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October 07, 2016

Philly-area natives ride out Hurricane Matthew in Orlando

Hurricane Matthew sideswiped Florida's Atlantic coast early Friday, toppling trees onto homes and knocking out power to more than a half-million people, on its way to Georgia and South Carolina.

Downgraded to a Category 3 overnight, its storm center hung just offshore Friday morning as it moved up the coastline, sparing many communities the full force of its 120 mph winds.

About 45 miles inland, in Orlando, several Philly-area natives were riding out the storm.

Mike and Sharon Spohn moved to Florida about two years ago from Exeter, Berks County. On Thursday they were preparing for their first hurricane as Matthew chugged toward the state from the Bahamas.

With no recommendations from authorities to evacuate Orlando, they were planning to ride out the storm from their apartment building in the shadow of Orlando International Airport, located about 45 miles from where the hurricane had been expected to make landfall in Cocoa Beach.

"Right now we are just waiting," said Mike on Thursday afternoon, as bands of rain and wind from Matthew reached their complex. "We think we have enough supplies, water and other essentials."

Sent home early on Thursday by their employer, AAA, they were watching the news for the latest on the storm's track.

"There's a level of curiosity as we're doing this for the first time," Sharon said. "I think we have all the i's dotted and t's crossed. We thought about evacuating, but we live in a new complex. Structurally we think we are OK. And we have pets."

Their daughter Kristen Gosling, who also lives in the Orlando area, is awaiting the arrival of boyfriend, who was driving a moving truck down from Pennsylvania, Sharon said. He was expecting to get as far as North Carolina and wait out the storm before continuing down to Florida.

"One of the criteria when we agreed to move down to Florida," she recalled, "was that Mike did not want to live on the beach, so we wouldn't have to evacuate for a hurricane. We're both pretty happy with that decision."

"I still think it beats shoveling snow," she said.

On Friday morning, with the wind still blowing as Matthew chugged up the coast, Sharon posted a Facebook video from a walk around the complex.

"The wind is howling," she told her Facebook friends, many who were messaging them to keep safe in the storm, "but it could have been so much worse."


Katie Shelly, 22, of Philadelphia, is living in Orlando while she completes an internship with The Walt Disney Company. The theme parks shut their doors early on Thursday and are closed Friday.

"Well, two of my roommates are from New Orleans, so they have this down," Shelly said on Thursday evening. "Currently, our windows are taped. We have one of our three bathtubs filled with water at the moment. We have seven gallons of water and three cases of water between us. We have a bunch of nonperishables — i.e. junk food — stocked up to ride us out. We're pretty set for a couple of days, at least."

With no order to evacuate in Orange County, Shelly and her roommates, who are also part of the internship program, chose to hunker down.

"I'm not scared," said Shelly, a driver at the Kilimanjaro Safari at Disney's Animal Kingdom. "I'm not fearful. I'm just feeling the anticipation of what could happen. It is supposed to strike our area, at its worst, in the middle of the night. I'm not crazy about that, but I guess we'll just have to sit tight."


Anthony Leone, 39, a former Havertown resident now living in Orlando, has a front-row seat on the storm: he's been shooting video of the storm as a media producer for MyNews13 and BayNews9.

So far, he said Friday morning, Matthew has caused brief power outages, some rain but the biggest impact of the storm has been the wind. Thirty to 35-mile per hour winds have been sweeping across the area, he said.

"They were actually pushing me around as I was trying to record,” he said, but adding the storm reminds him of the weather in Philly.

"To be honest, the storm for me is no different from being back in Philly. A few years ago, I covered Irene when she hit the Philly area. We had rain, localized flooding and trees coming down,” said Leone, who was formerly a reporter for a local Patch site. "Someone today had a huge tree crash into their house and that's very similar to what I reported on for Havertown.”