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Winnipeg woman fears worst for family home as access opens to Florida Keys

Angela Coleman is ready to drive her RV from Winnipeg to Florida, if that's what her aunt and uncle decide. They are waiting to assess damage to their family home after after Hurricane Irma.

Family in Manitoba and Florida watching footage closely, desperate for glimpse of Lower Keys home

Angela Coleman poses with her daughter in the 'backyard' of her aunt and uncle's home in Florida's Cudjoe Keys. (Supplied/Angela Coleman)

It has been three days since Hurricane Irma struck Florida's Lower Keys and Robert Blanc has spent them searching for a glimpse of his seaside home — something his niece in Winnipeg has also been doing.

"I have been spending more time watching television than any time in my life, and I'm 87 years old so I've had plenty of opportunity," said Blanc.

Blanc's home is located in Venture Out Park along the seawall in Cudjoe Key, a chain of islands that stretch from Miami all the way to Key West. It was one of the areas hit hardest by Irma the United States, facing winds of up to 200 km/h.

Blanc and his wife were in Miami when the evacuation orders came down, so they headed north from there. As of Wednesday night, he was in Orlando, waiting for authorities to open travel to the Lower Keys, but is uncertain when he'll actually make the drive home.

"There's no water there, there's no electricity, there's no gasoline, there's no food, so I'm not sure that's anything we want to get into," said Blanc.

Blanc's niece, Angela Coleman, has been watching coverage of the hurricane from her Winnipeg home with a similar intensity. Her uncle and aunt's home in Venture Out Park has been in the family since 1973 and first belonged to her grandparents.

"I used to call the ocean 'grandma's backyard,' where you could park the boat and go fishing or kayaking," said Coleman, who is originally from Missouri.

Robert Blanc's home was built along the seawall in Cudjoe Key, one of the areas hit hardest by Hurricane Irma in the U.S. (Supplied/Angela Coleman)

Years after her aunt and uncle acquired the property, Coleman lived on the property. At the time, she was finishing her degree and working as a veterinary student at a local clinic.

"Venture Out Park is a beautiful park. It has a beautiful pool and tennis court, a marina and a general store … and I'm afraid none of that is really there anymore," said Coleman.

Coleman is ready to drive her RV down to Florida to gather her aunt and uncle and bring them back to Winnipeg but Blanc says it's difficult to make plans with so little information about the damage to his home.

Building again

As for starting over on the property, that's a road they've been down before.

After Hurricane Georges hit in 1998, the family's home was obliterated. They were in Washington, D.C., at the time, but spotted their home in CNN's coverage of the event.

"They did a flyover of the worst destruction and that was our house," said Blanc.

"The house at that time was at ground level. This time it's up on stilts about 12 feet. We'll see whether that made a difference," he said.

Blanc says authorities granted access first to the Upper Keys on Tuesday and the Middle Keys on Wednesday. He expects they'll open access to the Lower Keys on Thursday.

About the Author

Kim Kaschor

Associate Producer

Kim Kaschor is a journalist living in Winnipeg. With roots in rural Manitoba, she has a passion for hyperlocal community issues, grassroots development and social justice. You can connect with Kim at kim.kaschor@cbc.ca.