Sun. Nov 29th, 2020

Post-Irma Lessons

It was just a normal day. When the news broke that a hurricane was coming. There were some small indications that it might be headed our way, but recently over time many of these so-called storms just sizzled out or weakened. But it didn’t sound like this would be the case. In this story, life got interrupted. The routine and the mundane didn’t matter anymore because the plain and simple fact that a hurricane was headed our way.

Images of flooding and crazy winds quickly came to mind.

September 4th 2017

I remember on Labor Day thinking, well… I should probably get supplies. I had just moved and barely had enough food to eat on a daily basis, nonetheless, an emergency supply. We were in the middle of painting, we were still unpacking, honestly, we had no time to settle in. We had to get into emergency prepper mode. We had to let the little things go and make sure our family, friends, and new property were prepared for what might come.

I want to highlight this really significant point. The point of accepting. Yes, at some point you have to truly acknowledge and believe a hurricane is actually coming and I was surprised because not everyone had this same reaction.

You have the doubters that don’t think it’s a big deal and believe the storm probably won’t turn into anything but some rain here and there. You have veterans, those who have been through a hurricane and are ready for what’s to come because the memory of the past is still vivid in their minds. Finally, of course, you have the newbies like me that are either too young to remember going through a hurricane or are new to the area and have not been through one. I had only been here for less than a year. I guess this was my welcome home present from mother nature.

So, I officially accepted that a hurricane could possibly be head our way. I was okay with being in the paranoid category, the anxious person, I was okay with being the over-reactor. But now I had to figure out, what’s next?

The planning…

Out with the old schedule and in with the new was my new mentality.

My mindset went into basic necessities mode, a survival take on an unpredictable future.

I was off to the grocery store.

WATER:

I noticed right away that at one of the stores the parking lots were fuller and the aisles a little tighter than I remember. I questioned, had word spread so quickly people were already reacting to the news? I brushed that aside and just blamed the congestion on Labor Day. Then I went to another store, that’s when the subtle panic began.

I started to notice the regular everyday shoppers and those starting to feel desperate inside in need of getting their own supplies. As I walked from the front to the back, I observed more people in the distant crowds. As a family, we brainstormed the first item we needed to survive a possibly catastrophic event. We started searching for water.

When I got to the water aisle I couldn’t believe it, all of it was gone. I looked ahead of me and saw a man about my age (give or take 5 years) taking a photo of the desolate aisle. That’s when it hit me, this just got real. I’ve seen the news distribute photos and videos of people waiting in line for hours and days because supplies were low, but right now, right here, I realized I was starting to become part of the story, part of their disaster story. I was a little scared and a little unnerved but I still had a lot of determination.

I decided to walk a little further and an employee was stacking a random pile of distilled water. I knew I had to get a hold of a pack of water. I don’t know why, but I instantly feared Black Friday chaos would ensue… but surprisingly it didn’t (keep in mind the possible hurricane was still days away). Everyone around did get a little pep in their step, but thankfully everyone complied cordially with a silent drive of uncertainty.

Unprepared, we were all just trying to figure it out. The air was stagnant and heavy and it wasn’t just that Florida humidity.

In some cases, I saw people had to get sparkling water, soda, and juice as a replacement for water because they wanted to make sure they had something, at least something for their family to drink.

Next on the docket, food.

FOOD:

What do you get if you don’t even know how long you will be without access to food? The pamphlets are everywhere. The resources are online. But when you have to buy them out of necessity, it’s a little daunting. We went to the basics: granola bars and canned goods. Our cart looked like we were going on a long camping trip, and I was okay with it.

As I mentioned before, there were different types of people in the stores. The borderline “franctics” like me and the casual shoppers picking up random items like sunscreen or a t-shirt and shoes. When I got to the checkout, that’s when the judgement started.

The people in front of my family and I, and the cashier, started to make snickering comments about the situation unfolding around them. They discussed how everyone was over-reacting and  how the apocalyptic scene around them was humorous. It pierced me a bit, but I pulled up my reality jeans and realized over-prepared is better than over-whelmed. So, I checked out with my pile and moved forward.

Alright, food, water, now I needed gas.

GAS:

When it comes to the basics in life, gas doesn’t usually come to mind. But when the reports came out that this hurricane could shoot up the entire state, many of us wanted to have the option to leave if need be. Travel became a precious commodity and gas its blood line. Before we even had an evacuation plan we knew we had to get a hold of some gas. The gas stations started to fill up but it wasn’t as crazy on Monday as it was going to get in the coming days.

I had my gas can and so did a handful of preparers out there.

A gas shortage never came to mind, I thought maybe some might shutdown, but as the days passed some gas stations actually ran out of gas. That was a scary thought because some of us could be stuck.

COMMUNICATION:

We packed are supplies, some for the car, some for the house, and thank goodness my husband is a camping aficionado, because his zeal to enjoy the outdoors came in handy. We all had flashlights, knives, and phone charges to go around. But for those who can’t live without their phone, you will want to think about that now. We aren’t too much into technology but we even got some charging cells to make sure we could communicate with each other because at this point we didn’t know where any of us would be, if and when Irma struck. I’ll never forget sending a video to my friends just telling them how terrified I was of the unpredictable circumstances, I told them where I was going to be and my family. It’s a frightening predicament I hope no one has to go through.

SHELTER:

We had just bought a house give or take a few days ago. We were painting straight for days on end, family, and friends coming over to make our place feel like new and like home. All of that went on pause as we processed what was going on.

Luckily, I am paranoid and went over several things around the house with the inspector prior to buying the house. I knew that we had “some” hurricane windows and that our doors would have to be replaced because they had non-hurricane glass. But that’s not all, one major glass would also have to be covered in shutters.

A far distant possibility of a hurricane became a quick reality because we had to implement the emergency preparation now. I can only describe it as just getting safety training at work or school for a natural disaster and immediately having to use what you learned. Luckily, it was fresh in my mind, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t a little bit on edge.

Door after door was replaced and shutter after shutter put on.

The once bright home full of potential and more than half-way painted became a bunker and place of safety for a natural disaster only days away. It was a bunker that we quickly realized we wouldn’t even get to use.

DECISIONS:

We covered our basic needs and got gas and protected the home. But during the actual hurricane we began to wonder where would everyone be?

In a situation like this, there are a few choices:

  1. Shelter in your living space
  2. Get as far away as you can
  3. Go to a shelter

Then there is a 4th option, but it doesn’t apply to everyone.

My husband had to stay for work and so did I. Both of us playing a vital role in either communicating to the public on the on-going dangers or responding to the aftermath. We knew there was a slim chance we would be together. But my parents, what about them? In an emergency you have to make sure others are taken care of too.

I grabbed the phone and talked to a relative up north.

“Hey, I might have to send mom and dad up there… this hurricane is getting serious, do you mind if they go up?”

“Oh, these hurricanes are not a big deal just some rain and wind, but of course you guys are always welcome.”

Bam, that option was now open. I thought the situation was definitely much worse than described on the phone. However, putting that aside we now had possibilities. What I didn’t realize then, is if we were going to send them up and out of the state. If I was going to, I should have done it right then and there (a good five or six days before the storm) because we didn’t predict the chaos on the roads that would soon come. Congestion took over the state, and by that time it was too late.

The uncertainty was getting the best of us. The ambiguity of the situation continued to play out. Meteorologist were hesitant but still very cautious. It really felt like this hurricane could literally do anything and we were all hoping for the best.

LOCAL, STATE, AND FEDERAL OFFICIALS

Now more than ever is when we really had to listen to our local, state, and federal officials. A hurricane was coming, they were preparing and so were we. I remember being glued to the TV at every chance I got as the days turned into hours before the Irma clock struck. I’ll never forget Governor Scott and his stern warnings. This was not a drill we were preparing for one massive storm and its potentially lethal destruction.

UNPREDICTABLE

Hurricanes are a different type of beast. I have experienced fires and earthquakes. They can often be instant without much warning. But hurricanes come with a caution label. The problem is even with all the modern technology, where you think a hurricane will go does not accurately determine its path. Irma was a primary example of this. The models kept shifting and the morning of the hurricane’s impact, sure enough, the models shifted again prompting new evacuations. The anticipation was agonizing we just didn’t know what would happen. The prayers were in place, and now it was all about waiting for Irma to hit.

HURRICANE APPROACHING

I’ll never forget the morning of Hurricane Irma. The uncertainty was powerful. I remember packing up the last of our items in the car and heading to work with my family. We thought it was best to at least bring them with me because now traveling was out of the question and their house was just evacuated. I remember that day everyone just felt a little off. Yes, you could feel the mood of the status quo. We had one destination.  I had my own car and driving over the bridge into the city where I worked was surreal. Low to the ground, the air was stagnant and high in the sky you could see eerie movements as the entire atmosphere appeared to sway as a part of a larger circular fashion, but I was only witnessing a smidgen of a larger curve. The more haunting part of that scene was the eye of the hurricane was still hours away. Irma had only given us a minute taste of what was to come.

As quick as the reality set in, I had said goodbye to my husband not knowing what the future held for either of us.  There are no words to describe that feeling.

By this time, roads were packed, gas stations running low or empty on fuel, and the rest of us that stayed behind waited for what was to come. We witnessed images and video slowly coming out from the islands and the damage was overwhelming. We knew we were next. We were preparing for what she would bring our way.

IN THE EYE OF THE STORM

When Irma inched closer, I remember the air surrounding our glass-filled-building begin to pick up speed. Everyone began to shelter in place as she took over while the rest of us stayed busy with our work. It is scary to witness a hurricane do as it pleases because we knew at this point we had no control. We worked through the storm as the eye got closer and closer. When we were finally inside the rough portion of Irma’s wrath, it felt like we were in a large tornado as the winds whipped and the palm trees swayed and a dark gloom fell over the sky. When it came time to sleep even as Irma continued to rage up the state, I remember being fearful a tree would come through the glass because her storm trails were still wreaking havoc.

But we made it through. Yes, we actually made it. Everyone in that building had survived a hurricane.  I survived and was extremely grateful.

One by one we slowly surveyed the damage around us with each passing hour. We had made it out, the worst of the storm was gone. The streets were covered in branches, leaves, limbs, and water. As work wrapped up over the coming days, we finally got a chance to see our own homes. God had blessed my family, there was no damage at our new home. But not everyone was as lucky.

REBUILD

In the days that followed, people picked up the pieces of their lives that were left behind. Our community was covered with the destruction of Irma’s aftermath. Some areas suffered only minor damage while others lost almost everything. Meteorologist say we were truly fortunate because we didn’t experience the intense surge that could have been brought on by Irma.

We are now in a new hurricane season and some families, workplaces, and cities are still dealing with the impacts of Hurricane Irma. But the community has come a long way. We have reconstructed our lives and our homes. But we can’t forget what happened. Some families still have their hurricane shutters up, others are dealing with the mold and damage left behind. But as a whole we are on an upward positive trend, bringing peace back to a place that experienced chaos.

PREPARE

We came out lucky because of where the hurricane landed. If it didn’t hit land when it did, all of our community could have been underwater. Meteorologist say it could have been worse. Timing was absolutely a huge factor in our safety and well-being. Irma stopped short of full destruction on Florida but others did not come out as lucky. Especially as Hurricane Maria followed part of its path. Lives were taken last hurricane season and property destroyed. There was a mourning period and many had to live without basic necessities for months on end. People are still suffering to this day. We take food, water, power, gas, and shelter for granted. We don’t realize these are blessed privileges. Last season, some had to pick up their life and leave to live another. Others were left behind to pick up the pieces because they wanted to rebuild or they couldn’t find a way out. Everyone was impacted by its path, everyone has a story to tell. The impacts of hurricanes are real and change lives. Natural disasters can happen anywhere.

This is a stark reminder that we are not in control of the weather. Although we are blessed, we must remember everything can be taken from us in a moment even if you get a warning. We must remember what is important and to always be prepared. I hope you take away from this message the urgency to be ready for any emergency or natural disaster because there is no way of knowing what might be headed your way.

 

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