ORLANDO, Fla. – Hurricane Charley blew in and around Florida with 165 mile per hour (mph) winds but left Mississippi relatively unscathed – unless one was in the "eye of the storm."
Amanda Ledbetter of Batesville was, unfortunately, in Orlando, Fla. when the storm took a turn for the worse.
Ledbetter was in Orlando by invitation to the HOBY National Convention. She was in the Orlando Marriott Airport Hotel, about five miles from the airport.
She arrived in Orlando Thursday and there were a reported 14,000 hotel rooms available. The hotel filled up really fast with people from other areas. When the coastal towns were evacuated, everyone headed to Orlando because Charley was not expected to hit that area.
As hurricanes and tornadoes do, Charley turned without warning and headed straight for the Orlando area.
The town got the news Friday afternoon that it was in the direct path of Hurricane Charley.
"They didn’t say we couldn’t get on the roads," Ledbetter said. "They had out an advisory for us not to get on the roads. They closed the airport around 5 o’clock."
Ledbetter said they were asked not to use cell phones because they wanted to leave the lines open for emergency personnel.
"We knew it was coming. We just couldn’t do anything about it," she said.
Thus, Ledbetter called home and told her parents, Angie and Jamie, that she was not able to get out of Orlando and back to Batesville before the storm would hit.
Her mother had her put on a prayer list in several different states so everyone could pray for her to be safe. Her mother was glued to the weather channel, CNN, and the internet with a live satellite that showed regular updates of the storm’s path for two days.
Ledbetter related what she and the other convention goers and hotel guests did while waiting out the storm.
While tracking the storm on television, Ledbetter said the winds picked up around seven o’clock and got rougher. Her fifth floor window started to vibrate.
The next day that window was gone.
"From 7:30 to 8 o’clock I was literally watching transformers blow in Orlando. We were the last ones with power because we were on the same grid with the airport. I was watching everything go pitch black dark," she said.
The barometric pressure dropped so low, that the water was literally pulled down the toilet, according to Ledbetter.
"It was so weird watching this," she said.
Before the lights went out in the hotel, Ledbetter and crew headed down to the first floor. When the lights went out, the hotel evacuated the guests to the first floor conference room.
Before the winds reached the 100 miles per hour mark, Ledbetter and others went outside to take photos of themselves in winds around 78 mph.
"I had so much trouble standing up," she said. "The wind was blowing so hard I had to follow a wall. If I had stood up, it would have blown me away."
The hotel lost power around 8:45 p.m. and the storm hit around 9 o’clock. The hotel ran on emergency lights all night. The next morning the hotel had power by generator. All the guests had were lights in the room and one elevator was working. They could not drink the water either.
Ledbetter said she knew the storm was getting progressively worse because the hotel staff was "antsy."
"The entire hotel staff was there to help out during the storm. They were really prepared for it," she said.
"The computers were up so they knew what was going on," she added.
"We could hear the winds, even in that interior room. The walls were creaking and buckling. The chandeliers were swinging. I was sitting at a table waiting for it to blow over. I was poised to get under the table."
Ledbetter said there was a noise that kept scratching across the roof of the 10 -floor hotel that they think was the air conditioning unit.
Immediately following all that noise, it got deathly quiet, according to Ledbetter.
"You could hear a pin drop," she said. "It was so calm. There was no noise at all. We were in the eye of the storm."
They were watching the rain come down horizontally one minute and the next minute the flags, trees and rain were going the other way. A tornado came right after the hurricane.
When they went to inspect the damage Saturday morning, they found a parking lot with eight inches of rain and every other car was windowless, according to Ledbetter.
"We couldn’t see the pavement," Ledbetter said. "Uprooted trees were laying on their sides and sticking up in the air. Even the hotel’s satellite was wrapped around a pole.
"I felt like I was in a movie," she said. "When I saw the trees bending in half, it was like it was not real."
The airport was closed on Saturday, so Ledbetter was able to get out on Sunday. Her plane was delayed only an hour. Orlando had severe weather on Sunday which delayed flights even more.
Getting to the airport was an adventure in itself. The driver of the 15-passenger van took the guests to the airport through all the uprooted trees and damaged areas.
"We had to go through the parking lot. The guy just went straight through. It was a two or three minute ride to the airport," she said.
The palm trees withstood the storm better than the others, according to Ledbetter.
When she got to the airport, she went to terminal 36. Terminal 34 was totally damaged and closed to airport passengers.