I try to post pretty regularly to my blog, but the last two weeks have been all consuming with (1) prepping for Hurricane Irma, (2) hurricane Irma, and (3) the aftermath of hurricane Irma. I live in Orlando, Florida, so we are extraordinarily lucky compared to those in the Caribbean, the Keys, and other areas of South Florida that were horribly impacted. Just the same, the whole experience just shook me a little bit this time.
In the week leading up to the storm I received lots of calls and texts from friends and loved ones asking if we had left. Family worrying that we were still here.
Why did we stay?
I completely understand folks leaving Central Florida for the storm. I had my moments of doubt not leaving. Living in Florida, after a while you start to tune out all the talk about the named storms each hurricane season (roughly September through December). The majority of the time these tropical storms and hurricanes simply turn the other direction and miss us completely, so over time you begin to tune it all out. We live more than an hour inland, so even when storms graze the coast its usually not bad here. If something hits the State it rarely goes over Orlando, or if it does it usually never hits us at hurricane strength. We aren’t close to any flood zone, so there was no risk of that occurring. And to top it off, Florida is a peninsula which means there are limited routes through and out of the state, making leaving even more difficult. If every resident in Florida chose to leave, I can’t imagine what the roads would have looked like.
So we stayed.
Was it scary?
Not at first, but then it grows bit by bit, day by day. You are convinced it will turn and skirt past once again, but once it is apparent that it’s headed straight toward you, you begin to freak out a little bit more.
We started gathering our hurricane supplies early in the week and kept adding to it day by day. Key items to have on hand are lots of water, nonperishable food, flashlights or lanterns, ice chest and ice, and a weather radio. The local grocery stores were running out of water a week before the Irma, so I bought 5 gallon collapsible jugs for next time. This year we finally purchased a generator in the event we lost power, which is nice to have from here on out, but it made a little ding in the old pocketbook. We started to save bags of ice in the freezer earlier in the week so we could keep the refrigerator cool in the event we lost power. We also kept the gas tank pretty full in the event that we did need to flee, but thankfully that never happened.
As it became apparent that the storm would at least in part hit us, we began to prep for storm day around the house. All patio furniture, potted plants and anything outside needs to find a new home inside somewhere. Our house was a cluttered mess of outdoor cushions, and all the plats from the front stoop made the dining room table look like a pottery barn add gone horribly wrong.
The only room on our first floor without windows is the closet under our stairs, so we had to take a bunch of stuff out to make room for us to hunker down during the worst moments of the storm or in the event of a tornado the next day. I put together a small suitcase with a few outfits for each of us in the event that something catastrophic happened to the house and we couldn’t stay. Then I secured my hard drives with our family photos, phone chargers and all our important papers in a waterproof container. Finally we shut and zip tied all of our shutters – they are only decorative shutters and not hurricane ones, but they helped protect the windows in the front (until the one was ripped off by the wind). It’s strange as you start to catalogue what things are most important to you, and what you can’t live without.
The day before the hurricane is kind of tense and eerie. It’s a strange feeling to have a slow moving iceberg about to hit the ship you are on, but to be aware days in advance that you are steering right into it. I become obsessed with checking the Weather Channel app every 5 minutes and then double check the reports with all the local forecasters. At a certain point, it just becomes too much. After we finished our final hurricane prep, we all needed a break to keep our sanity. I decided to take Max to Disney World for the afternoon. I knew we’d be huddled inside for the better part of the next couple of days, so I wanted to get out and about while we could.
It was an great day to visit the parks. There were no lines so we walked on everything, plus it was a cloud so it wasn’t terribly hot outside. All of the large trees that were in front of Cinderella’s Castle went down with Hurricane Charlie, so part of me also wanted to see the park one last time before the storm in case anything changed permanently. We stayed there until dinner time and then headed home. The Haunted Mansion is one of my favorite rides at the Magic Kingdom, so I took Max for the very first time and to my surprise, he loved it! He also got to ride the carousel and happily pointed out all the different animals on the Jungle Cruise.
On Sunday the trajectory of the storm changed from passing just west of Tampa to the eye of the hurricane heading over Orlando. It would be a Category 1 hurricane when it hit. That was the last thing I expected to happen, but at that point it was too late to leave. Getting stuck in a traffic jam in your car on the highway is far worse than riding out the storm at home. We tried our best to have a pretty normal day at home, watched the Steelers and Packers games on TV, and took naps.
The winds started picking up in the evening and the hardest part of the storm hit between 11pm and 7am the next morning, with freaking eye of the storm going right over our house somewhere between 2-3am.
Max and I slept in the closet, and daddy was close by inside. I was awake for the worst part of the storm and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I kept watching the satellite images of the storm approach us and talked with Orlando friends via text and Facebook.
Through the storm I worried for my friends and family too. I have uncles in Jacksonville and Tampa, and good friends throughout South Florida. Just two weeks before the storm my in-laws moved from Milwaukee to a house on a lake just west of Orlando, so I knew they super nervous and worried about damage from the large trees on their property and the lake flooding. A girlfriend of mind had family that remained in Key West, another girlfriend had to leave her house in Naples, and yet another girlfriend had to leave their house near the water Tampa while her husband had to stay behind because he’s a news broadcaster there. These ladies were on my mind all night, and we texted throughout the night lending our support to one another even though we were scattered in location from Orlando to South Carolina.
The next morning we awoke to find shingles torn from our roof, a shutter ripped off the front of our house, our fence was still in-tact but blown completely sideways, and we subsequently found some other things we have to take care of.
We found out that during the storm a tornado touched down less than a quarter of a mile from our house and took out a historic water tower next to the old orange packing plant along the biking trail that runs along our subdivision.
We never lost power, but there are many in Orlando that are still without power five days later. Uprooted trees, limbs and debris were scattered across yards and streets everywhere, billboards and canopies were downed or ripped to pieces, and road signs were blown down or out of the ground
Will we stay again next time? Probably, but each storm brings with it its own set of factors to consider. I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that we’ve seen the worst of this 2017 hurricane season. December 1st can’t get here fast enough this year.
If you would like to donate to help those most impacted by Harvey and Irma, I’ve provided a few links below to Direct Relief, American Red Cross, Americares, the Humane Society (helping displaced animals after Harvey and Irma),