September 12, 2017 19:10 GMT by dailymail.co.uk

Florida couple reveal their decision to ride out Irma

Florida couple reveal their decision to ride out Irma

Donna and James Wiley, from Eustis, Florida, near Orlando, narrowly escaped death when a 40-foot pine tree came crashing down on their double-wide trailer home, early on Monday morning.

Donna Wiley thought about evacuating her Florida home when news of how huge Hurricane Irma was set to spin its deadly path through the state.

'It was a very brief thought,' the 57-year-old exclusively told DailyMail.com. 'When a hurricane comes I never normally even consider leaving, but this time I did think about it for a couple of seconds.'

In the end she and husband James, 50, decided to stay put and ride out the storm in their three-bedroom double-wide trailer on the outskirts of Eustis, Florida, some 25 miles northwest of Orlando.

And that decision was nearly the last one they ever made. 

At exactly 5am Monday, a massive 40-foot pine tree from a neighbor's property came crashing down, caving in the roof and landing within feet of where the couple was sleeping.

Donna and James Wiley, from Eustis, Florida, near Orlando, narrowly escaped death when a 40-foot pine tree came crashing down on their double-wide trailer home, early on Monday morning. The married couple had decided not to evacuate before Hurricane Irma ripped through the state

Donna and James Wiley, from Eustis, Florida, near Orlando, narrowly escaped death when a 40-foot pine tree came crashing down on their double-wide trailer home, early on Monday morning. The married couple had decided not to evacuate before Hurricane Irma ripped through the state

Although the tree caused extensive damage to their home and vehicles, both Donna and James and their two dogs, Little Girl, a 10-year-old boxer and Cletus, nine, a shorkie or shih-tzu-Yorkie cross , were unharmed 

Although the tree caused extensive damage to their home and vehicles, both Donna and James and their two dogs, Little Girl, a 10-year-old boxer and Cletus, nine, a shorkie or shih-tzu-Yorkie cross , were unharmed 

The massive tree was located on their neighbor's property and caused their roof to cave in. The tree landed just a few feet away from where the Wileys were sleeping, which could have killed them if it had landed on them 

The massive tree was located on their neighbor's property and caused their roof to cave in. The tree landed just a few feet away from where the Wileys were sleeping, which could have killed them if it had landed on them 

'I know it was 5 because I grabbed my flashlight and shone it at the clock on the wall,' said James. 'The ceiling had come down and was now at a level just below the 12 on the clock.'

For hours James and Donna were stuck as the storm howled around them. The fallen tree was blocking the front door and a downed power pole made an escape from the back a potentially deadly venture.

Power was off, their phones were down — a massive surge when the electricity cut out had drained all the juice from their cellphones and their landline was dead.

James and Donna Wiley were literally trapped in their own home.

'We didn't know what we were going to do,' said James, a mason. 'I grabbed my flashlight and I could see all the wires down out the back so I knew I wasn't going near them. I was worried about getting zapped.

'And the tree covered the front door, meaning we couldn't get out there.'

The Wileys' story is one of hundreds up and down the Sunshine State that show how staying put despite official warnings of how Irma — the largest hurricane ever to form in the open Atlantic — could have cost many more lives.

The tree also crushed the roof on their 1999 Ford Explorer, which they had parked outside the home's front door

The tree also crushed the roof on their 1999 Ford Explorer, which they had parked outside the home's front door

The couple knew the dangers of staying put and decided to live with them. 'We're not people of means,' said James. 'We can't just up and go and find a hotel to stay in when this sort of thing happens'

The couple knew the dangers of staying put and decided to live with them. 'We're not people of means,' said James. 'We can't just up and go and find a hotel to stay in when this sort of thing happens'

Along with the more than 20 million other people in Florida, the Wileys know the dangers of hurricanes, especially one as massive as Irma. 'But perhaps we had become a bit lax because it has been so long since the last one,' said Donna

Along with the more than 20 million other people in Florida, the Wileys know the dangers of hurricanes, especially one as massive as Irma. 'But perhaps we had become a bit lax because it has been so long since the last one,' said Donna

Governor Rick Scott had warned Floridians of the dangers, ordering more than 6 million to evacuate to find safety. But miraculously, as of Tuesday morning, the state's confirmed death toll hadn't reached the teens with another 40 or so killed in the Caribbean, Georgia and South Carolina. 

Lake County, which includes Eustis, was under a voluntary evacuation order, but it was hit harder than expected when the hurricane's eye moved directly over it.

James and Donna knew the dangers of staying put and decided to live with them. 'We're not people of means,' said James. 'We can't just up and go and find a hotel to stay in when this sort of thing happens.'

Donna's health was another consideration. She has already survived six heart attacks and open heart surgery, and she wanted to stay in the place they have called home for nearly two years.

'It may not look much but this is the house we wanted,' said James. 'I was staying in a bed and breakfast and Donna was with her father in Clearwater when we saw this place. We came down and waited six hours for the landlord and he said it wasn't ready.

'I told him: "You don't understand, we need to move in now. I've got the money," — and it turned out all he had to do was put up one cabinet shelf. I said don't worry about that, I'll do that and he let us have it.' 

 The Wileys still consider themselves lucky. Donna said: 'I have lived in Florida all my life and this was the first time I had gotten nervous about a hurricane. I guess there was good reason for that!'

 The Wileys still consider themselves lucky. Donna said: 'I have lived in Florida all my life and this was the first time I had gotten nervous about a hurricane. I guess there was good reason for that!'

Another consideration for the Wileys not to leave was Donna's health. She has already survived six heart attacks and open heart surgery, and she wanted to stay in the place they have called home for nearly two years

Another consideration for the Wileys not to leave was Donna's health. She has already survived six heart attacks and open heart surgery, and she wanted to stay in the place they have called home for nearly two years

The Wileys' story is one of hundreds up and down the Sunshine State that show how staying put despite official warnings of how Irma ¿ the largest hurricane ever to form in the open Atlantic ¿ could have cost many more lives

The Wileys' story is one of hundreds up and down the Sunshine State that show how staying put despite official warnings of how Irma — the largest hurricane ever to form in the open Atlantic — could have cost many more lives

There they settled happily with their two dogs, Little Girl, a 10-year-old boxer and Cletus, nine, a shorkie or shih-tzu-Yorkie cross.

And everything was fine until Irma unleashed her fury, first on the northern Caribbean before striking the Bahamas and Cuba and eventually moving on to the Keys and up through the Florida peninsula.

Along with the more than 20 million other people in Florida, the Wileys know the dangers of hurricanes, especially one as massive as Irma. 'But perhaps we had become a bit lax because it has been so long since the last one,' said Donna.

But at 5am on Monday that complacency came to an end. 'The winds were whistling all around, it was like a "whoop, whoop, whoop sound," James explained.

'I was in one room, she was in another, so we were both a bit unclear where the tree had come through. I hollered for her and she hollered for me.'

Meanwhile Little Girl and Cletus refused to leave Donna's side, adding to the confusion inside the house that lies on the normally busy road connecting Eustis with nearby Umatilla.

'They were getting very clingy,' she said. 

Once the light came up, some two and a half hours after disaster had nearly struck the couple, they decided the time had finally come to try to make their escape from their own home.

'Once I could see, I could break off a few branches and I could help Donna out,' said James.

Outside they saw the full force of what had happened. Their roof on their 1999 Ford Explorer that they parked outside the front door was caved in. The aluminum roof to their home was smashed.

Donna, 57, and James, 50, were stuck inside their home for hours because the tree blocked the front door and a downed power pole made an exit from the back a risky decision

Donna, 57, and James, 50, were stuck inside their home for hours because the tree blocked the front door and a downed power pole made an exit from the back a risky decision

Irma first unleashed her fury on the northern Caribbean before striking the Bahamas and Cuba and eventually moving on to the Keys and up through the Florida peninsula

Irma first unleashed her fury on the northern Caribbean before striking the Bahamas and Cuba and eventually moving on to the Keys and up through the Florida peninsula

One of the reasons the Wileys are likely to not move on is their 'great' landlord, Bob Saladin. Within 10 hours of its fall, the tons of timber from the giant pine had been carted away and the house was ready for work to begin

One of the reasons the Wileys are likely to not move on is their 'great' landlord, Bob Saladin. Within 10 hours of its fall, the tons of timber from the giant pine had been carted away and the house was ready for work to begin

Despite the pine's direct hit, neither they nor their dogs had suffered a scratch. 'Yes, we were all unhurt,' said Donna.

 But did they consider themselves lucky to have gotten out unscathed, or unlucky that their neighbor's tree had fallen smack on their home?

'It's a bit of both, I think,' said Donna. 'I have lived in Florida all my life and this was the first time I had gotten nervous about a hurricane.

'I guess there was good reason for that!'

Now that Irma is in the history books, at least as far as Florida is concerned, James and Donna have to look to the future. 'I have a daughter in Arizona and she says we should come and live there away from hurricanes,' said Donna.

'When she heard my voice this morning and heard what had happened she broke down.

'But I don't think so. This is home.'

One of the reasons they are likely to stay is their 'great' landlord, Bob Saladin. Within 10 hours of its fall, the tons of timber from the giant pine had been carted away and the house was ready for work to begin.

'Not only that, but he came and saw what had happened to my car and he said he'd got a car for sale for $1,500,' revealed James. 'So I'm getting a 2003 PT Cruiser for a $100 a month.' 

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