Irma's fury in the Keys: High winds, waves, then devastation

Huge waves crashed down on this tropical paradise, pounding the white sands of Summerland Key with brute fury. Then came bomb-blast winds as Hurricane Irma slammed ashore.

For survivors John Hartman and Mae Skiver, the worst was yet to come as they sheltered in a friend’s house, utterly at the mercy of the monster storm now thrashing this slender island chain.

The two 27-year-olds both lived in trailers in neighboring Cudjoe Key in this palm-studded archipelago that juts about 120 miles (190 kilometers) away from South Florida across warm waters.

They and other survivors told The Associated Press what they experienced in Irma’s monstrous grip.

Hartman and Skiverhow said they watched 10-foot (3-meter) waves churning as Irma approached. As Irma pounded the Keys, even the second floor of their friend’s home began to flood. Then the ceiling caved in. Possibly there were tornados, too. The sound was so loud, Hartman says, “it hurt your eardrums.”

Like others in this idyllic spot for snorkeling, boating, fishing and laid-backed nonchalance, they didn’t believe the eye would pass right over them. But it did.

“Nobody did beforehand, but then by the time we (knew), it was too late,” Skiver said. Afterward, they emerged to find the homes on either side of their friend’s house had their roofs torn off.

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