As most of our country watched hurricane Irma strengthen to a Cat 5 heading towards Florida, we Floridians held our breath and prayed that it wouldn't hit our home town. Irma wobbled from the East Coast to the West Coast, finally making landfall in Naples, Florida. Before reaching Naples, Irma wrecked havoc throughout the Carribean, wiping out some of the smaller islands like St. Martin. She devoured the Florida Keys destroying 25% of all homes and damaging 65% of the remaining. I just returned less than a month ago from a two month vacation in the Cudjoe Key area, which is where the eye of the storm crossed, and I am absolutely heart broken by the devastation.
I remember vividly when we learned that Irma had made the turn for the West Coast of Florida, and the predicted landfall was Naples. Like many Neapolitans, I was panicked. Immediately, there were long lines at the gas pumps, water and batteries were sold out at the stores, and a piece of lumber was like gold. The lines at Home Depot, Lowes and Costco were wrapped around the buildings. People were arriving at Home Depot at 4:30AM hoping to grab their share of lumber, and within an hour, they were sold out.
After days of trying to find lumber, and out of desperation, I recommended sheet rock to my husband instead of lumber. He had his doubts, and went to Home Depot to ask an expert. When he went into the lumber department, a small delivery of lumber had just arrived. There were 24 pieces and he was the fifth person in line. Each person was allowed five pieces, which left four pieces for us. Hallelujah! Never in my life have I ever been so happy to see a piece of lumber. Four pieces wouldn't cover our entire house, but we were able to cover our most vulnerable windows. My cousin offered us shutters for our sliding glass door that she was not using, and we were all set. Water was in the bath tub, and we had 6 gallons of distilled water that I made using our table top distiller. We filled 2 five gallon buckets and had two cases of bottled water on hand.
Even though we were as prepared as we could be, I was still very concerned for our safety. In our backyard, we have many tall pine trees, which could easily fall onto our home. Also, our home was built in 1989 and does not have all of the updated hurricane windows and doors.
A friend and client of mine graciously offered her newer home to us and we quickly accepted the offer. We gathered up our important documents, computers, cameras, laptops, food, water, candles, flashlights and our three dogs and headed to our friend's home. The home was a beautiful two story home in a very desirable neighborhood. Unfortunately, for us, that area was hit hard with wind and tornados. In fact, a tornado touched down right behind the home that we were in and demolished the screen enclosure and blew out a bedroom window. The noise was incredibly frightening, so we moved to a closet under the staircase, and listened and prayed that the roof would not blow off. We could hear water pouring in through the ceiling from the upstairs bedroom, but it was impossible to see the damage at that time.
The next morning we assessed the damage and it was mind-blowing. After we got organized, I loaded the dogs and a few of our belongings and headed home. It was amazing to see the roadways already cleared. Frontend loaders were cruising down the streets and removing debris. Our sheriffs department had deputies in the medians sawing trees that were blocking the roadway. I held my breath the entire drive, expecting the worst and praying for the best. God is good! No damage. I stood on my lanai and wept. We were all safe and our home was too.
We were extremely blessed that we did not receive any damage to our home, other than trees down and a power outage. Our neighborhood looked like a bomb went off in it, and trees were scattered on top of homes and automobiles.
After we moved our belongs home, and got organized, we began removing debris from our lawn. After 48 hours with no electricity, no wifi and barely any communication with family and friends, we decided to leave town. The heat index was 102 and it was unbearable. It was impossible to sleep at night as the breeze stopped and the intense humidity crept in through the bedroom windows.
After hours on the phone trying to find a hotel with power, we finally lucked out and found accommodations in Ybor City, Florida.
As we were driving North on I-75, watching the convoy of FP&L trucks, Emergency Restoration tractor trailers, fuel tankers escorted by FHP, and Publix semi's heading South to assist those in need, I was overwhelmed with gratitude and thankfulness, as I fought back my tears. We live in a great country, where in spite of race or culture, we have compassion for one another.
Hurricane Irma has impacted the lives of many, not only in a tragic way, but in a compassionate way as well.