Like everyone else we know, as soon as we heard Hurricane Irma was heading for a direct hit on Florida last week we started worrying about our family and friends now residing there.
Several years ago, my only sister and her husband bought a winter place in St. Petersburg on the Gulf Coast. When he passed away, she sold their home in the Berkshires and made the Florida place her permanent residence. And so far, she’d never been threatened by a hurricane.
Former neighbors retired to Port St. Lucie last fall and had a brand new house built for them down there on a waterway. And longtime friends who survived Hurricane Andrew’s wrath there in 1992 and suffered severe house damage, still live in that Miami home in the direct path of yet another monster hurricane.
We wondered what we would do if we knew such a destructive storm was heading our way. For earlier lesser storms, my sister said she “just went to bed, pulled up the covers and slept through them.” But this one was different and not to be ignored.
Seeing predictions that the storm would probably barrel up the state’s East Coast, she opted to stay put but did check out the possibility of going to a shelter early on. The shelter was in a new elementary school on higher ground and the staff was cordial and well organized. They gave her a wristband and told her whenever she got anxious to come back and her place there was assured.
She went home, packed up her valuables, cell phone and things she’d need for a few days and returned to find people being calmly organized into separate areas -- family groups, capable older folks and seniors, people needing extra help or medical care. She couldn’t say enough good things about that shelter’s staff, many of them volunteers. They provided neat sleeping accommodations, boxed meals and encouragement throughout the storm which by then had shifted and was making its way up the Gulf Coast heading straight for them.
When Marco Island and Naples south of them were hit hard, they were especially apprehensive but the storm wobbled east and St. Pete and nearby Tampa were spared its full force. On Monday, Sept. 11, she was able to go home to her neighborhood and held her breath when she approached it. Amazingly, her house was still standing, undamaged by either wind or water and she even had power. She was almost euphoric when she called us on her cell phone. Only her land line phone service wasn’t working yet.
Our friends in Miami had no home damage either. They had gone to sit out the storm at their daughter’s apartment in a city highrise and were safe. Their home had lost power but it was still standing and unharmed.
Our former neighbors, who had evacuated up into South Carolina and later west to the Atlanta, Ga., area, were expecting their new home to survive. Like all homes built after Hurricane Andrew with stricter codes, it has a reinforced roof and high impact windows which should withstand 250 mph winds.
Especially heart-wrenching to us were the Facebook posts by people who evacuated their homes and wanted information on how their particular neighborhoods had fared. Many were from the Keys where there was still no public access. Like voices crying in the wilderness, they rarely received a reply.
Our heart also went out to the people on the Caribbean islands where everything was totally annihilated. Helicopter views of places we’d sailed to in the past like the Bitter End on Virgin Gorda, resorts on Tortola, touristy Marigot on St. Martin and the airport on Beef Island, showed everything flattened to rubble and just unrecognizable.
Let’s just hope and pray that the rest of this hurricane season isn’t as harrowing as it’s been so far. These poor people need a break.