7 Days Before Landfall – Preparations
When I first heard that Hurricane Irma might hit us in Southeast Florida, I thought, “I better gas up the cars now before everybody panics.”
That turned out to be a smart move. The very next day, cars were lined up for 2 hours getting gas and stations began to run out.
My wife and I then hit the grocery store to stock up on extra food. We tried to buy water but it had already disappeared from the shelves so instead we filled every container we had at home with tap water.
We already had our emergency kit fully stocked. I thought we were ready with batteries, flashlights, a radio, candles and a deck of cards.
5 Days Before Landfall – To Stay or Go?
Over the next few days the forecast grew darker with the likelihood of a Category 4 or 5 hurricane hitting the entire state of Florida. My wife and I debated – should we evacuate with our dog and 2 cats to Georgia? Should we “ride it out” at home so we aren’t stuck driving in crazy traffic for several days? What if there’s no gas or hotels available when we’re on the road? Would we be stuck somewhere on the side of the road during the hurricane?
With flights all sold out, reports of jammed highways, and gas stations running out of fuel, we decided to stay home.
Our son Zack and his girlfriend, having been through Hurricane Andrew and Wilma, decided to evacuate. They rented a car and drove to Tennessee. (He’s a smart kid!)
4 Days Before Landfall – There’s Nothing Like an Emergency to Focus Your Efforts
I was taught years ago that whenever I am facing a big, imminent challenge, I should do the “Next Right Thing”. This approach has never let me down.
- First, I contacted my ISD clients to inform them that I would be going offline to prepare for the hurricane and that I would reconnect with them after it had passed.
- Next, I put up the shutters on the house, brought in everything from outside, and started locking down the house in preparation for the storm.
- My wife and I created a “safe room” in the closet.
- We contacted friends & relatives to share our plans, let them know we could be without power or cell service for awhile, and to tell them we loved them, just in case.
- We charged up our laptops and cell phones.
- We uploaded pictures of the house, insurance policies and other important documents to the cloud.
- We created a “bug out” bag with our IDs, insurance, cash, cash, pet food and emergency supplies in case we had to abandon the house.
We spoke frequently with our son as he made his way up the state and out of harm’s way.
3 Days Before Landfall – Anticipation and Dread
The local news was doing hurricane coverage 24/7. We watched as Irma destroyed several Caribbean Islands, missed others and was forecasted to hit us as a Category 4 or 5 within the next 72 hours.
Mandatory evacuations were put in place for coastal areas that expected storm surges of over 10 feet. Local and state government officials were urging people in flood zones to evacuate.
The Governor was on the news constantly. He had pre-emptively declared a State of Emergency and was mobilizing the National Guard to help.
Power outages and catastrophic damage were predicted statewide.
I was hoping I had not made the wrong decision to stay. If my wife or pets were hurt by the storm, I wasn’t sure how I’d be able to live with the guilt. It was hard to think about this.
My wife and I talked about things like this:
- If we are uninjured, then we will be happy.
- If the pets are uninjured, we’ll be thrilled.
- If the house is not damaged, we’ll be ecstatic.
We also made plans like this:
- If the roof comes off over the safe room (closet), we’ll run to the hall on the other side of the house.
- If we get hit with a tornado or the roof collapses, we’ll cover ourselves with the exercise mat. but we might not be able to get the cats to come with us.
- If flooding starts, first we’ll move to the kitchen, then on top of furniture, then onto the cars. If it rises above the cars, we’ll go on the roof or the trees out front.
- If one of us is seriously injured, the closest hospital in 3 miles away. Both cars are gassed up and could get us there.
- If we lose all cell service for an extended period, I can walk to the hospital or police station where they’ll probably have some type of WiFi.
- These are the neighbors who are also sheltering in place.
The waiting was brutal. Knowing something bad is going to happen and waiting for it to hit was excruciating. As my wife likes to say, patience has never been one of my strengths.
1 Day Before Landfall
Surprisingly, despite the fact that we had been having wind gusts up to 60 MPH and continuous thunderstorms for the past 2 days, we still had power.
We were glued to the news. Irma’s eye was still wobbling. It could land on the East Coast (us), the West Coast or go right up the center of the state. Although those in the eye would sustain the highest damage, the storm was wide enough that the entire state would be hit hard.
By now we’d been shuttered inside the house for 2 days. We started getting slammed with big wind gusts and horizontal rain pelting the shutters. Thunder shook our house. Our pets were spooked – pushing up against us with eyes as big as saucers or hiding under the blankets when the thunder boomed.
I became a fan of forecaster John Morales, who gave real time updates without any drama. He started calling out tornado warnings for my neighborhood – one after another coming every few minutes. Then our cell phone emergency alerts started blaring. Over the next 18 hours, we ran into the “safe room” half a dozen times as funnel clouds formed and tornado warnings urged us to “take cover now”.
The Governor said, “We will not be sending our any emergency responders until after the hurricane has passed. You are on your own. If you have not evacuated it is too late. Shelter in place and hunker down now.”
Then we lost power.
From our emergency radio and Twitter updates via my cell phone, we learned that just before landfall in Florida, the eye shifted to the West coast. My area was now expecting Category 3 winds and would be spared the worst of Irma.
The house was dark. The winds were loud. Peering out from a small crack between the shutters we saw whipping winds, heavy rains, flashes of lightening and gray skies.
Over the next 24 hours, we stayed shuttered in, trying to calm our pets and jumping into the closet when tornado alerts sounded. The winds slammed into our house. Our shutters, doors and windows rattled and groaned. We heard rain driving into the shutters and stuff banging around outside. Thunder shook the house and lightning came in waves.
There were occasional loud booms which I guess were transformers blowing out.
Aftermath – Focus on the Next Right Thing
Finally, 24 hours later, on Monday morning, it was over. It was still windy and raining, but the hurricane had passed.
We had no power. We had no internet. Our cell phone service was sporadic.
We went outside to survey the damage.
The house was fine – windows, roof and structure undamaged.
Our yard was a mess. A large section of fence had blown over and flattened half the backyard. Our 3 story Bismarck palm tree with a 4 ft diameter trunk was leaning precariously at a 60 degree angle. A quick survey of the neighbor’s yards and street revealed trees down everywhere.
Over the next few days, the “Next Right Thing” was obvious:
- Look for downed power lines around the house – there were none.
- Let the pets go outside – they were cautious but ready.
- Call/text Mom, Son and family members.
- Check on neighbors.
- Remove shutters to allow light in the house.
- Help neighbor remove plywood from his windows.
- Report power outage to FPL.
- Find a tree guy to cut down the Palm tree before it falls on the house.
- Rig a temporary fence for the dog.
- Try to conserve ice and make food last as long as possible.
- See if I can get my wife into a hotel.
We were extremely fortunate that the storm didn’t hit us as a Cat 5. Instead we experienced a Category 1 hurricane and about 6 tornados. In my neighborhood, there was no flooding.
I cannot fathom what the devastation from a Category 4 or 5 Hurricane would be like.
Our neighborhood looked like it had been bombed. Although most houses looked OK, trees, fences and power lines were down everywhere. Roads were blocked by downed trees. Sewer lines were ripped up from fallen tree roots.
Chain saws ran all day. Generators were running all day and night.
None of the roads had street lights, traffic signals or much traffic. No homes had power.
Gas stations and stores were shuttered for days.
Cell service was spotty. I could only get access around 2-3AM.
Over the next week, we sweltered as the humidity and temperatures soared.
Our stash of ice lasted about 3 days. After that we had to throw out nearly all of our food.
With no electricity and temps in the 90s, even food like apples, oranges and vegetables couldn’t last more than 48 hours.
Neighbors all over were running portable generators. I was jealous. I would have killed for a fan, a light and a refrigerator. Plus I was using my laptop (only source of power) to charge the cell phones and now the laptop was running low.
We had water, food, batteries and candles. And each other. That made it bearable. Uncomfortable, but bearable.
I’m surprised to admit how much I missed having air conditioning, a fan or a cold drink. Without these, trying to sleep was pretty miserable.
Prior to Irma, I confidently predicted that I could go 2-3 weeks without power and be fine. I was wrong. I now realize that I could survive, but I wouldn’t be “fine”.
After 5 days, with no updates from the power company other than “we’re working on it and anticipate power will be restored within a week or so“, we drove around the looking for any hotel room. The first 5 hotels either had no power or were fully booked.
Luckily we found a room at the StayBridge Suites. The staff working the front desk there were phenomenal. The entire hotel was packed with evacuees, like ourselves, who were seeking relief from the heat, a decent meal and news updates. The Staybridge staff waived all pet fees and did their best to accommodate the sudden influx of evacuees. I cannot say enough good things about how they treated us.
Sleeping in a room with AC was sweet relief. Doing a load of laundry was a joy. We were even able to finally make some ice to put in the cooler at home.
We slept in the hotel and returned to our house each day to work on cleanup and wait for power.
We didn’t get power back for more than a week and Internet a few days later. Once power was restored, we had to deal with a number of unexpected issues.
- The AC backed up and was leaking water into the house.
- The sprinklers outside suddenly started leaking.
- The fence had to be fully torn down.
- The palm tree had to be chopped up and dragged out the yard.
- A temporary fence had to be put up.
All in all, Hurricane Irma was a major inconvenience for my family that could have been much worse. My heart goes out to those who suffered greatly in Florida and in the Caribbean.
I’ve learned a number of lessons during the storm about family, neighbors and preparation.
When it appears that everything may be lost, for me, the most important things are my wife, my son and my pets. Next up are the people around me.
Everything else that I thought was important (house, possessions, work, money) quickly loses value.
My eyes have been opened to what is realistic to expect from government and utilities before, during and after a disaster.
I was impressed by the local pizza shop, Mr. D’s, who opened after 2 days when everything else was shut down to help feed the neighborhood and keep his employees earning money.
I was surprised how long it took for gas stations and grocery stores to come back online.
I was grateful that Home Depot opened quickly with a skeleton staff and limited power so we could buy repair materials.
I met, spoke with and helped more neighbors than I had in the previous year. Already as we return to our “normal/busy” lives, I miss this.
I was surprised at how small my world becomes without power. I had zero interest in watching the national news after 5 days without power. I was more interested in when FPL would get the lines back up.
I’ve learned a little about FEMA, a lot about generators and probably spent too much time in my own head.
I’d like to think I’ll have greater empathy for people hit by natural disasters in the future. At the very least, they will no longer just be images on my TV.
It’s still too early for me to process everything I’ve learned. I’ll be sure to share more in future posts.
To my friends, my neighbors, and my former Citrix colleagues who lived through the storm – I hope you are safe and things are getting back to normal for you too.
Initially, I intended to tie this post into “triaging” when handling emergency work situations but right now, I just can’t.
My next post will be back on topic about sales.
It’s good to get back to work.