It’s been a rough week down here in Clearwater, located on the west side of Florida.
After just watching Hurricane Harvey, the devastation and horrific flooding and terrifying evacuations, Mother Nature decided to visit us in Florida as well. Floridians were woke! The news was bad and kept getting worse; especially seeing that Hurricane Irma was three times the size of Hurricane Andrew.
When I heard it was headed our way, I got more hurricane supplies, along with a life jacket for the dogs. I was not going to have them stranded or lost!
In addition, August 24 had been the 25th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew, which had hit south of Miami — my home — in 1992. I was much younger then, and more naive, not realizing something that horrible could happen to me and my husband and the city we lived in. We lost about 50 percent of our belongings in Hurricane Andrew; luckily I had packed up my china, crystal, quilts and photographs. (It was before cell phones so all photos were actually printed.) We evacuated about 10 miles away, but we still could hear the fences, plywood, trees and other debris smack into my sister-in-law’s house between 3 and 6 a.m. It was a dreadful night.
It was then I learned that physical things and possessions sometimes just passed through our lives and weren’t always meant to be there. It was home and family that mattered most.
When we bought our Clearwater home 20 years ago, we made sure it was in a non-evacuation zone. We even took the evacuation map with us as we visited homes with our Realtor.
But now that Hurricane Irma was between a category 3-5 on its way to our city, I did not want to stay. Unfortunately, my husband had to work and my daughter did as well. She thought I was just being over dramatic because of what we had gone through in Andrew.
Since last Tuesday, the gas station lines had been extremely long and most stations were sold out of gas. I downloaded the Gas Buddy app which helped us fill up. But I wasn’t sure how I would be able to make it to Tallahassee, which could take from 4 to 10 hours to get to. My daughter did not want to risk it. But I did not want to stay. In addition, my younger daughter had been in the hospital since Tuesday and was only released Friday afternoon, which complicated things, worrying about her.
In the end, I felt I could not leave my daughters, so I decided to stay with them.
It was a scary four days leading up to it – with friends and relatives checking in through texts, phones and social media. We all wondered if we should stay or go.
I tried to stay away from pictures of people having hurricane parties or venturing out on the beach before the storm (It infuriates me!) We had five adults, two dogs, two of our own cats and my daughter and her roommate each brought their cat.
It was somewhat ironic that Hurricane Irma came again on a Sunday, during the dead of night. Around 10:30 Sunday night the electricity went out, marking the ominous and scary beginning of a journey we weren’t sure of. I took both the dogs and headed to bed; with furniture blocking the windows.
By midnight, the winds woke me up. They were pretty strong but probably only up to about 80 mph. I didn’t hear the horrible sounds of trees snapping, or fences, wood or trees hitting the house, as I had in Andrew. I checked on social media for updates. I chatted with others I knew locally and even answered some questions of others worried about relatives in my area. It was reassuring to pass the time with something I would normally do on any given day. I finally went to sleep around 2 a.m. The dogs stayed with me all night without even a whimper.
As the morning came, it was like Christmas knowing that no windows were broken and the house was in one piece. We had been spared. Big time. Looking in the back yard, a fence panel was down. Looking in the front yard, branches littered the yard but there was no damage to the four huge oak trees that towered there. Only two more fence panels. Our cars were safe, our home was safe, and so were we.
It was surprisingly cool and windy outside – far different than the weather after Andrew which was hot and sticky with no breeze at all. It was another gift to be grateful for.
I took the dogs for a walk again and talked to neighbors who told their stories and of course gave thanks for our good fortune.
Just as the sun was going down around 8 pm., our electricity came back on. And luckily it stayed on.
Now, it was time to have a cold drink and watch the stories coming in from across the Keys, where I spent so many of my summers growing up, as well as South Florida, where I was raised, as well as the devastation from the Caribbean. Unfortunately I could relate to some of the horrible things they’re going through – not being able to live in their homes, no water or food, infrastructure decimated. A rude awakening. And months and months of recovery.
My heart goes out to them. The feeling of losing one’s home is a devastating loss. I know in these first few days they are happy they have their lives. But I pray for them in the coming months as they go through the many trials that they will face.