Let me start by saying, I'm a South Florida native. Hurricanes are simply a way of life for us. I've lived through Andrew, Charley, Ivan, Jeanne, Wilma, Katrina, Frances, and Matthew to just name a few. Truthfully, Hurricanes don't typically shake me… but Hurricane Irma was different. It shook me to my core. This last week was a complete emotional rollercoaster.
We had almost a week to prepare for Irma's arrival. Here's what each day was like:
A gorgeous day at the beach with my friend, she was panicked it was going to hit, I felt like there was no chance it was coming for us. She kept saying “this is different” referencing several hurricanes we road out in '04 and '05.
Labor Day! The beach was definitely choppier and started to feel eerie. But still, I didn't believe it was coming. We ran normal errands and didn't pick up any supplies. We really didn't realize how big of a deal it was (we don't have cable and I don't go on Facebook every often).
My intern comes over and asks if I have supplies, this thing is coming right for us at a Category 5:
As the updates rolled in that day, terror and panic continued to grow. Friends on the West Coast are telling me they are out of supplies over there already. Ultimately I made my husband come home from work so my intern and I could run errands. I reached full on hysteria and was afraid we wouldn't have a home in a few days. I kept trying to stop thinking that we would be homeless and focused on getting supplies. The stores were completely out of water. The streets were crazy. Thousands of people already evacuated our area.
The next few days are a blur so this is a Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday recap:
The Governor calls for a mandatory evacuation on the east side of my street. The storm is heading directly for us with 10-12 ft storm surge. We only live a half a mile from the beach and less than a quarter of a mile from the intracoastal. We take a walk and the drains by the intracoastal are already overflowing. Okay, it was high tide, but still freaked me out. I started looking for flights out, but couldn't get any. The knot in my chest made it difficult to breathe. I could barely sleep. The question, “do we evacuate?” haunted me.
Everywhere was a ghost town. The calls and texts saying “get out” started to come more frequently, and pure terror began to sink in. During those days, I basically had anxiety build to hysterical tears to “we got this” and felt confident we could ride it out. This cycle continued on repeat every few hours those days. It was exhausting.
PSA to Snowbirds
Every time I looked out our window, I saw some dumb neighbor who didn't properly secure their home before heading up north. We had neighbors with satellite dishes out still, people with entire screen doors just resting on their balcony. All I could see was deadly debris when I looked out the windows and glass doors. If you or someone you know has a home in South Florida, make sure they always secure it before leaving, especially during hurricane season. Meaning bring all the patio furniture in, looking for anything that could become a deadly debris in a tornado and bring it in! Have someone nearby with keys to help double check your property or cut back your trees in case a storm is coming. Don't let your ignorance take someone's life or damage their property!
Why we didn't leave
Florida is built for hurricanes. It's not like other states. I kept seeing this awful video get passed around on facebook:
But you see, that home isn't built anything like Florida homes. First, Florida doors actually open the opposite way than the rest of the country. Our front doors open out, instead of in, so when winds pick up, the winds can't blow the doors in the same way the do up north. Our roofs are strapped on using some crazy 3 part system that allows for them to withstand stronger winds. We have some of the strongest building codes in the world. That's not an exaggeration, that's a fact. Anything built after Andrew and even after Wilma must adhere to improved and strict codes. Every time a storm hits, Florida figures out how to become stronger and withstand that much more.
We live in a three story town home, built after Wilma's hit, with two “safe” areas (interior walls with no windows). We moved everything of importance from our bottom floor up to safe places on the other floors to prep for flooding. Our doors and windows are hurricane resistant. Nothing is full proof you guys. Even if you have “hurricane windows and doors” it doesn't guarantee they will hold! Those windows and doors are not tested in Category 4 or 5 situations for that long of a period of time. It doesn't take into account the tornadoes that will inevitably happen or the 185 mph gusts. They stop testing them above 140 mph! We tarped 2 areas of our house that I was nervous about the windows breaking from flying debris. The inside of our house was as ready as it would ever be.
Maybe we should evacuate…
Like I said, directly across the street from us was a mandatory evacuation zone. My anxiety finally got the better of me Friday. Our city had a curfew in effect from Saturday at 2 am to Monday -even though the rest of the county's started at 3 pm. So Friday night we headed to the husband's bosses place. He has huge walking closets in a brand new apartment building. It was more inland and felt like a safer place to ride out the storm.
At the same time, we were monitoring the storm closely on The National Hurricane Center's website and it started to move west. Little by little. Until the Friday night updates, when it moved drastically west. The Euro model (usually the most reliable hurricane prediction) originally put the storm on the exact path it ended up taking), so when we started to see the big strides west, I decided to have faith in the Euro and knew it would keep going west. Saturday morning we packed up our stuff and headed back to our home.
While this shows our area “out” of the cone of uncertainty, the entire state of Florida was hit. This storm was wider than the state, not one person wasn't impacted. We were just no longer in the “worst” spot.
Saturday we spent at home, like life was normal. Watching TV, walking the dog, cooking dinner. I started to fill small ziploc bags with drinking water and put them in any empty space in our freezer. They basically turned into big ice cubes and actually kept everything in our freezer completely frozen even though we lost power for 30 hours.
Sunday morning the winds were still calm enough to get Tucker out for a quick walk at 7 am. After that, we locked ourselves inside. Watching tv and trying to relax. Thankfully we only had one tornado warning for our street. It was at that time I'm pretty sure we lost this tree:
We also lost our power from the tornado. It took about 30 hours to get back on, which in the grand scheme of things, is nothing. Huge shoutout and thank you to FPL and the FL officials who have made unbelievable strides with getting people's power back on as quick as possible. Our area, while it faced a lot of trees down, and some power lines, was truly spared. Everyone with homes in Palm Beach County wondering if they survived, most likely they are okay. The hardest thing for me to see was Veterans Park, a place where I truly grew up, but again it was just trees:
How You Can Help
Other areas of Florida did not fair as well. We are still waiting to hear if my mother-in-law can go back to her home or if she needs to find a new place to live. Entire buildings roofs were ripped off in other parts of Florida. The Tampa Bay was stripped of all its water at one point, beaching the manatees. Millions are still without power, and the rescue and relief efforts are just getting started in Florida and the Caribbean islands. You can donate to the Red Cross here or check out all these other ways the New York Times put together to help here.
Hurricane Preparedness Tips:
1) If you're a snowbird, always secure your home before leaving town and make sure someone nearby has access to your home to help out.
2) Bring in any patio furniture, satellite dishes, loose screen doors, or any object that could get picked up and by strong winds and cause property damage to others
3) Cut back any foliage before the storm – make sure you do this before last call on garbage truck pick ups or else you'll have to bring it into your garage/home (re: deadly flying debris)
4) If you're in a flood zone, get sand bags to line your garage and doors to slow the water from coming in
5) Stock up on non-perishable foods, sterno burners, batteries, flashlights, a generator and gas to power it, and a first aid kit.
6) Put drinking water from your sink or Brita into ziploc bags and freeze. Fill every area of your freezer as possible. This will turn your freezer into a cooler/ice box – increasing the odds your food will stay frozen for as long as possible in a power outage, and also gives you clean drinking water when they melt!
7) If you're in a storm surge or flood zone, consider moving items to a higher floor and tarping things inside your house to limit water damage if it floods or a window breaks. Again, not a necessity but if you have the time!
8) Hurricane windows and doors are not full proof- still consider boarding up with shutters or wood
9) Do all the laundry and dishes before the storm. And fill up your bathtubs with water. You may not have running water after or the sewage stations may not have power to pump the draining water out (which can cause sewage back up in your home!).
It's great to offer help before the storm, but most people need it after the storm. Double check on your neighbors, friends, and family.