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Irma: Survival of the Fittest!

I survived Irma.

After ‘weathering’ many life adventures, including Hurricane Sandy, Irma felt like the biggest, scariest, most daunting meteorological happening yet. I guess the fact that it was the biggest Atlantic hurricane ever, that it covered the state of Florida, that it kept holding at a Category 5, all contributed to that feeling.

I have to wonder, though, was part of my concern related to my age?.... When I was younger and lived through blizzards, or even a few hurricanes further north, was I naïve? Youth goes hand in hand with a feeling of being invincible. The reality, however, is that when you are young, you are far and away tougher than when you are a wee bit older.

To go or to stay?

As my husband and I assessed the options for managing the storm, we first imagined driving up north, but we soon pictured ourselves being stuck on the highway with no gas; that outcome didn’t feel like fun at all. When we considered flying out of Dodge, we tried to push back the day that we would leave, but then got concerned that the airports would close—and they did. And then there is our dog… we needed to stay with him to reassure him.

So leaving didn’t seem like a good option. At the time…

The necessities: food, water and air

Staying in place required a whole other set of struggles- both physical and emotional. I can’t tell you how many shopping trips I made to purchase water, canned foods, flashlights and batteries. One morning, I even got up at 6 AM to arrive at the grocery as it opened in order to still find water on the shelves. It worked. I got my rationed two big bottles! And while I was there, I even threw in a can of sardines, in memory of my mother who used to serve them to us for lunch when I was a kid. I didn’t even know they still sold them! It’s good to share a piece of the past as comfort food.

I always find shopping the most fun, the easiest and therefore, the first task I conquer first. Collecting items before moving forward always seems the best route. Spoiler Alert: The power did go out, so I used at least some of the food and flashlight batteries. I am sure, however, that much of my larder will end up at the food bank, given that I would not eat canned mixed -vegetables in any other circumstance!

Then I realized it’s not all about food and light! Air is an issue. Without AC in the south, even with windows open, it is warm--- no… hot! Even though, as kids, we all slept in un-air-conditioned bedrooms, atop damp sheets, sweating all night, right now, at this age and stage, the thought of sleeping with no AC feels like a fate almost worse than death. The least I could do was to find a battery -powered fan. Amazon two -day delivery came to the rescue.

Food, light and air consumed the first several days of prep, only to lead to the next three days of physical labor: moving anything that could become a projectile from the outside to a safe harbor. Some items, like our grill, we shoved into our shed. Our wicker rocker was slipped inside the house to share space with our living room sofa while the metal lounge was moved to the side of the house that seemed to be the most wind protected. Plants, wind chimes, lawn chairs all found new homes.

No Arc, so now what?

Then we thought: what if we flood?? The pictures of people after Harvey were still sharp in our minds. Even though the likelihood was small, we decided to move all of the items that we care about up from low lying places: books were pulled from shelves, decorations collected on table tops, and papers, including all those important items like wills and insurance policies- were rapidly placed in water tight boxes or plastic bags to be stashed safely in the dishwasher or the top of a closet.

Last but not least, we sandbagged the house. One -story Florida houses are but a hair’s distance from the potentially pooling rain -water. Who knows where that water- 5, 10 or 15 inches!- will find its new home. Luckily, we had brought with us unused chemical sandbags from the San Diego El Nino that didn’t materialize and had plenty of the bags for all of the doors. Sometimes my tendency to hoard comes in handy!

Waiting it out

Once everything was completed, we packed our bag, took our dog and drove over to our friends’ home to ‘weather’ the storm together. We had worried, obsessed, catastrophized, and worked like the dickens, and we were now ready to face the storm.

The night was long. The power went out and we sat with a soft light lantern talking, trying to focus on anything but our anxiety. Every so often we heard a loud ka-boom as a big limb hit the roof. In between, we listened to the roaring wind and the battering rain. As the hours passed, we tried to sleep, although, anxiety, noise and staying fully dressed, in case of the need for immediately departure, made this attempt a folly.

The end game

In the end, the house didn’t flood, the roof didn’t cave in, the windows didn’t break and the carport remained standing. The biggest damage to our friends’ home was a big limb that pieced their closet roof, essentially creating a cork that almost blocked all the water from leaking onto her clothes. In my estimation, given my love of clothes, having clothing damage was almost as bad as losing all the food in the fridge (food being my other greatest need)! However, the clothes were only mildly damp, AND, the food loss amounted to less than half of fridge and freezer. Good news on both accounts!

They also lost huge portions of their fence and for the first time could wave to neighbors from the back window. We, too, came home to a leaning fence. Lots of branches flew into both of our yards, bushes damaged, limbs down, but in the larger scheme of things, not too bad!

But that generally positive outcome wasn’t known until all of the prep was completed, and the commitment to remain in Florida had been solidified. We got through relatively easily; many of our neighbors did not fare as well.

Wisdom or wizened?

Am I too old for this? I don’t remember prepping for storms – other than saving water- when I was younger. I guess I just knew food would be available. I don’t remember staying up all night listening. I guess I just trusted; or maybe I had a better capacity for denial. Knowing how bad things CAN get, having seen, heard and lived through numerous crises over the years, have made me more cautious. Or maybe knowing that I generally don’t have the physical strength and stamina of a youngster to clean up, hurl logs, and climb ladders creates a shroud of restraint. Throwing a hurricane party just isn’t an option anymore!

Knowing my limits is both a gift and a curse. It’s not just the physical work that reminds my back that I’m getting older. The wisdom of my age prompts my awareness of all the things that can go wrong which couples with the understanding that I really don’t want to deal with any of those fix-it, phone and form-filing challenges.

I can’t say what I will do in the future. Too many variables will have to shape that decision. How old will I be at the time? What does the storm look like and what else am I dealing with at the moment? How much have I reshaped the memory from Irma? Was it a disaster or an adventure? I am glad that I made the decisions that I did for this hurricane. On the one hand, nothing about Irma was easy; yet, my husband’s and my experience of the hurricane wasn’t nearly as bad as we feared.

In the end, I can say but one thing:

I did survive Irma and now I want that t-shirt!

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