I live in Tampa, Florida two blocks from Tampa Bay in a house surrounded by century-old oak trees.
On Friday night, September 8, things were looking very ominous for Tampa. Hurricane Irma was fast approaching and widespread destruction was predicted for the entire state.
Most frightening of all: this was being reported on by Anderson Cooper, the “A Team” of CNN, stationed on Tampa’s Riverwalk. That, to me, just confirmed the Tampa Bay Area was set for catastrophic devastation in the next two to three
Already there was no bottled water left on the
shelves. No available plywood to board up windows.
No automatic phone chargers. No flashlights or
batteries for radios. Gas was in short supply. I had
been getting calls all day from my sons telling me to
“get out of Dodge.”
I had stashed my dad’s World War II uniforms and dog tags in the washing machine to protect them, and put the kids’ baby books and picture albums in
the dryer. Thinking about taking anything else of value was too overwhelming.
The mass evacuations from South Florida were beginning to clog the highways, and gas stations along I-75 were closed due to lack of fuel.
We made a quick decision to leave rather than wait for daybreak. At 1:30 a.m., we loaded up the car, hustled our dog, Lola the Lab, into the already cramped back seat and set out. Loaded with non-perishables, $500 in cash, and a full tank of gas, we headed to I-75 in the shroud of darkness.
I glanced back at my house as we pulled away with a sinking feeling that
perhaps we’d never see it intact again.
The highway traffic
at 2 a.m. was bumper to
bumper. The gas gauge was
moving rapidly. We were
Armed with a thermos full of coffee, I guzzled it down to assure wide-eyed wakefulness. Soon, I had a full bladder.
As we crept along I-75, the gas stations had gone dark. I began to experience the angst of a refugee. Where were we headed? Would we make it there or be stranded alongside the road during the hurricane? And where in the heck would I pee?
The next public rest area was miles away. There was no way I was going to make it. With trepidation, we pulled off the highway onto a dark, desolate, litter-filled stretch of land that sported an abandoned gas station.
A sense of the surreal enveloped me. I should be soundly sleeping in my comfy king-size bed, not relieving myself over dirt with the wind whipping around my ankles. Of course there was no toilet paper.
We arrived in Atlanta mid-morning. By 2 p.m., we were able to check into a brand new Residents Inn that had opened only four days before.
When we woke, we remained glued to the TV monitoring Irma’s haphazard path.
Sometime during that long day, I did make a pit stop at a Barnes and Noble just steps from our hotel. I bought three books on resilience after a natural disaster. “See,” I said to myself, “even if I lost everything, I have already taken positive steps toward rebuilding my library.”
Glued to the TV, my anxiety continued to increase exponentially. They were predicting powerful storm surges. Flooded roads. Downed trees. Power outages that could last for days, if not weeks.
And most worrisome? My oldest son had stayed behind to ride the storm out.
Being a public official, he was committed to being both present and available.
None of us slept that Sunday night. Weather alert updates continued
to confirm Hurricane Irma’s capricious flailing around the entire Tampa Bay Area.
Fortunately for us, and unfortunately for others, Irma’s eye landed east of Tampa Bay. She did her damage alright, but nothing like what had been predicted.
“Clearly, Tampa had not only dodged a bullet,” as one pundit remarked wryly, “but a cannon.”
So what did I learn from Irma?
• Buy suitcases with the capacity to store a charge
— which thanks to a present last year from my sons
we did have. Of course, we had never used that
benefit nor did we know how — but we quickly
learned and plugged those suckers in and charged
them up as back-up for our cell phones as soon as
hurricane forecasts began appearing on the news.
• Don’t throw out all your old battery operated
radios. Keep a couple handy and loaded with fresh
• Appliances are great places to store things you
want to save, even microwaves. Just remember to
empty them before using!
• Start stocking up on supplies at the beginning of
the hurricane season.
• And always, ALWAYS, take toilet paper with
you should you choose to evacuate.