Pedersen said.

Irma, a category-five storm before it touched down on Florida and dropped to a category-four, was 725 kilometres wide.

"I have a good roof on my house and I have hurricane shutters, but I don't know that there's a lot that can withstand a category-five," Pedersen said. "And we just didn't know where it was going to come. So this one for me was really, really scary."

Fortunately for Pedersen, the eye of the storm didn't hit south-east Florida where she lives. She had an undamaged home to return to in West Palm Beach, after she was able to leave lockdown at about 10 a.m. on Monday.

She had power as well - something almost two-thirds of Florida's population didn't have Tuesday morning. 

"I feel so incredibly grateful," Pedersen said.

Pedersen said the worst of the storm hit between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sunday.

"You can feel the pressure sucking in and out," she said. "It made it seem like somebody was trying to open the doors, because the pressure was sucking the door in and out. So the alarm systems kept going off, even though nobody was trying to open the doors.

"You don't realize how loud the hurricane shutters are rattling... the sheer noise, is unbelievable."

Despite the unprecedented storm, Pedersen said it wasn't a panicked situation at the hospital over the two days of lockdown.

"Most of the patients felt very safe. And as much as I was worried about this particular hurricane, I was walking down the hallway to the cafeteria to get food, and I actually passed the CEO of the hospital, and the CNO. They were there with us on lockdown ... and I thought you know what, I feel safe now."

Pedersen acknowledged that it wasn't as disastrous as it could've been.

"We were so lucky, it was unbelievable."

Pedersen said most of her family still lives in Penticton and she makes it back to the Okanagan every eight weeks or so to visit her elderly father.

"I kept calling him to let him know how I was doing," Pedersen said. "With family, especially because my dad isn't very well, you just have to sound like you're not worried and it's just fine."

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