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Hurricane Ian reminds J’can of Gilbert

Between Wednesday and Thursday, Hurricane Ian hammered Florida with gusty winds and heavy rainfall.

The death toll from what is already being called one of the deadliest storms to hit the US state continues to climb, and historic damage has been done. Meanwhile, thousands of residents had to be rescued by emergency workers. Samantha Gardner-Blake, a Jamaican living in Orlando, said the disaster brought memories of Hurricane Gilbert that slammed into Jamaica on September 12, 1988. She said that although there was no significant damage done to her dwelling, the experience with Ian was extremely frightening.

"It was really rough for me. I was alone with my two children, ages six weeks and five years. The lights keep chipping in and out and there was really heavy winds and thunder and lightning. Everything was happening at once and the speed of the wind was awful. It was very, very scary and it gave me memories of Hurricane Gilbert," she said.

Ian struck Florida as a monstrous Category 4 storm, with 150 mph (241 kph) winds that tied it for the fifth-strongest hurricane ever to hit the US.

Gardner-Blake said she was restless throughout Wednesday night and she prayed for dawn.

"It was very rough with a newborn and being alone, because my baby born premature and has breathing problems. In the event she had an episode last night, it would have been difficult to get medical attention for her in an appropriate time," the Jamaica-born Floridian said.

"It was very scary because there were lots of lightning, thunder and heavy winds along with heavy showers of rain all at once. The internet was down, lights keep going on and off, so it was scary right across the board," she said.

"When I heard the doors fell down on my patio, I thought it was gunshots, and for someone who was shot already, you can imagine how frightened I was. I didn't sleep the entire night. Thankfully water didn't come in on me because of the way my patio is, but a lot of my neighbours were flooded out and had to be evacuated to shelters," Gardner-Blake said.

The Associated Press on Thursday said that Ian flooded homes on both the state's coasts, cut off the only bridge to a barrier island, destroyed a historic waterfront pier and knocked out electricity to 2.67 million Florida homes and businesses -- nearly a quarter of utility customers.

At least 17 deaths have been reported in connection with Ian.