A Rotorua man in Orlando is counting his blessings after escaping the brunt of Hurricane Irma.

Connor Hignett, who is working at Disney World as part of a cultural exchange programme, said there was a mix of anticipation and concern in his apartment building, ahead of the storm, which landed in Orlando, Florida last night.

"It was actually more the locals who were concerned as opposed to the foreigners.

"Some people actually left the state completely because the storm was coming. The concern and anticipation was about half and half."


Despite local police putting a curfew in place, the former Western Heights High School student thought his area had escaped the worst of the storm, compared with other parts of Florida.

"It was just strong winds. Irma hit us the hardest at 2am so while I stayed up for a while, I was asleep by then. The main area that was hit was along the west coast of Florida from what I've seen."

The police curfew had just lifted when Mr Hignett spoke to the Rotorua Daily Post.

"I haven't been outside yet but from what I can see there are just leaves and branches everywhere - all over the roads, inside the apartment complex as well.

"There wasn't as much flooding where I am but I know there has been in other places ... I was more concerned about people's cars more than anything.

"While I have never experienced a storm like that, there wasn't ever a point when I was concerned for my own safety. The building we're in is quite secure."

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He said although his family back home were concerned in the beginning, he had kept them updated, putting them at ease.

"As much of a novelty as it was, I definitely feel for the other areas that were more impacted.

"I can now say that I have lived through the second biggest storm that has ever hit the Atlantic coast."

Mr Hignett has been in the United States for three weeks and said he was loving the exchange, despite recent weather.

Rotorua-born and bred Amanda Sefton-Hernandez lives in Greenville, South Carolina.

She said the city caught the tail end of the hurricane with lots of rain and high winds bringing down trees and causing power outages. Schools had been closed for today and tomorrow.

She said there were a lot of people in the area who had evacuated from Florida.

"It's been interesting watching how the evacuations and everything has been handled. The people here are amazing and open their homes to evacuees, provide shelters for pets, fields for horses.

"While sometimes I find the way things are done over here strange, you cannot match the sense of community and caring that comes out during disasters and times of strife."