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Saturday, May 26, 2018

A Visit from Hurricane Irma by Margot Justes

I moved to Florida last June for warmth, since Alexandria turned out to have cold and damp winters, and I’m not getting any younger. It was a joyous occasion, warm, in fact hot, hot in summer, but I spent July and August either in the pool, or in air conditioning. Any walking was done bright and early in the morning. So far so good, until September that is-when a major hurricane decided to fully welcome me to Florida.

Just as in Alexandria, second winter there we had a blizzard, a real blizzard, except there were no snow plows, no salt, only lots of snow, blowing wind and cold.  The first year in Florida, in our little corner of paradise, we have a hurricane barreling our way.

My newly minted son-in-law, who once worked for FEMA, asked me if I was prepared? My response, I have coffee, and milk. What else is needed? I’m good. I was also an idiot. As someone who is used to research, I failed miserably. Son-in-law persisted, asking what happens if you have no power, no water, how exactly are you going to make that coffee? You may be stranded for days. What’s going to happen to your milk in the fridge? Things I never thought of, but should have, that is where basic common sense should kick in.

It was then that the litany began from son-in-law, for which by the way I’m exceedingly grateful. Fill tub, and anything you can with water, go to the store and buy more water, canned foods, supplies that do not need refrigeration, batteries, battery operated emergency radio, little sterno stove, all the things I didn’t think off, but in reality, should have.

Once it sank in that this was really happening, I listened and moved speedily, went to store and was able to get all the supplies, except for the sterno stove, that was sold out everywhere. Water, and general food supplies were plentiful, and our local Publix delivered goods every day, until the trucks could no longer make the deliveries safely. As always there were people who waited until the last possible minute, and then complained there was no water or bread.

There was more, take pictures of everything in the home, it’ll be easier to deal with insurance company later, if necessary. Set up a cell phone link with immediate family, just to let them know things are well. And next time head for the hills before hurricane hits…which I promised to do.  

I should also explain, that I live 34ft above sea level, that is a veritable mountain in Florida, it was not in the evacuation zone, and in fact people under evacuation were told to come here. If we had been told to evacuate, I would have. Not listening endangers us all, especially the first responders.

I also realized, a bit too late to do anything about it, that staying caused a great deal of fear and distress for family.

The day before it hit, our maintenance crew walked around to make sure nothing would be airborne. The tennis courts were bare, all outdoor facilities were cleared, all chairs, umbrellas, tables by the pool were stored inside, the area looked desolate. Yes, I went swimming, weather was still good.

Neighbors walked around to make sure everyone’s flower pots, decorations were safely stored. Even metal benches near our ponds were turned down, all the activity was interesting to witness. Inside, garage doors were bracketed down, and all windows were securely locked.

The day of the hurricane, the TV was on all day, with excellent continuous weather coverage, literally up to the minute changes in the path of the hurricane, the strength, and the dangers involved, area by area. One thing I’m still trying to figure out is the necessity of the live news reports from cars on the road, and especially reporters on foot, who were almost swept away by rain and wind.  

As the day wore on, the winds picked up speed, and I have never heard such howling and buzzing, and I want to say baritone whining. I was amazed how far the trees swayed and bent without breaking, such fury, and the house backs up to the forest preserves, the noise seemed amplified. It was fascinating to watch. One thing I will say about the house, the wind was horrific, but I did not hear the windows rattle.  Sleep did not come easily, especially since every few minutes there would be a tornado warning.  That I didn’t expect, never before did I associate hurricanes with tornados.

The storm lasted overnight, and next morning after the bulk of the storm passed, we lost power for twelve hours, the house remained dry, our street did flood, but was cleared and cleaned relatively quickly. Kudos to our maintenance crew, who stayed overnight in the clubhouse in case of an emergency. Most of us wound up cooking and baking stuff to make sure they wouldn’t go hungry. 

Our community came through beautifully, we had frequent updates from the president of the board, on the status of our preparedness, and neighbor took care of neighbor. No one flinched, and the old timers kept saying, been through it before, don’t worry, it’ll be okay. And luckily it was.

I might add that this Christmas I received a full hurricane emergency kit from younger daughter and son-in-law, and I do mean full kit, from huge expandable plastic water containers, to radio, sterno stove and fuel, among many other things.


Margot  Justes

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