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Irish families take shelter from storm in baths and closets


Eimear Hilliard with her daughter Caoimhe in Orlando. Photo: Ciara Wilkinson

Eimear Hilliard with her daughter Caoimhe in Orlando. Photo: Ciara Wilkinson

Eimear Hilliard with her daughter Caoimhe in Orlando. Photo: Ciara Wilkinson

Irish tourists on holiday in Florida spoke of taking refuge in baths and closets as Hurricane Irma pounded outside.

As Irma was downgraded to a category one tropical storm yesterday, Irish holidaymakers who got caught up in the hurricane spoke of their terror as the eye of the storm approached on Sunday.

Shannon Van Kalkeren (22) and her boyfriend James Kieran (25), from Dundalk, Co Louth, were enjoying the last week of a holiday in Orlando when "we heard at the very last minute that the eye of the hurricane was going straight through Orange County".

The couple were ordered to stay away from the windows in their hotel while they sought shelter in the bathroom.

"The wind was very, very loud. I had ear plugs in and could still hear it perfectly," Ms Van Kalkeren said. "The windows in our room were hurricane-proof but the rain came through and our carpet is soaking," she said. "It has not put me off being a storm chaser," she added.

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Meanwhile, Eimear Hilliard and her daughter Caoimhe (9), from Slane, Co Meath, were staying at a nearby hotel and were also ordered to take shelter in the bathroom as the hurricane raged outside. Ms Hilliard said she saved for two years to surprise her daughter with a trip to nearby Disney World and Universal Studios which they fortunately visited before the storm struck. But the experience left them shaken.

"There was a buzzer that would sound which meant you had to stay in your rooms and not leave them. That made it a lot scarier," she said. "Around 8-9pm, it got really scary and we hid in the bath."

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Mark and Sharon Garbutt, and children Leon (14) and Kayla (11), from Lusk, Co Dublin, were stranded at the same Orlando hotel last night. They also took refuge in the bathroom. Although the couple had planned to renew their wedding vows during the trip, Irma was a "huge dampener" on their holiday.

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Celine Daly, from Dublin, who lives near Orlando with her husband and three children, also took refuge in a closet. "When it started to hit, I made everyone get into the closet. Our back yard is like a swimming pool," she said.

Irish holidaymakers in Florida may have to wait until tomorrow to escape Hurricane Irma and travel home, Aer Lingus said.

The airline said it was being "flexible" with its schedule following the deadly hurricane, but said it would need to wait for the airports to be declared safe.

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