Chris McGregor remembers being awakened by hotel staff and told he and his teammates had to leave — fast.
It was August, 1992 and McGregor was part of the Fraser Valley Chiefs, a team of 16- to 18-year-olds representing Canada in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. at the Big League Baseball World Series.
The championships had wrapped up and the team was preparing to return to Vancouver the next day but Hurricane Andrew was expected to hit earlier than anticipated.
The Canadian contingent was quickly shuttled off to South Plantation High School, joining hundreds of others seeking shelter from the storm.
The 17-year-old McGregor was one of three Langley teens on the team, alongside Jeff Danton, 17, and Ryan Thompson, 18.
“It was like opposite ends of the spectrum,” McGregor told the Times back in 1992. “At the beginning of the week, we were on top of the world, playing at the World Series. On Sunday night we were wondering if we were going to make it back home to tell people about it.”
Twenty-five years later — as Florida braces for the impact of Hurricane Irma this weekend — McGregor vividly remembers the experience.
Back then, they thought of it as an adventure, as McGregor said they were too young to know any better.
“We were pretty naive to what was coming,” admitted the 42-year-old, who still lives in Langley.
The team stored its luggage in a shed at the baseball field and players were only allowed to take one change of clothing and a jacket, which would also serve as their pillow. They managed to pick up a few supplies — bottled water, jam, peanut butter, chips and crackers — before leaving their posh hotel for a makeshift shelter.
Using nearby pay phones, the players were able to make quick calls home.
His dad, Jim, remembers getting the call.
“I recall getting a 30 second call from my son, ‘Dad, there is a big hurricane coming we have to go to a shelter, we can’t fly home. Call again when I can.’
“I sat up all night and watched the hurricane make landfall on CNN.”
Prior to hunkering down for the night, the younger McGregor and his teammates were outside the school.
“What really sticks out to me was how the wind just kept picking up and increasing and getting stronger and stronger,” he said.
“I remember leaning into the wind … and the wind was holding me up.
“I just remember being in awe and that was hours before the storm was even there.”
Once inside the school, the team joined hundreds of others, with families given space inside classrooms and the rest instructed to bed down in the gymnasium.
They followed what was happening outside on a TV in the gym until the power was knocked out, plunging everything into darkness.
No one was allowed near any of the doors or windows.
There was little sleep that night as the wind and rain pounded the shelter, tearing off part of the gym’s roof.
The next morning, once the storm had passed, they were able to go outside and see the destruction.
The majority of the 400 or so people in the shelter, were local residents who had driven to the school. With the wind having reached speeds up to 280 km/h they found their cars scattered across the parking lot.
“It was like a kid leaving their hot wheels in a corner; it has pushed them over into clusters,” McGregor recalled.
“Huge trees were uprooted and air conditioning units from the roof of the school were launched like flying saucers. It was surreal.”
“Just seeing the damage and the destruction that the storm had caused … it just blew me away.”
The National Guard roamed the streets, making sure there was no looting.
The team gathered their belongings from the baseball field and took a bus to Miami. Their new hotel offered the barest of necessities — no power or hot water — but there were nearby pay phones, allowing the players to call their loved ones.
The next day, the team embarked on a 23-hour, seven-city flight back to Vancouver.
Watching the news coverage this week, McGregor said it brings back a lot of memories from 25 years ago.
“I am impressed by Mother Nature and what she can do,” he said.
— with Langley Times files