Stories of triumph emerge in Florida amid Hurricane Irma aftermath

60-foot tree destroys grandmother's porch, patio
Posted at 5:59 PM, Sep 11, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-11 22:21:18-04

PLANT CITY, Fla. -- Helen Whidden of Plant City now has the proof to show for her trunk load of blessings.

"It was scary," she said. Hurricane Irma's winds tore a neighbor's 60-foot tree down onto Whidden's back porch.

"It was rattling like something really hard hit your house. It was like a big truck, or Jeep maybe, had run into the back of it, like something just slamming it," she described.

Between 10 and 11 p.m. Sunday, Whidden was huddled with her granddaughter in the bathroom when she heard the loud thud.

"I just said, 'Thank God.' I knew how blessed I was that we weren't hurt," she said.

In the meantime, a few miles away, Ronnie Carlough got a call from his mom right around 9 p.m. Sunday as Irma was closing in on Plant City.

"She's hysterically crying saying, 'My roof is gone, my roof is gone,'" he told us.

Carlough, his brother and his nephew drove through the storm to get his mom and her husband out of the brick home. What typically takes about 10 minutes, took the trio close to an hour due to Irma's heavy winds and rain.

The mother, Judy Yancey, spoke to ABC Action News about what she felt while waiting for help.

"I was petrified," she told us.

Less than 24 hours later, Yancey's home was a congregating point for family, friends, neighbors and strangers who wanted to help cover Yancey's roof. About 80 percent of the roof's felt was ripped off during the storm.

"I don't know some of the people out here," said Ronnie. "True strangers helping out, trying to get this roof intact," he said. "I'm just overwhelmed by all of the support."

According to city leaders in Plant City, approximately five homes and businesses had minor structural damage, about 70 trees fell and a small number of street signs and traffic signals were out. As of Monday afternoon, city officials were still assessing the damage.