A few weeks ago when hurricane Harvey barreled into Texas and stalled over Houston for almost a week, I said to my husband, ” If a storm of this magnitude points its finger at us, we’re leaving. Period. End of discussion.” And he agreed. Then along came Irma, charging at Florida and the speculation began. Where is it going to land? It never really wavered much. I had friends who flew out of town days before landfall. And many others who were on the fence, not knowing what to do. Should we stay or should we go? That was the question on many pairs of lips.
Some would ask, ” Why on earth would you stay if you knew how dangerous it was going to be?” People have their own reasons for staying or leaving. I’ve long ago learned not to question it. If you have lived in Florida for any length of time you know that these storms can do the switch game at the very last second. And that is what this storm did. Many of us had let our guard down after being led to believe Irma was heading to the east coast of Florida. So, many of us stayed. Then the broadcasters started to freak out and told people late on Saturday night to go to Lehigh Acres or even to the east coast to get away. They kept saying, ” You still have time to leave.” And if people had heeded that warning they might still be stuck in areas that are in deep trouble . Lehigh is buried in feet of water with no power and no way to get in or out of their community.
So what was I doing on Sunday when the power went out? We had spent the day before preparing our “panic” room. Knowing the storm would be hurling at us from the northeast we chose a room with a huge walk-in closet on the other side of the house. We made a cozy nest that was almost totally sound proof. We left the door to the room open so the kitties could wander in and out. Actually found our oldest cat sound asleep on a cushion in the dark in the closet. We moved two cat trees in the room and covered the inside of the one window with a large box spring mattress. Perfect. We had plenty of food and water and had stocked the freezer and fridge with plastic baggies filled with water to keep the cold food cold longer.
The power went out around one in the afternoon. And it did not come back on until Monday afternoon at six. I have two grown sons with families living nearby. We were able to keep in touch with our phones. I knew precisely where the eye of the storm was and when it went over Naples and began crashing and pounding down 41, a main highway. At one point before we went into the hiding space, I stood and watched the winds swirling and pushing huge amounts of rain down the middle of our street. Trees bent double. And the noise. Imagine the sounds of a freight train for almost five hours. Thank God we could not hear it in the “room.”
We truly believed it was hopeless. It just seemed as if the storm was coming right at the Cape. We were imagining the storm surge which they had assured us over and over again would be over nine feet from street level. We were terrified. I know you probably thought what a great time to read. I could not concentrate on anything but the storm. So I played solitaire on my ipad and my husband played angry birds. The cats slept safely.
When we got the word that the storm was jogging slightly to the east as it passed Estero we began to be hopeful. Then we heard the eye was over Lehigh, the place we had been told to go for safety…. We could feel the storm turning. Eerie. We left the safe room because the noise was then coming from that direction. Two hours later the storm began to lessen and quiet. The winds continued through the night, but we knew it had passed. We did not leave the house. But we sipped a glass of wine by candlelight and breathed a sigh of relief. Still, knowing there could be surge of sorts and being on a canal, my husband listened to the radio before we went to bed. They said there would be no surge in our area. I can not tell you the magnitude of our relief. No words.
My daughter says it was just as awful for her in Asheville, North Carolina. She could have lost her entire family. She had such a sense of hopelessness. It was an awful day for her too.
As soon as the sun came up the next morning my youngest son Mike arrived with French Press in hand. He and my husband Jack moved the BBQ grill to the patio and we made coffee. Swapped stories and planned the day ahead. Later we walked the neighborhood and looked at the damage. Lots of foliage all over the place. Across the canal a couple tall palms down. Shingles on the lawns. We lost our mail box. Boo Hoo. We are so lucky. Even the pool cage sustained no damage. The pool is an unusual shade of green even now, but this is expected. The breezes throughout the day kept us pretty comfortable. We laid on the lounge chairs on the lanai and it was okay. At six the power came on. Mike brought his family over. His wife Ana cooked us a big dinner. And we celebrated life and what is important in the big picture.
I read somewhere that hurricanes come to keep us humble. It rang a bell with me. I felt really humble. I looked around the house at one point right before the storm hit and discovered that not much was important. Family and our beloved pets. Friends. Our lives.
In the days since the storm we’ve gotten the internet back and even mail delivery. UPS delivered a book. Normal. But there are still so many people without power, here on the Cape and in Lee County. I have many friends in Naples who are still dark. It could be a very long time for them to regain power. My son told me we would be one of the first to get power because we share the same grid as the hospital. He sure was right. I thank God.
Those of you living in our area who have gone through this storm feel free to leave messages and tell me about your experience. It helps to talk.