Hurricane Irma & Me

by Jan Roberts

Streaming thoughts during Hurricane Irma:

    First report of Irma in Atlantic Ocean:

“Crap, what a monster, I hope it doesn’t come here”.

Irma grazes Puerto Rico and roars into the Caribbean:

“These poor islands can’t catch a break.  Concern for residents who have no options…”.little money and resources to leave and seek safety.”

Notice of Hurricane Jose in Atlantic and Hurricane Katia off Mexico:

“And there are still idiots, who think climate change is not real!”  Share dark humor with fellow believers in the danger we have caused with our disregard for the planet:  “Wow, monster hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and Katia! What an incredible coincidence! Certainly can’t be related to climate change…..just the natural flow of nature.”

Irma looking like she will go north of Cuba:

Remembering my trip to Cuba when Hurricane Matthew hit and the anxiety about the damage to crops and subsistence farming, I think: “Thank heavens, Irma will miss them.

    Non-stop viewing of Irma’s path towards Florida from major news channels produces a mess of thoughts:

  • “I better get prepared.”
  • Friend Genie and I get in line early in morning for sandbags being supplied by City Parks Department; try to buy water only to find grocery store shelves empty; give up on long lines for gas and empty pumps; and stock up on wine, cheese and vodka.
  •   Numerous conversations with family members in Tampa to find out how they are doing and preparations they are making. I learn that they are staying in place and are super prepared with boarding of windows, stocking up, and emergency plans.   One example is daughter Amy Haile’s Facebook post: “Who knew my tendencies to own canteens would come in so handy. Filtered water is stored in these and we have tap water in 5 gallon water cube, 100 gallon water bob in the tub and a few repurposed juice jugs.”
  • Continuous questioning between Genie and myself about whether to stay or leave. News channels inundating us with catastrophic reports and dangers of Irma: “Maybe we should head to Genie’s cabin north of Atlanta….no, traffic will be horrible and gas will be limited or not available……yeah, but we could leave at midnight when roads won’t be so busy…, I’d just rather be at home….okay, we could go to your house, Genie, because you have window protection…..yeah, but you are a house and what if we flood….okay, we should stay at my house and just use the inner bedroom that is away from the windows….or maybe go to Colleen’s in north Tampa which is not close to the bay…yeah, but it’s a block from the Hillsborough river and does she have window protection…check with Colleen, who has shutters on windows…okay, then we’ll go there……yeah, but it’s a frame house and Irma is blowing away frame houses….okay, we’ll hunker down in my condo unit…..
  • Finally, resolution: we went to my son-in-law’s condo on 21st floor of same concrete building I am in as he has shutters so will have protection from the wind and definitely the surge won’t affect him.

Happenings as Irma bears down on us:

  • Run into next door condo neighbor, Dorothy, in the lobby and learn she is staying in the building, too. She lives alone as well. We share cell phone numbers so we can check on each other during the storm. Fortunately, Dorothy has shutters on her big window.
  • We all experience texts of anxiety from friends, who were hearing the news reports on Irma. Genie, Mark and I along with other residents in our area had been told to evacuate .But, in the end, we decide to stay at Mark’s condo on 21st floor and after some wine and cold prime rib steak with horseradish sauce and cheeses, we begin to feel more relaxed about our chances.
  • We see the news that Irma has hit Cuba, which has weakened her. I have guilt feelings about feeling relieved from the news despite the fact Cubans now suffer. What happened to my compassion?
  • I call Dorothy to check on her and she says she feels as prepared as one can be and feels pretty good.

Irma hits Tampa:

  • Sleeping on sofas, we gird our loins for Irma in the company of Mark, Mark’s dog Maddie, Genie’s parrot Mango and dog Shelby. During the long night, Irma howls through the shutters but sounds more like a cat in heat than a tiger roaring for fresh meat.
  • We awaken before dawn, hearing the wind, but with everything intact including the electricity. The surge was a non-reality partly because Irma’s winds coming from the east cause Tampa Bay to recede five miles and her winds from the west did not extend as far into the water. We feel so grateful and then worry about others…..checking in with family and friends, who also are in good shape.
  • I call Dorothy, who reports no damage and all is well. She offers to check on my unit, which I left unlocked. The elevators are not working so I take her up on her offer rather than trounce down 16 floors. She calls while inside to say all looks good, nothing has been disturbed and only minor water leak in bedroom through sliding door.
  • Meanwhile, major crisis in our unit with Genie’s dog, Shelby, who has not peed or pooped in 12 hours and is due. No elevators so we block dogs in kitchen, hoping Shelby will figure out how to use pee pad.  After sustained whining, no such luck. I call board member to let him know that freight elevator, which is supposed to be operable on generator is not working. He is surprised so I must have been first to call. He goes to check.
  • Within an hour, an assembly of condo board members has figured out how to get one elevator working and make announcement over PA system. Owners and dogs rush to elevator, averting another natural disaster inside building.

Monday morning quarterback:

We were very lucky and could have been better prepared.  Plans in the future to have on hand  camping stove, solar lamps, more phone chargers, battery operated fans and far more water.

On second thought: Now that we can pretty much be assured our concrete building will remain intact, we determine that we’re driving out a couple of days earlier to friends in Colorado.  No more days of anxiety and fear.

After Thoughts:

Wondering when climate change will be a priority for local, state and national policies and planning.  We are in danger and younger generations are going to suffer beyond our understanding. We will continue to experience these major catastrophes if we don’t get urgent about climate change now!!! Time to get lobbying.  I’m on community action committee for local women’s group. We have meeting at the end of this month and hopefully, climate change can become a priority for this year.

Reflection on the positives of this experience:

I heard from so many out of town family and friends, who were checking on me and my safety.  Even though, they could do nothing for me, their concern for me made me feel very cared about and I am grateful to them for their taking the time to check on me. I was also impressed with the consideration of my fellow citizens waiting in lines with me…..rare was the person, who busted the line….and she was quickly set straight by several of us at the same time……felt like I was in New York City, where such behavior is not accepted. All of us in interactions with others expressed “Stay safe” with sincerity. Disasters do spark instant community…..wish such consideration and concern for others was simply routine.

  Overwhelming sense of gratitude for being spared Irma’s wrath in Tampa and my heart goes out to the millions of people who have suffered losses and devastation from this monster hurricane.

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