We chose to “ride out” hurricane Irma in our block home in the woods of eastern Hernando County because:
- we have several pets: 2 dogs, 2 cats and one horse
- the horrible traffic jams on the freeway scared us
- our home made it through 2004’s three hurricanes
- I refuse to buy into the “hype” of our modern media age
- no-one, not even Paul Delgado, really knows where a storm will hit.
Thursday September 7 – Preparing Day 1
To prepare, we cleared our yard of debris, our deck of patio furniture and plants, our home of stuff we have been promising to get rid of, and made a ride to the local dump.
I went into town, filled up my gas tank for more than I’ve paid for gas in a long time, and bought bottled water, hurricane snacks and nonperishable foods. I was unable to get non ethanol gas for our cans, so I brought them back, figuring I would try again the next day. I washed our laundry.
Friday, September 8 – The Traffic
Have you ever been to the Florida Keys and spoken to the residents? A hardy bunch of folks, sun-loving, ocean loving, outdoorsy peaceniks is how I think of the southernmost residents of the sunshine state. The majority of the Conch Republic evacuated up the I-75 interstate, and when that got too crowded, they filtered onto state roads and U.S. highways.
They were joined by residents of Miami, West Palm Beach, Fort Myers, Sarasota and up both coasts of the state. All major roads became overcrowded as 6.3 million people were ordered to evacuate. Marla Chancey, a resident of Old Homosassa, told me it took her 1.5 hours to travel to her job in Crystal River on Friday morning!
No non ethanol gas again, so I filled the cans with regular gas and drove to two different stores to buy the additive and 2 cycle oil additive. I washed the rest of our laundry.
At this time Hurricane Irma was predicted to travel up the center of Florida. The Nature Coast was predicted to be on the light side of the storm.
Saturday, September 9
I went to fill sand bags Saturday morning. For two days, the counties had offered sandbags, often running out before the end of each day. In downtown Brooksville, I found a friendly, somewhat frantic group of citizens helping each other prepare. Forgetting my shovel, a gentleman loaned me his upon request. Although he had filled and loaded his bags, he followed and helped me fill my bags, then carried them to my vehicle. There was a real feeling of “we’re in this together” throughout the group.
Meanwhile my husband was at home igniting the burn pile.
The storm was predicted to hit us, not to hit us, to hit us, not to hit us. For days leading up to Irma’s arrival in Florida, we watched, listened, prepared and worried. Irma was finally predicted to arrive in Florida’s Nature Coast as a category 1-3 hurricane, covering us in strong winds and heavy rain for hours late Sunday night. Everyone I know prayed.
Sunday, September 10
Sunday morning, Irma came into the U.S. via the Florida Keys. Then up to Fort Myers and southwest Florida. Sarasota. Punta Gorda. The power of Irma – the largest recorded storm in the Atlantic – was devastating to south Florida.
Weather people predicted a strong, direct hit into the Nature Coast after the storm went out to sea, strengthened and returned with a vengeance.
It was too late to change our minds. We were committed… and prepared – except for water in the tubs and jugs. We had eaten nearly every perishable food item in the house and now we were ready.
Mid-day the power went out.
At our home, we sheltered a couple of dear friends who needed to evacuate their beautiful mobile home on Hernando County’s west side. They had to leave their livestock and home. They brought a LOT of food in coolers, water, a wealth of knowledge from living through Hurricane Charley in central Florida with them… and a great faith that we share.
The power returned! We filled our two bath tubs, several vessels of differing sizes and put those that would fit in the freezer. Now we were as ready as we could be with several gallons of gasoline in the shed, both of our vehicles filled, many hurricane snacks and nonperishables, and a plan to make coffee on the barbecue.
Hurricane Irma Arrives
Irma was chugging up toward us. We prayed, talked, joked, checked our smartphones for updates, and eventually went to bed. None of us expected to sleep the night away, but perhaps a little shut-eye before the (expected) terrifying howl of 90 mph winds beating our abode hit us.
I was in and out Sunday night (I am an A+ sleeper), tossing and turning, waking up to hear the crack of a branch or the thud of a tree in the forest surrounding us! I “awoke” before daylight. We surveyed the property and tree parts were everywhere – but our home and our lives were spared.
Monday, September 11 – I remember
As the sun rose, one of our huge pine trees 200 feet west of us was lying horizontal on the earth. It broke my heart to see it slain. As I followed along from its root ball to the top (about 80 feet), another of its compatriots was below, having just missed the feed barn, while its topmost boughs brushed the roof.
In front of the fence that this massive “hugging pine” (I am a tree hugger.) had taken out, my beautiful horse was grazing peacefully on the yard debris. I believe she thought God had rained down a yard full of salad for her, spending the next several days grazing on this side of the fence.
Our friends left mid-morning to see how their property and sheep had fared. We didn’t know whether they would get through the downed trees and power lines, but they made it. When they got home, everything was intact – and they had power!
These wonderful friends returned to share a meal with us and together we thanked God for sparing us. After packing belongings into their vehicles, they returned to their home. The temperature was unusually cool and we were grateful for the respite. I ventured into what I call “the back 40”.
Twenty feet west of the initial two pine casualties, another of the “hugging pines” was toppled and it had taken out a piece of the south fence of our property. No-one had ventured back there since Irma blew through so I took Sylvia and we surveyed the destruction. Wow!
Tuesday, September 12 – Where do we go from here?
About ten trees are down and two broke fence lines, one of which is crucial to horse containment. All trees are well over 60 feet tall and several feet around – not the type we can manage with our homeowner chainsaw and non-athletic physical condition.
After two days without power, our friends generously hosted us for a night at their place, where we enjoyed the “luxury” of air-conditioned sleeping and hot showers, great company and fresh, hot coffee.
Wednesday, September 13
My husband has returned to work. They are picking up the pieces of a very detailed computer system that had to be shut down to retain integrity in Irma’s path. How computer-dependent our world is.
When we returned home after the comfort of our friends’ generous hospitality, I was able to secure a local hotel room, so I fed my pets, cleaned out my refrigerator and freezer, and left to enjoy some downtime. My brain was no longer working properly. I was becoming depressed about not having electricity and the massive yard cleanup that awaits. I was forgetting how fortunate we are to be alive.
On the way, I saw several Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative linemen checking the power lines. Kevin explained that they were working as fast as possible and hoped to have most of our area on soon, but no promises. I felt hope. I am ashamed that I am so dependent on electric power for my comfort, but it is true. As the temperature had climbed in the days after Irma came to town, I had become more and more miserable.
Several line trucks were on the road, but I went to the hotel anyway.
I stopped when I saw a local businesswoman, who I consider a very close friend outside her business. She showed me the damage that she had been working to repair for several days. As we walked through the property, she showed me several places where God had spared so much. All her family and animals had been spared. Where trees had fallen, buildings and outbuildings had minimal or no damage. Many trees were destroyed, but they hadn’t hurt the animals. Just lots of clean up.
I drove to the wrong hotel. After receiving guidance as to where my reservation was actually at, I went to the correct hotel and checked in. My neighbor called ten minutes after I got to my room. “The power is back on,” she said.
Thursday, September 14
This morning I arose, once again grateful to be alive and living in Florida’s Nature Coast. I drove home and fed the pets. Sitting on the back porch, I realize that we have truly been given another gift in watching our community come together through very difficult circumstances.
Neighbors helped neighbors by sharing homes, rides, and supplies. Police, fire, and EMS helped businesses maintain order in many panicking situations.
I saw local businesses offer food to the hungry. Banks have offered financial leeway to those who need it. County workers provided public information alerts every step of the way regarding necessary supplies and services (which we tried to disseminate) and now together we will work to clean up and get back to “normal”, whatever that is.
I am going to wash dishes, laundry, mop, empty the tubs and miscellaneous vessels of water, clean my refrigerators (which I took all of the rotten food out of yesterday) and try to get some rest in my own bed tonight. Tomorrow, we will publish a special edition of NatureCoaster News to get you as much recovery information as we can gather. Meanwhile, take care and be good to yourself.
Moving Forward: Share your Story – Help your Neighbor
We have the opportunity now to get out of our homes and help our neighbors, both locally, regionally, and in South Florida. We can even help those in the Caribbean who lost everything.
Please comment with your Irma story, photos, and any needs you may have. NatureCoasters together can help!