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In the Eye of Irma

In the Eye of Irma

This has been the most nerve-wracking, intimidating, uncertain, uneasy, outright scary week of my life.

I’m writing from the comforts of my sister’s guest bedroom as my little one innocently naps next to me. I’m grateful he’s not privvy to the situation surrounding him. Along with my husband, dog, and bunny, we all just escaped the Gulf coast as Hurricane Irma pounds it tonight into tomorrow.

Looking back, to have chosen the Gulf coast when having moved to Florida because it is “less susceptible to hurricanes”, and now to see SARASOTA plastered on the news as currently directly in Irma’s path, it’s almost laughable.

We’ve only lived in this town for 1.5 years (and Florida, period, for not quite 3) and this is the storm of the century.

Honestly, what are the chances?

It’s no surprise. After all, again, I’m the woman who had a frog in her toilet, and I got hit with the hockey puck while watching a game in the stands. If the chances are slim, it has happened– or will happen– to me.

And people wonder why I have anxiety…

“Why didn’t they leave?”

If I still lived up north and saw this news on TV, I, too, would wonder why all people didn’t leave their homes. It may seem to others that we had a week to figure things out. That wasn’t the case.

Everyone has their reasons, but all I can give is my backstory.

As of Monday prior to the storm (so 6 days or so out), the track was incredibly uncertain, but most models pointed the path towards the east coast. With a job, my son, a dog, a bunny, and my husband, it wasn’t realistic or seemingly necessary to instantly take a spontaneous vacation for God-knows-how-long somewhere random. It didn’t seem warranted (yet) to flee for our lives at that time. We didn’t book a flight anywhere. We didn’t pack the car. We followed the models and hoped for the best.

By Tuesday, all of the models shifted to the east coast. Great news for us– not so much for my sister and friends on the east coast. Plus, due to the size of the storm, we learned we’d still be experiencing hurricane conditions on our side regardless. We were looking at high winds and probable loss of power.

Time to prepare to ride it out.

As Florida hurricane rookies, we nonchalantly decided to stock up on some water and other foods that day. We were calm and collected. After all, when moving down, locals joked that hurricanes are only a big deal to people up north, and Floridians throw “hurricane parties.”

So why, then, was Walmart out of bottled water by the time I got to the store that day? And Winn Dixie? And the dollar store? Actually, both dollar stores that I visited?

I was beginning to feel confused, and a bit uneasy.

I snuck over to a Walmart Marketplace store that’s pretty empty on any given day. I figured no one would think to try there. Though others did have the same idea, I happened to arrive as a truck got there with a fresh shipment of water. Over the loudspeaker (please, imagine this), they announced that we could get into line in the drink aisle and cases would be loaded directly from the truck into our carts.

30th or so in line and standing near the dairy section with an empty cart, I started wondering, is this real life? Am I really waiting inside Walmart for cases of water? This sh*t is getting serious.

Over the next few days, while juggling work, my family, and the house, I found time to wait in line for sandbags, check out the plywood in the garage that would ultimately be used to board our windows, and dig up the hurricane clips that the previous owner of our home pointed out to us in our garage when we moved in.

“Hopefully you won’t need these much,” she had said.

I saw that some mom friends on my local forums had decided to drive or fly away for the week to escape the storm’s potential impact. NOW just considering doing the same, I started looking at pet-friendly hotels 7+ hours away. After all, it’d be four hours just to get out Florida at all. Maybe Atlanta would be a safer place, just in case?


What the…?

That’s okay, the storm might impact Atlanta anyway. What about Alabama?
Do we really need to drive to Alabama rn?

The news started to speak of gridlock traffic caused by panicked escapees. The Keys were being evacuated and people were fleeing Miami, so traffic going north out of Florida was increasing by the minute.

There are only so many roads that leave Florida.

Flights were all booked. It was fine. I couldn’t fathom putting my incredibly anxious, old dog in a plane cabin anyway. Can you even fly with bunnies?? At that, purchased flights were now being cancelled. Gas stations throughout the entire state were running out of gas… for cars, for generators…for survival, really, there were out.

Where do you go? What DO you do? Leaving pets behind wasn’t an option for us. We would never.

We went from a normal Sunday to an uncertain Tuesday to a panicked Thursday.

Well, the storm’s moving more and more to the east. I think we’ll be fine to ride it out here.

Never have I stalked a man as I did Denis Phillips, the meteorologist, since last Monday.

By Friday, my sister and her family fled the east coast for the safety of our home due to the latest models. We continued to prep to ride it out. We boarded windows, threw our lanai furniture into the pool (it’s a thing), brought the trashcans and grill into the garage, stocked up on propane for the grill (3 stores later) and gas for the generator (6 stations later).

Twenty-four hours later, plans changed. We decided to flee back over to the east coast to my sister’s house to escape Irma’s path, which had just shifted to right over my community. The eye of a category 4 hurricane was projected to tear through my town.

I grabbed everything that matters to me, from mementos to photos to important paperwork. Social security cards, homeowner documentation, Declan’s hospital blanket.

We took pictures of our home “as it looked” in case it was no longer in tact upon our return.

On the east coast, we were to the east of the storm, which is a less-than-ideal place to be. I’ve learned that you want to be west of the hurricane. As a result, we huddled in my sister’s kitchen with each tornado warning for her area. Yet, this was the safest alternative we had.

Our trek home Monday was interrupted by downed power lines and trees, sinkholes, floods and other destruction. There was no gas across the state. We ran out. We had to leave a vehicle behind, an hour away from our home. We left it at a power-less, gas-less gas station in the presence of twenty or so other cars, their drivers seated atop their hoods awaiting the 6+ hours until the station was scheduled to be re-upped on gas.

We had to borrow gas from one of our neighbors in order to drive to pick the second car up. I sobbed my way through flood waters in central swampland Florida that I feared may be too high for the car on our venture back. I envisioned the worst case scenario. The car dies in the water, we get stuck, and I end up knee-deep in flood waters with “freshly displaced snakes and alligators”, trying to confidently gain footing and get my son out of the backseat. Once out, hello, here we are in the middle of nowhere. Swampland. Downed power lines. Flooded waters. Jungle-ish even. Just hours after a major hurricane, no one, no homes, were in sight. Just green. Wet green. Wet, post-apocalyptic green.

My husband insisted the waters were low enough and not threatening.

We made it through, but I’m still mad at him for it.

I was too panicked to get a photo of the lake I drove through, but here are some other shots I snapped on the drive home:

One small dent in the garage later, everyone and everything is fine. The storm shifted just slightly to the east enough and weakened to a Category 2 right after slamming into Naples and moving north. We drove through the counties that got the worst of it, but our home was– and we were– spared.

Now home, I can only speak for my own situation, and I don’t want to detract from those who have been severely impacted by this storm or any other unfortunate hands dealt to them in this lifetime. I just want to attest to the fact that this past week was terrifying.

Our neighbors say we lost power for about 12 hours. Much of my county is STILL without power to this day. Schools are closed until next week. Dunkin Donuts just got power back yesterday.

I’ve had nightmares each night since, and the storm is OVER! Dare I say this whole thing was literally traumatizing??

To feel that you only have certain things to offer your child, and to wonder if one of the most major things will be blown to bits by tomorrow morning…

To wonder if you grabbed enough of your mementos, photos, and important papers on the way out. To remember, once gone, the ones you forgot and where they are right now in your home…

To wonder if the insurance you opted for when buying your house just a little while ago will cover the potential damage…

To make the decision to uplift your family to safety, not knowing for sure if the path would shift once more…

To dwell on having not decided to take time off work, panic, and flee back when flights and hotels were abundant…

To realize that preparing for a storm up north allows you to travel in millions of directions, while Florida only has so many roads going out of the state…

To see gas stations without power and gas across the entire state…

To not have access to gas for your car, even when you have the money for it…

To wonder what other foods are survival-mode-worthy when the canned goods are cleared…

To look at a case of Aquafina differently…

… it’s humbling. It’s intimidating. It’s nerve-wracking. It’s enough to make you want to move back up north.

I asked hubs if his feelings about the state have changed since.

“Nah. Storm of the century, Col. We’re never gonna see this sort of storm again.”

I wish I believed that.

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