On the heels of Hurricane Harvey, which devastated the city of Houston and other communities in Texas and Louisiana, Hurricane Irma ravaged several islands in the Caribbean—and then headed for the states. In the days before she made landfall in the US, the media offered seemingly minute-to-minute updates on her progress. Each new forecast seemed to contradict the previous, demonstrating the unpredictability of natural disasters. But as the hurricane crept closer, one thing was evident: Florida was going to take a hard hit.
Keeping up with the fluctuating weather report was like watching a tennis match: East Coast … nope, not the East Coast … probably the middle of the state. We breathed periodic sighs of relief but remained leery. Then, several of the spaghetti plots (may I never hear that term again!) showed Irma veering west—right over our heads. Hysteria set in. One meteorologist sounded absolutely frantic as she warned people to GET READY!!!!
Now, to be clear: My purpose in writing is not to disparage media coverage or governmental response, nor to minimize anyone else’s struggles. Rather, I want to share how the hurricane affected my neighbors, friends, family, and myself—and continues to do so, weeks afterward.
Once Irma’s course was set, we swept into action. Our emergency plan included hurricane-proofing our home—protective awnings placed over the windows; outside decorations put away; grill stored properly; palm trees trimmed—and laying in sufficient supplies (gallon jugs of water, needed medications, bread and peanut butter). We gathered important documents, filled the car with gas, and made sure to have cash on hand. This flurry of activity got the adrenaline pumping, but there was something satisfying about checking off each item on our list. Before you knew it, we were set.
Then Governor Scott took the proactive step of declaring a state of emergency, before Irma was even in striking distance. This was beneficial for all Floridians, since it positioned us to receive federal assistance if needed and allowed local officials to act quickly, without the burden of bureaucracy or red tape.
However, as this news spread, our phones began to ring, buzz, and ping. Friends around the country wanted to know, “Are you okay?” and to offer us a place to stay if we needed to get out. These well-intentioned messages were appreciated—but each expression of concern reminded us that we were facing something big. We were fine, though. Prepared. And the storm could still bypass us or at least hit in a weakened state.
As Irma moved closer, the nervous energy in our little community began to rise. Some neighbors headed north several days before the predicted arrival, spending hours in traffic. We were glad we’d decided to shelter in place instead! Our decision was met with worried looks and wringing hands, which perplexed us. After all, we live about two miles from the Gulf of Mexico and 40-plus feet above sea level. My parents had moved to the area in 1978, and Dad always told us it was where people evacuated to, not from. No problem!
Except … then the mandatory evacuation notice was given. Uh oh! Time to revisit our “shelter in place” plan. What were the options again?
Plan A: Call a friend who lives three towns away in a non-evacuation zone. But her daughter gets evacuated every storm, so she, her husband, and their three dogs had already claimed the guest room.
Plan B: Call another friend in the next town over. She was happy to accommodate us! We planned to arrive the night before the predicted hit and wait out the storm there. The plan was foolproof ... until she also got a mandatory evacuation notice.
Plan C: Find a hotel in a safe area. No luck—all booked.