Was the first day of September and my Dad sent me a text. His words ever so sincere and deeply concerned. “Karie Babe, please be prepared for Irma. I just saw on the news the models for a possible Cat 5 storm. Bottled water, canned goods, batteries. I love you so much.” Flippantly, I dismissed his words as a retired man’s plight to watching too much Fox news. Had I not been so arrogant.
Our family had been in Florida for just over three weeks when word spread of a storm watch in the tropics. As Arizona natives, the closest we had come to disaster were monsoonal microbursts, Haboobs, and the occasional bevy of quail. Our naivety was a byproduct of our denial, cast in the shadow of the stressful cross country move. We could not possibly be at the center of a hurricane in Central Florida just weeks after moving.
The Chad and I spent Friday night of Labor Day weekend unwinding at a local establishment, enjoying a few beers, generating memes on our phones about our disdain for our moving company, and discussing the possibility of a new vehicle. Never once did we discuss or consider the possibility of being in the eye of a hurricane. Saturday morning arrived and we went about our normal chores with the kids, running a few errands and exploring our new town.
Thunderstorms and heavy rains were typical for this time of year. The “tropical” season, as commonly referred to in Florida, is rich with warm rains, ominous clouds, and electric skies. We delighted in the change of scenery and oblivious to the dangers Mother Nature would bring in her wake. Our weekend went about like nothing was about to befall our family and those in our town. We bought a new car, took the kids to dinner, and enjoyed the three day weekend.
As the Labor Day weekend came to a close and we began to return to normal life, radio reports carried a heavy tone. An early morning text from The Chad on Tuesday, September 5th proved that reasonable action needed to be taken. He mentioned of the great concern the locals shared for the impending doom. I hurried myself to get dressed and headed to the local Costco for needed supplies: bottled water, batteries, canned food, milk and bread.
My trek was tedious. Apparently, I was not the only one to have waited until the last minute to capture supplies. I sat in the driveway to Costco for 20 minutes. Traffic sat still, unchanged by the urgent need to arrive at our destination just a mere 100 yards from our current standing. Finding the closest parking spot to the nearest exit, counter intuitive to normal operations, I was able to escape the confines of my car and enter the gauntlet of hurricane preparation shopping. Lines inside wrapped from each register, around upright displays, through aisles, snaking into the far reaches of the store.
I was overcome with awe in the surreal event unfolding before my eyes. Maddening long lines as patrons clutched their flats of plastic encased treasures. A pit sank into my stomach as I meandered through the snaking lines and bustling crowd. Making my way towards where the water is stored, banks of uprights were bare, pillaged, scheduled to only to be replenished the following day. Feelings of defeat washed over me; could this really be happening? Could I truly be preparing for a hurricane? Overwhelmed with another major event to plan for I robotically moved about the aisles, snagging boxed soy milk that did not require refrigeration, canned meats (tuna, chicken), electrolyte water to aid in the heat. Perusing more aisles I considered what else may be required, packages of batteries, headlamps and flashlights. By this time the aisles were reduced to what appeared to be an ordinary shopping day.
Rushing swiftly to my car I loaded up and shopped Amazon for large storage containers for water. Why purchase a commodity when so readily available from the faucet of our home. Feeling accomplished in my efforts I returned home and began detailed preparations for what was to arrive in the coming days.
Scouring every square foot of my home, ensuring all our clothing was washed, dried and ready for wear. I cooked all defrosted meat to have for sandwiches, salads, snacks and miscellaneous meals before carving into our canned goods. All towels were washed, militantly folded, and delicately placed in the linen closet. All our prized photos, albums, heirlooms and treasured belongings that we had thus received were secured in upstairs closets, out of water and harms way. Wednesday’s work had now been complete.
Thursday was a day of anxiety. Hinging on the unknown of whether school was to be cancelled for Friday, in addition to Monday September 11th, we went about our normal business. Everything had an air of eeriness to her. Traffic was heavy, but only as residents made the mass exodus north into Orlando and even higher ground into Georgia and other surrounding states. Tolls were being waved. The news became a welcome sound in our home again as we huddled together as a family to listen of the hourly changes. Projections were that Hurricane Irma were to be a Category 3 right through the center of the state, ravaging everything in her wake, including Orlando. We waited more on this day; waited for news, waited for decisions, waited for the storm. My water jugs I ordered from Amazon never arrived…apparently if you have saved items in your cart for possible purchase later, if the price adjusts for anything, your entire cart can be altered and the purchase never complete. DAMMIT! Now what?
Friday morning arrived as if a holiday for the kids. Rejoicing in no school, I stressed to keep their minds at ease as to not let my own fear of what was to come impinge on their happiness. We ran errands to pass the time. Decorated the walls of the house to make it feel more like home. Shopped stores to find trinkets and decor to adorn their rooms that matched their personalities, ensured all of our vehicles had adequate fuel. All while Mother Nature was ravaging in the tropical seas just hours south. Questions arose that night about the storm as we watched as a family. We discussed our disaster plan, what to do if flooding, loss of power, fire, high winds, what to do with the dogs, what rooms were safe, what areas of the house were safe, more explanation brought more questions. Some questions had no answers as we had no expectations for what was to come.
Saturday, the calm before the storm. The Chad made an abundant breakfast, biscuits and gravy, eggs, and the best coffee. Huddling at the small counter bar we ate as a family. Our dining table had not yet arrived, but all of our counter height chairs had, allowing us to dine as a family, albeit hodge podged, we dined together. Each dish was washed and replaced into the cabinets. All clothes collected once again to wash, one final time, we couldn’t have loose ends. All trash collected and placed into the dumpsters. We dressed and went around the house in final preparations. All of our refillable water bottles were filled with filtered water, gallon jugs, pitchers, serving pitchers, serving carafes, any item that could be used to hold water was filled and stacked on the counter.
The backyard was a treasure trove of flying projectiles. What couldn’t be secured in the house, the garage, we tossed into the depths of the pool to fish out later. Our outdoor patio table was used as an indoor dining table in the intermittent. The garage was a tetris of patio chairs. Our moving boxes flattened and stored so as to fit both vehicles in the garage. After all the preparation chores were completed we decided to get out of the house before our confinement. We treated the kids once again to dinner out on the eve of the hurricane. Withdrawing cash, as a precaution that all businesses would be without power for days.
Parking lots were barren. Businesses closed, boarded, gas stations were shrink wrapped and abandoned. Streets were emptied as rain drops streamed and leaves danced about in the wind. We went home, watched more of the news, tucked the kids to bed, and nervously slept awaiting the next day…
D-Day. Texts were a flurry on our phones. Our closest friends and family asking our status, were we evacuating, were we staying, were we safe. The news was embellishing how horrific the current status, my family was in a half panic. I made a video for my mom so she could see for herself I was calm, we were prepared, and that we were not being swept up like Dorothy. Bathtubs were filled in the event we needed water for flushing toilets, drink and the like. More waiting.
We decided on our safe room. In our master bedroom we have two master, walk-in closets, devoid of windows, structurally safe. With two spare twin mattresses we shuttled them down he stairs. Allowing the kids to use them like a sled, they slid down the stairwell. Making light of the severity of what could possibly happen. The news was reporting being on the “dirty” side of a hurricane, high winds equaling tornadoes. The category of the storm bounced around like a pinball as the news played in the background. The closets were filled with adequate bedding, lanterns, bottled water, all the kids pillows, charging blocks and pillows. A regular bad ass kid fort. We sat around during the day, trying to keep entertained, keeping the kids entertained.
Mid-afternoon saw heavier rains. Early evening saw high gusts and the rain continued. We watched the news with baited breath to see how Irma’s path began to shift. Winds were picking up, the power flickered. Frogs were seeking high ground as they scaled the side of our home. By 9pm the rain was at a 45 degree angle as it fell with the high winds and gusts. We no longer took videos, the kids needed to be tucked in, The Chad and I were glued to the television again. More waiting, more updates, Irma skirted Tampa and was no longer a direct hit, praise God! As she shifted inland, she moved right through the northwest part of Orlando. We were now in the eye of the hurricane instead of the outer bands – positive and negatives we supposed based on what meteorologist Tom was telling us on the hurricane watch.
The anticipation was killing us. We turned off the news, we couldn’t handle the constant fight feeling we were experiencing. So we put on a movie as a distraction. The winds began to become more aggressive as they howled through the house, whistling, almost crying to escape. We closed all the doors in the house to avoid pockets, to avoid blowing out windows, to prevent further distress. Blocking the dog door that helped to reduce the wind in the house, but the banshee like screams of the wind caused shivers down your spine. The Chad and I turned the movies off about midnight, relocated the kids from our bed into the safe rooms, and we settled into the living room as we watched the news, the rain, the whipping winds, the palms in our backyard seeming to toss about like kites. Fighting falling asleep we nodded in and out to ensure the safety of our home, our kids, our pets and ourselves.
The power flickered and flashed in and out like the wind. Explosions all around the horizon. Blue flashes, red glows, we stayed as far away from our large glass sliding door that overlooked the entire backyard, the anger that Mother Nature was unleashing. The wind’s crying was now a constant state, rhythmic and humming, hypnotic, as the eye of hurricane was passing just miles away from us. Debris was flying about as we heard it whip through the patio, it was 2:02am EST, as blue glows and explosions were more frequent we could see the palms almost lying down. We felt much of the same and drifted off to sleep.
We both awoke at roughly 2:30am EST, feeling as if we were asleep for hours, stumbled into our room and felt onto our bed. Awaking about five hours later we were able to survey the total damage. Blessed to have never fully lost power. Blessed all our windows were intact. Blessed no damage. A portion of the fence was downed but easily put back together. Branches, limbs and fronds were scattered around the yard, leaves were everywhere. I took the kids for a drive a few days later, the devastation was amazing, while some significant, some was a clear depiction of the power of the storm. All-in-all, we were blessed to have kept electricity, clean running water, no damage, and everyone safe and sound.