One week ago today I sealed the house, locked my doors, and wondered if I would ever see it again.
I moved from California to Florida 20 years ago this month. My plane landed the evening of September 21, 2017. It was a new adventure, living in a city that I fell in love with the first moment I saw it.
We’ve had storms over the years. Tropical weather, Cat 1 hurricanes. We’ve had scares. Remember Charlie? He scared the hell out me up until he took an odd east turn and destroyed the center of the state. We’ve had nothing like Hurricane Irma.
Usually, there is about a week of warnings. A week. A week of every news organization, local and national, warning of every conceivable bad thing a hurricane can bring. Death. Destruction. Mayhem. Heartbreak. Devastation. They thrive on it. They spend every moment warning of the upcoming apocalypse. It’s their job.
The meteriorologists and anchors love a good hurricane. They become giddy at the idea of 24-hour coverage, meyham, death, and destruction. High winds will take down mobile home parks, trees, and roofs. Heavy rains will bring street flooding. Storm surge will bring worse. WE MUST WARN THE PUBLIC! Yes, they must, and it’s overwhelming.
A week of these messages leaves a person battered and bruised before the storm even arrives.
Then there is Storm Anxiety. That feeling of dread that takes over. The inability to decide, do I stay or do I go? For me, the inability to eat without running to the bathroom. Constant nausea. I lost five pounds in four days. Five pounds. Four days. Think about that. Storm Anxiety brought me the need to lay in a fetal position. All day. Storm Anxiety led me to accept the fact that I would not have a home when all was said and done.
My Storm Anxiety set in on Monday September 4. I was scheduled to work only Tuesday and Wednesday that week, as I had taken a few vacation days to “relax and rejuvenate” after a crazy couple of months. Ha. Irma had other plans. That damn Irma.
The reports stated that:
- Irma was going to take out the Keys.
- Irma was going to take out South Florida.
- Irma was going to take out the Tampa Bay Area.
- Irma was going to come right on up and wipe out St Petersburg.
- I live in St Petersburg.
I reserved a rental car that Tuesday for a Friday pick up. I had a list of what to pack and a doctors appointment on Thursday to refill my blood pressure meds. Kind of a necessary appointment.
By Thursday, Irma had shifted east enough that I cancelled the car and used that money to trim up my front trees. I went to the doctor. The pharmacy screwed up my order. They said to return on Friday to pick it up. It was chaotic there and I forgave them and headed home.
Friday morning, Irma had jogged again and was heading straight for us. My car rental was no longer available, there most likely wasn’t enough gas in the state to get me to safety (not that anyone could guess where that might be,) and I still didn’t have a prescription.
Here’s the thing about evacuating that people don’t understand or ever really hear. There are two roads in and out of Florida, one on either side of the state. I live in the middle on the west coast. If you want to safely leave, ensure there is gas along the way, and that you won’t get stranded on the side of the road, you must go at least four days in advance. I’d lost my window of opportunity. It could take 20 hours to go what would normally take three hours. I know this to be true, as I know many this happens to.
Over the course of that week many friends and relatives called and texted and messaged. At one point it was so overwhelming I had to turn my phone off for 14 hours. I did not listen to the radio, I did not watch the news, I pretty much turned off anything electronic. It was kind of nice being in the dark so to speak, for those 14 hours.
Everybody meant well. It was just too much all at once, and constant reminders of the doom and gloom that was being spread. While I love everybody, it did not help my anxiety level. I did my best not to let on.
A friend invited me to ride the storm out at her place. She tempted me with her new hurricane resistant windows and not being alone. I took her up on it and am I glad I did.
I stood in my house last Saturday, a few keepsakes in hand, and said goodbye. I expected that I would lose my roof, as it is almost 20 years old. I knew if that happened I would lose everything inside. I live in evacuation Zone C, so I wasn’t worried about the water rising. If the water rose that high, well, we would have bigger problems. I honestly couldn’t think of anything I had to take except my kindle, some clothes, and a very special book. I locked the doors and drove away, crying.
Sunday we hunkered down and sat out the storm. We watched it get windier and windier, rainier and rainier. I posted some video updates periodically on Facebook, which seemed to give my friends and family something to watch and hear from me.
Sunday night was when all the action was to occur. I went to bed about 11:30 PM and the power went out at 12:04 AM. I listen to the wind and the rain batter the front of the house. Thank goodness for new windows! I did finally fall sleep for a few hours, and woke about 6 AM Monday morning. It was still windy but the worst had passed.
We waited until the city and county said it was safe to be on the roads and then we ventured out. We checked a couple friends houses who were out of town and then I went to my house. Everywhere we went there were downed trees, branches, debris. Overwhelming.
I insisted on going to my house alone. Whatever had happened, I wanted to be there to soak it in before letting anybody else into my emotions. I was raw and numb by that point, and I just didn’t know how I would react.
On September 11, 2001 I sat in my living room crying, a feeling of disbelief and numbness washing over me as the towers fell and our country changed. 19 years later, I sat in my living room crying again. This time the numbness and disbelief were joined by gratitude.
My house was standing. I had a roof. There was a lot of debris in the yards. One small tree had came down in the backyard and barely brushed my back porch. There was no power, and there wouldn’t be for several days. But my little house had survived.
Tuesday we went full force into cleanup mode. I cleaned up the front and sides of my house, and then I joined my friend and cleaned up the front of her house. We also helped a couple of her neighbors take care of some things at their houses. It was a full day, And no time to really let anything sink in.
Tuesday night it all hit me. My family and friends were still messaging and texting to make sure I was OK. The only way I can describe how I felt then and now is shell shocked. It is still incredibly overwhelming. You’re thankful, and then you feel guilty because you actually came through it OK and so many others didn’t.
- 80% of the county I live in lost power.
- 25% of the homes in the Florida Keys were destroyed.
- 4 million people in Florida lost power.
- 12 people died at Irma’s hands the last time I looked.
- 1.1 million lost power in the Tampa Bay Area.
There are islands in the Caribbean that may not exist anymore. There are other islands in the Caribbean who are running out of food and water and desperately waiting for help to arrive. Elderly people who went to shelters and can’t go home. So many people displaced. So much devestation.
And the media? They are hanging on every horrible tidbit, cameras in faces, reporting the worst. Again. Death. Destruction. Mayhem. Heartbreak. Devastation.
Overwhelming. Shell shocked. I haven’t complained much as I’ve been fortunate to come through relatively unscathed. A little house damage that can be dealt with. No power for five days. A place to stay that had power and all the comforts of home.
I am exhausted.
I cry easily. I find myself driving around taking it all in. I close my eyes and hear the wind and rain. I still can’t wrap my head around it. Shell shocked. Numb.
I will go home tomorrow and move back into “normal”. I will take less for granted. I hope I begin to feel normal soon.