>> Tuesday, July 30, 2013
** I want to start off saying that I'm only writing about this because I want to remember it, not for attention or anything else, it was just a very unique experience that I want to remember**
Wow. Last night was quite a night. Zach and I were relaxing in bed watching TV around 11pm when we heard what sounded like thunder in the distance. We didn't pay much attention to it at first, summer rainstorms are nothing new to Floridians, but the noise continued and the frequency at which the booms were occurring was increasing. Zach was the first to really notice this, and he asked me to turn off the TV and the lights in the room as he peered out the window. It sounded now almost like shotgun fire or canons, so he was worried that somewhere in the neighborhood someone had a gun. After realizing the sound was further away, he stepped outside to investigate and I took to Facebook to ask if anyone else could hear the booms as well. By the time he came back I had already received several responses on Facebook with people saying they could hear it too, but they lived in other towns. This was more concerning since it was the obvious it was much bigger than we thought. One girl commented that she heard it was the propane plant in Tavares and that there was a fire there. When Zach came back in he said the sky was orange and bright and with each boom there was a flash. He asked if I wanted to go check it out, so we got out of our pj's and went to the car.
We knew the plant in Tavares was in a rural area kind of across the lake from Mt. Dora, so we drove down to Lake Dora to get a better view but also stay safely away from what was happening. When we got to the lake the sight was incredible. It was pitch black except for this bright burning spot on the horizon, and the sky and lake all around it was lit up orange. We quickly parked the car and got out, walking out to the point. There were several dozen other people down there when we arrived, but within 10 minutes of our being there many more cars arrived. The street in both directions were backed up with cars of people trying to figure out what was going on too.
We watched from the point for a while, and with each boom of the explosions a fireball would shoot up past the flames. We guessed that this was all of the individual propane tanks exploding, we had been by the facility before and there were hundreds upon hundreds of tanks there (I later found out that there were 53,000). I only had my iPhone with me, so I snapped a few photos, watched a bit more, and then left. On the drive back home I posted the photos to Facebook and Instagram so that other people who weren't able to go to the lake could see what was happening.
My friend Angela saw my image and posted it on Twitter and credited my twitter handle in the photo. I guess that this got passed around, and within 10 minutes I had people from ABC contacting me on Twitter about the photo and asking if they could use it. I wrote back telling them they could, and then I was asked in a followup message about giving an interview on what I saw. It was about midnight at this time, but I got a call from a reporter with ABC in Tampa and told him what we saw. When I finished speaking with him he asked if he could pass my information along to Good Morning America and his other colleagues. I told him that was fine and hung up with the promise to email more of the photos over. After that call I saw that what I had been talking to the reporter about was being live tweeted on Twitter with quotes back to my account. Five minutes later I got a call from CNN International asking if I'd do a radio interview about what I saw. I was shocked that anyone cared what I even saw since I was so far from the blast (I told everyone I spoke to that I was about 7 miles away), but it seemed that my photo that my friend posted made me a point of interest.
Here are the two photos I took at the lake
As I was on hold with CNN, I got an email from a producer at Good Morning America asking if I'd be willing to do a phone or Skype interview with them in the morning. I wrote back saying I would, and then CNN came on the line and interviewed me live about what I saw. I kept looking at Zach with a look that said "is this really happening?" I was happy to talk to everyone, but I felt that I was not really qualified to speak about it, my perspective and knowledge of the situation was limited. All of the amazing fire and rescue teams should've been talking about what happened, or people who were closer to the plant. But I did my best to be as accurate and factual as I could without sounding emotional (I didn't want to be one of those crazy people you see on TV after a disaster!).
After I hung up with CNN, ABC called me again and said they wanted to set up a live interview with me in the morning, and that their producer would come to pick me up at 5:30am and drive me to the location. It was about 1:45am at this point, and the thought of getting up at 4-ish to get ready seemed daunting. But I agreed and set my alarm. After that call, I got a call from Fox & Friends wanting to do an interview in the morning as well, but I had to turn them down because GMA asked that I not talk to anyone else. We got two more calls after that, but I just told Zach to ignore them, we were both so tired and it was after 2 in the morning.
I finally fell asleep around 2:30am and then woke up promptly at 4:20am. I took a shower, put on my makeup, dried my hair, and just as I was about to change I got a call telling me that GMA decided not to do any interviews so I was no longer needed. Oh my gosh. As relieved as I was (I was nervous about talking any more about it!) I was also frustrated because I had gotten ready and barely had any sleep. First world problems, I know...
No sooner had I hung up with GMA when CNN called again asking about doing another interview at 6am. It was about 5:15am at this point so I agreed, brewed myself some tea, sat down on the couch and decided to read news articles until my phone rang. Well 6am came and went, so around 6:30am I stopped waiting, got up, washed off my makeup then climbed back in bed. Zach had to get up for work soon, so I stayed awake reading until about 8am when he left, then promptly fell asleep. I stayed that way until another friend called me around noon to tell me he saw me quoted in a CNN article.
It is still all completely surreal to me that I was chosen as the "witness to talk to" about this, ABC told me on the phone that I was their only witness. I found this so shocking, the internet was going crazy with news on this! But honestly, I am just so relieved that no one was killed. I know that there were 7-8 injuries, but I am praying that they are not so bad that the people don't recover. I am also so thankful that the many friends and family in the fire/rescue teams in our community were safe and were also unharmed. Having several friends in both of those fields definitely had me concerned for their safety, and its a relief to know they're all ok.
Below is a snapshot from ABC's Facebook page with my image, and then below that is the CNN interview which I didn't find out about until this morning when friends tagged me in posts with the link.
So there it is, my 15 minutes of fame. And all thanks to the power of social media. The whole experience was a whirlwind and crazy, but I know not nearly as crazy as what was happening in Tavares at the plant. Watching the news coverage was so bizarre, you see things like this on TV all the time, but you never think about them happening so close to home. I hope that I was able to help the news agencies in any way, they were all very friendly and apologetic for calling so late/early, which I did appreciate. Again, I want to state that I only wrote this for my own benefit so that I could remember this night, it was definitely the experience of a lifetime!
Wishing all those involved and injured a speedy and healthy recovery.