It’s been roughly four months since Hurricane Irma made her slow pass up Florida’s peninsula, but her wrath of devastation still remains in many areas. As previously mentioned, this was the first major hurricane my family and I have had to deal with, and while we are grateful to have not been in Puerto Rico, Cuba, or the Florida Keys at the time of impact, even where we are we see the lasting effects of a major storm like she was.
For starters, the infrastructure still has not been repaired or restored back to what it was before the storm. There are roadways located throughout our town that still have potholes, still show signs of erosion in the medians or on the sides, and many areas where water rose or flooded still have pools of standing water in them. The road was under water in two places near my parents’ home, and there are still puddles of water sitting in parts of those areas.
Yet, Mother Nature does not hold the rain back in those areas, nor has she spared us from freezing temperatures this winter, all of which further exacerbate the already damaged infrastructure.
The destruction I have just detailed is a mere drop in the deluge of problems still affecting the islands Irma mercilessly tore apart.
I have not ever lived in a hurricane-prone area, so this experience is very eye-opening for me. I can remember feeling sympathy for the people I saw on the news walking the freeways and desperately trying to hitch rides out of New Orleans back in 2005, but unless you have been there, seen it, felt it, heard it…you have no idea just what a hurricane really can do. And the common misconception that even I held before September 2017 was that once they’re gone, you clean up and start again.
Well, yes and no. Sure, they blow through and the climate might return to normal, but hardly anything else ever does. You can start again, but you’re starting again in a newly ravaged area. People living in low-lying areas have had their livelihoods washed away, and my guess is that they have not quite returned to life as they knew it before. They likely won’t for quite a while (years). A simple trip to the coast or 20-30 miles north of where I live is riddled with reminders of what happened. Along the interstate freeways, ponds have now formed where there were none previously, and those ponds spill over each time we receive rain of at least 1-2 inches. We aren’t even able to frequent our family’s favorite beach spot as the boardwalk has been badly damaged and still awaits repair (it was first damaged by Hurricane Matthew in 2016, and then Irma showed up to put the nail in the coffin in 2017).
It is these visual reminders of Irma’s power that have the tendency to prolong the nightmare of a hurricane. Indeed, we are fortunate to have gotten away with minimal damage or inconveniences, but Irma’s presence is still here, just as Katrina’s presence is still (yes, still) being felt in New Orleans, and Harvey’s presence will be felt for many years in Houston. This is the part of the disaster that The Weather Channel doesn’t cover. These are the details that public officials are no longer focused on when they give press conferences. The 24-hour news cycle isn’t picking this up.
And it’s not anyone’s fault, but I bring up this subject to outline the weight such widespread disasters carry. The damage is done in an instant, but the recovery effort takes much, much longer to commence, let alone complete. In the collective short-term memory of the American people, these disasters disappear. Do not be ignorant to the fact that devastation from a category 5 hurricane, a massive wildfire, a substantial earthquake, or the like will be felt for years and years to come, often impacting multiple generations in a family over time. I was ignorant to this, and Irma has since taught me to wise up. It’s been one of the biggest eye-openers I have experienced since moving to the Sunshine State, as well as one of the heaviest triggers I’ve had to fight off with anxiety as my dark passenger. I am a supporter of moving on from devastation, but some events you don’t really move on from…you just move through it somehow.