My family and I weathered our first hurricane together on the night of September 10th and into the morning of September 11, 2017. While the storm has moved on and dissipated, my internal climate has taken more time to calm down. The entire event was surreal, and the second major disaster I’ve experienced since turning 30.
Around September 3rd, I began paying attention to a new major hurricane in the Atlantic, but my main fears mostly went out to the people of the Caribbean. Hot on the heels of Harvey, Irma formed and gained intensity quickly as she menacingly traversed the Atlantic.
The news outlets of this area were quick to whip the people into a frenzy over Irma’s approach, and I wasn’t interested in jumping on the wagon. Hurricane Hermine swept through north Florida last year as did Hurricane Matthew, and in both cases, I saw folks either freaking the eff out or being nonchalant. No in-between. Given that this wasn’t our first rodeo with disaster preparation, we remained calm and did what we needed to. Ahead of the crowds, we bought a couple backup cases of water, gassed up our cars using fuel rewards offered to us by Shell, ordered in a crank powered emergency radio, and started going over the “plan.” It could be a real emergency or just Governor Scott trying to scare us all again (note: last year, he told us all that Matthew would KILL us and our children, so we don’t place much stock in the things he says) but we would be prepared either way. For the sake of our babies, we would be prepared.
As the days went by, the storm tracks released by the various models used by television meteorologists and The Weather Channel all placed Irma in differing vicinities of Florida. The earliest predictions showed her devastating the Islands and then turning sharply northward, missing Florida. Then later, they showed her grazing the east coast of the Sunshine State. By about September 6th or so, I got fed up trying to decipher what weather man Bob was trying to tell me, and just started studying Irma, hurricane patterns, wind patterns, and weather on my own.
I told myself the only reason to really be concerned was if Irma decided to swing west. Being that we are only about 45 miles inland from the Gulf Coast, as opposed to 90 miles inland from the Atlantic Coast, a western impact would cause us to feel things more. She had also strengthened to a Category 5 by this point, and my prayers were that she did not enter the Gulf and shift upward. Such a track would’ve put our family, as well as a lot of others that I know, in lots of danger.
As we crept closer to the weekend, it became clear that we would indeed experience this one. As I looked around me, I noticed things I haven’t ever since we moved down here. The stores began running out of basic needs items. Shelves were empty. Gas stations began running out of gas. Main Street here in my town became uncharacteristically crowded as South Floridians began their mass exodus of The Keys and cities like Miami, Naples, and Ft. Lauderdale. They were using any route to escape, and since the I-75 freeway literally turned into a slow moving snake of traffic (at times, a parking lot even) they were using the state routes to travel north. I wasn’t mad, just astonished…
Church marquees even displayed ominous messages such “Peace Be with You in the Storm,” and this one:
I contacted our nanny to ask about her mother who lives in Miami, and she informed me that her family wasn’t going to make it out ahead of the storm. She asked if she could come ride it out with us, and we agreed it’d be best for her. It’d be nice for the kids to have another familiar face around, too. Kennedy’s school canceled preschool for Friday and Monday, and many businesses began boarding up.
Then came the weekend. Hurricane warning alerts were sent to our phones, along with tornado watches and severe weather warnings. I’d never seen anything like it. My father scoffed at the notion of it being that serious, but mandatory evacuation orders were issued for our county for all those in unsafe structures such as trailers and RV’s.
I didn’t really start feeling nervous until I saw that.
I began cleaning the house from top to bottom. I figured that if we were stranded at home for a few days, I at least wanted the environment to be a clean one (clean is where I’m most comfortable). I cooked up a giant pot of chili that could easily be put on ice and heated bit by bit over the gas range in the event of power loss, and I started listening more closely to the weather radio to hear updates on the warnings. Sunday would be the day, but nobody knew just when.
It was midnight, actually.
I was grateful it was at night when the kids were asleep. Mentally, I think that was easier on Kennedy. Adrian was awake as we had him sleeping in our bed and K was on the floor. The sounds were frightening – big limbs falling off of the trees and hitting our house; loud, swirling winds that made the doors and windows creak and crack; buckets and buckets of rain being dumped on us all at once. It went on this way for about four hours. Then total darkness as the power went out.
In pitch black, I kept myself calm as I quietly wrapped my hand in Fabian’s behind his pillow. Adrian was still cooing and making baby sounds, the dogs were stirring, K was sleeping. It was pretty perfect, because there was no panic, but I did dread the morning when we would have the light of day to inspect our home and property.
When morning came, we found tons of tree branches and limbs scattered everywhere, but nothing serious to our structure. The fence, the windows, our cars, all were intact. I was so grateful…
So many folks were not this lucky. There’s been widespread power outages, flooding, structural damage, and irreversible destruction in some places. Our babies were safe, as were our pets, and so were we.
The official report states Irma entered our county as a Category 1 and weakened to a tropical storm. If that’s what Cat 1 feels like, my heart goes even further out to the people who weathered storms like Katrina, Wilma, Rita, Harvey, and any other catastrophic storm. Cat 1 was scary enough.
But the experience is not lost on me. I’ve had to toughen up a lot since moving down to this crazy state, and Irma certainly aided me on that journey. She was a major trigger for my anxiety, but with the tools I’ve gained, I’m managing that okay. Kennedy’s school reopened today and she was excited to get back to her normal routine. We’ve all been happy to get back to doing what resembles normal in the wake of Irma. Here’s hoping we don’t have to tango with any more hurricanes for the remainder of our time as Floridians. Supposedly, Irma’s landfall in Florida was the first major one since Wilma in 2005.