Today, I’m getting a little personal. We endured Hurricane Irma a few weeks ago, and I just wanted to share our accounts of the evening and what I learned about weathering a storm of such magnitude with two small kids. I’ll be honest, I had a hard time titling this post. The word “surviving” is strong. Did we loose everything? Were we holding on to a door for hours to make sure the wind didn’t blow it open? Did we loose our roof? The answer to all those questions is No. We lucked out and I thank God for that. Especially since so many people did not. So, yes, my title might be a little strong and brash, but I’ll be honest that’s how I felt about the storm. We survived. It was by far the scariest night of my life.
I’ve lived in Florida for 20 years and have endured quite a few hurricanes in my time. The scariest and most destructive was in 2004, Hurricane Charley. Charley was a beast that ripped through Orlando last minute (like turned 6+ hours before it was expected to make landfall). I was in college and my family and I were out of power for 9 long days. We didn’t have a generator and the nights were hot and the days were hotter. Thankfully, we had minimal damage to our home, but of course lost all the food in our refrigerator and freezer. This is something that people who have never experienced a hurricane don’t realize. After you loose power and it’s not restored within 24 hours, you find yourself eating everything you own and then tossing the rest–let me tell you about how pleasant of a smell it is on garbage day in your neighborhood that has been without power ((GAG)). Since I’ve experienced a powerful hurricane I’ve always taken the warnings seriously. The Monday prior to Irma hitting us, I decided to order two cases of bottled water from Sam’s Online Pick-Up. Just in case we needed it. Boy–am I glad I did that. Normally online pick up takes 5 minutes tops and when I pulled into Sam’s it was a zoo (on a Tuesday around lunch time). No water was to be found. Thankful that I had thought to order online–I was the proud owner of two, 40 pack cases of water. Customers gave me evil eyes as they walked by and saw my cart of water. It was at that second I knew we had to really be concerned about Irma. Gas was starting to become scarce as well as all hurricane supplies. Everyone was stocking up like we would be without power and homes for months. Jon, wasn’t at all concerned, but I kept gathering supplies “just in case” as any good mother/wife would do.
Fast forward to the Sunday the storm was hitting. I was a nervous wreck–hello, wine at 10 in the morning to cut the edge off my anxiety. As the weather started to get bad, I could finally see the look of worry on Jon’s face. By 8pm the winds and rain were intense. I had officially moved the kids into our bedroom away from the direct howling of the wind and the rain pounding on the windows. And as each tornado warning on our cell phone would sound I began pacing. Thankfully, the Disney Channel had “The Princess and the Frog” playing, and it kept Ryder as occupied as possible during what should have been bed time. All while I was trying to listen if I heard a freight train coming and we would need to run into our closet. Jon was determined to binge watch a little more tv in our family room until I finally told him to get the local news on because I needed to see if they were reporting any rotations in our area. After a few good gusts, Jon stood up and looked out our sliding glass window. As the power continued to flicker, the tornado warnings popping up on our cell phones every few minutes, he finally decided to move into our bedroom. He said he had seen the sliding glass door start to bow in. It was my biggest fear–our sliding glass door shattering. We have plantation shutters throughout our home, so it made me feel a little better if the windows broke. At least the glass would be somewhat contained–but our sliding glass door is bare.
After we got yet another tornado warning and the power flickered again, the wind howling–Jon finally realized we would not be sleeping in our bed with the kids. That my crazy antics of wanting to sleep in our closet was probably the safest thing to do for our family. All week I had asked for help to clean out our master closet. You guys–we still have boxes that have yet to be unpacked from TWO years ago when we moved. I told him to just place those boxes in our bedroom to give us more room. I started gathering all the quilts off the beds and all the pillows. We made on giant bed on the floor of our closet. I gathered all the battery operated candles as well as our weather radio and RYOBI flashlight and lantern. Our emergency bag was packed and in the bathroom in case we needed it. This is something my mom taught me years ago as we weathered Hurricane BOB in the 90’s. You pack a bag with a few changes of clothes, medicine, and the most important documents of your life (birth certificates, social security cards, passports, home insurance paper work, and power bill). I also packed my external hard drive. It took a natural disaster to finally back up both my computers. I figured if I lost my computers at least I had everything I needed on this tiny external hard drive. I also moved in a box of baby diapers and wipes just in case. I had heard from past storms that the Red Cross and other organizations do not provide diapers so I knew I would need those just in case it got really bad.
Jon finally finished the “fort” as we dubbed it for Ryder, our feisty three year old. At first we didn’t turn off the lights but as a few minutes passed on I told Jon that we should close the door and turn off the lights–dim the battery operated candles and try to get Ryder to sleep. I was able to get Reagan to sleep almost instantly and just as Ryder fell asleep Reagan woke up. It was at that moment that it was starting to get hot in our closet. I asked Jon to crack open the closet door to see if he saw the light on in the bathroom. The minute he opened it–it was dark and I knew that we were in for a very long night. Reagan cried and cried and only wanted to be rocked standing up for a good half hour. She finally passed out and I attempted to get comfortable as she slept on top of me. Jon was snoring and Ryder was peacefully sleeping–all while I stayed glued to our weather radio listening to updates and bracing myself as every big gust of rain and wind crashed on to our roof. The top photo of this post is the view I had for all those hours. It wasn’t until after midnight that the tornado warnings settled down and I felt that I could breathe a little. Even though the hurricane had shifted and I knew the eye was coming right over Orlando in a little over an hours time. I was able to nod on and off for 5-10 minute stretches. I’ve never felt like time has stood still until that evening. The minutes were crawling by. Once the storm was passing over us I was once again peeled to our radio.
I continued to text with my family members who also live in Orlando as the storm passed over. Then I got an urgent text from my mom about her sewer system backing up into her house. Jon works in municipalities. I knew he would be able to answer my mom’s questions but I wasn’t sure if I should wake him up. I eventually did and a few minutes later the kids were both up. We talked to my mom on the phone. We took bathroom breaks from the closet. Hello fresh cold air–I wasn’t sure at that point if we had a window blow through or it was just the remaining air conditioning lingering. Our closet was starting to get very hot. Jon also took a flashlight and walked around the house. Made me nervous as hell, but he came back within a minute and reported that everything looked okay. Our pool screen was still attached and looked for the most part in decent shape and no trees were down (as well as no windows broken which was a big fear of mine). We also grabbed some snacks and Jon began telling stories. Since Ryder is big into Halloween right now (he watches every Halloween video he can on Netflix right now) Jon started telling “spooky” stories. He grabbed a candle and started with “once upon a time” and Ryder thought it was hilarious. So of course he grabbed a candle too and started telling his spooky stories too. That’s the picture above–dark and blurry but definitely depicts our 3am “break”. Ryder didn’t really understand what was going on so we were trying to keep everything as light as possible. Shortly after we go the kids back to sleep and we both were able to sleep for a good hour and a half until we both woke up to a loud gust of wind and a big bang.
We finally got out of the closet around 7am. The winds were still whipping but the rain and the bulk of the bad part of the storm was gone. Jon and Ryder walked the dog who hadn’t went out in 12+ hours and they looked around our cul de sac at some of the damage. We fired up our generator and made iced coffees (thanks to the thinking of my friend who told me to brew coffee the night before for that morning). We cleaned up with neighbors that day and tried staying as cool as possible. Our power finally popped on that Tuesday evening at 9pm. Overall, we are so incredibly lucky that we are okay, our home is okay, and that Irma is now a distant memory. However, since the hurricane I definitely feel as though I have PTSD. We’ve had a few big thunderstorms since the Hurricane and my anxiety goes through the roof. Our power has also flickered off and on and it freaked me out too. Storms straight up scare me. They always have and sadly not sure if I will never not be scared by them. I’m just glad that I am able to write about it–it’s sort of healing and therapeutic to me. Plus–I wanted to share our experience with others.
Continue to pray for those in Florida. Some areas are very very damaged. And some of my favorite islands in the an are decimated. It brings tears to my eyes. Donate and do whatever you can to help them.