When 21-year-old Hannah Jones signed up for a Disney World working trip of a lifetime, she never thought she would be bunkered down, sheltering from an epic storm equivalent in intensity to the deadly Hurricane Katrina.
Former All Saints College St Mary’s Campus student, Hannah has just been to hell and back, experiencing the full force of Hurricane Irma from her work location in Orlando, Florida.
The Rutherford resident has been working at Disney’s Carribbean Beach resort at Walt Disney World since mid-January, living on a property just off the Disney estate.
Hurricane Irma was most intense Atlantic hurricane to strike the United States since Katrina in 2005, and the first major hurricane to hit the state of Florida since Wilma in 2005.
On the event of the Hurricane, Hannah was called into work as part of the “ride out crew”, a team from the resort that stay on the property during the hurricane and assist with service to guests, perform emergency duties and perform post-storm assessment and clean-up.
“I stayed there from Saturday before the Hurricane until Monday night, after the hurricane,” Hannah said. “At first I thought the Hurricane was a joke but then I read it was life-threatening and a Category 5.
“I was really scared as I didn’t have any knowledge on hurricanes and I didn’t know what to expect.
“Everyone in Florida was stocking up on food and water. Shelves were empty for most of the week last week,” she said.
A world away, Hannah’s parents were frantic. “Mum (Gillian) was extremely worried, especially as she was so far away and she felt helpless,” Hannah said.
She explained that Walt Disney World had multiple plans in place for different situations. “Disney parks closed from Saturday night until September 13. Across property power lines are underground and windows are hurricane proof and there are multiple generators,” she said.
“Disney has a good reputation and guests know they are safe and provided with food and drink and a safe room.
“I never felt I wasn’t safe. Through the constant guidance of the great leadership at the Caribbean Beach Resort, my colleagues and myself were well equipped with whatever came.”
Hannah said the bad weather started on Sunday with wind picking up and heavy rain.
“Curfews were put in place for people not to leave their rooms.
“It was Sunday night when I began to feel scared.
“Winds were reaching 100 kilometres per hour and trees and branches were flying around.”
She said that by 8pm everyone was in lock down. “From there I didn’t see much.
“I was away from the windows, watching the news, waiting to see the worst of the storm coming through the Orlando area.
“By midnight the average winds were at 150 kilometres per hour and the eye of the storm hit around 2am.”
Hannah said she was surprised when she woke Monday morning.
“Most of the day we were cleaning up. More than 70,000 homes were without power in the Orlando area. Flooding was prominent in many areas and there was widespread damage,” Hannah said.
Hannah’s tour of duty in Florida finishes in January.