It's been about two weeks of thinking about Hurricane Irma, preparing for her, evacuating for her and then coming back and getting our life back together. While we didn't suffer much damage, the whole ordeal was very taxing and traumatic. There were also some beautiful moments. How best to remember it all? Write it down! I am finally feeling like I have time to do that and am sharing our last week of crazy here. This post is going to be long with lots of photos so feel free to skip it now if you don't really care about our family drama down here. I promise it won't hurt my feelings.
Monday, September 4, 2017
Hurricane Irma starts to really show up as a big storm that might impact Florida. I watch Mike's Weather Page religiously for updates on what to do. He doesn't hype up the storm but does really show concern about this particular storm--especially on the west coast of Florida. We have just come home from our Vermont trip and am planning to be in NYC from September 8-September 10th. However, I start to worry about that trip. The storm is expected to hit Tampa on the 10th and I worry about being stuck in NYC for an indefinite period of time. I also worry about my mom, who is supposed to watch the dogs. If the storm really is going to be as bad as they say, there is no way my mom can wrangle the dogs to a safe place. The NYC trip is supposed to be so fun and exciting. We are taking Marlin to the Joffrey Ballet School, where he starts his four year program and his new life in the city. Mentioning my concern to my sister (who is supposed to fly to Portugal on September 10th, only makes for arguing and misunderstandings. The week starts off a little bit uncertain. Today I am feeling especially grateful for Mikes Weather Page---the best source for weather information in the Southeast US.
Tuesday, September 5, 2017
A pretty normal day. The kids went to school after Labor Day weekend and a few extra days off in Vermont. I went to my office and was excited to see my mom later in the day. I watch Mike's Weather Page for updates and the models keep making me scared. The talk at my office was all about leaving ahead of the storm. Everyone is worried about being stuck in Florida. Everyone is worried about running out of gas or the fact that the storm is one of the largest ever seen. Everyone's nerves are frayed already. I tell my sister and Marlin again that I don't think the NYC trip is a good idea. This causes a lot of family stress. Today I am feeling grateful for my job because they are giving us constant updates and really want us to take care of ourselves and families ahead of the storm.
Wednesday, September 6, 2017
I am working from home today but really don't get much work done. I am stalking Mike's Weather Page and reviewing so many different options. Do I go to NYC and make my sister and Marlin happy? If I go to NYC, Sawyer refuses to go and will stay back with Aaron and Grandma. Would I be able to leave my son here and try to enjoy myself in NYC? Can Aaron take care of the dogs? What happens if Marlin is late to his school? Will they understand the impacts of the storm? Is the storm even going to impact us at all? Do I need to get supplies? Are we going to evacuate? If so, where do we go? Can we leave right now?
I may even be panicking a bit. I want to leave--RIGHT.NOW. But, Aaron keeps a cool head and reminds us that it is too early to leave. We decide that if we have to leave, we will make the decision the next day.
Thursday, September 7, 2017
I am up before 5:00 am, waiting for the National Hurricane Center update. They update at 5:00 and 11:00, both AM and PM, each day. I wanted to see what the storm was doing so that I could make a decision.
The 5:00 am report showed the storm moving a bit to the east, meaning the biggest impacts on our area were not an issue. The storm looked as if it was moving off to North and South Carolina, instead of the entire peninsula of Florida.
I felt relieved. I called Jet Blue and they allowed me to change Aaron's ticket to NYC and buy a new one for my mom. We were going to NYC after all.
I messaged my mom about the new plan and she quickly wrote back. She said, "Marlin has made other plans and doesn't need you to take him to NYC. The person that is helping has taken time off of work and the new plan is solidified. You don't need to go to NYC. Don't worry."
Honestly, I didn't know what to do. I was so upset. I thought I had been clear that I needed to wait until Thursday to make a decision about what to do. I had started to get excited about NYC and being there with my mom, the kids and my nephew. I was happy that the storm was moving away from us.
I knew my communication skills hadn't been the best the whole week. In fact, my sister and I hadn't had a real conversation in over three weeks and our texting conversations had been nothing but critical and aggressive, on both sides.
But, after accepting and arranging our NEW plans to go to NYC and then being told that I wasn't needed---it really hurt me. I felt that I had tried to balance the needs of everyone and then been dismissed.
It turned out that it was going to be OK.....because later that day, the track for Hurricane Irma shifted back to the west. And, Mike (from Mike's Weather Page) indicating that he thought the track would stay to the west and would be a HUGE impact to our region. The 11:00 am update from the National Hurricane Center showed the same thing and it motivated us to get packed up and ready to go.
Aaron and I found camping gear (because we thought we would be camping in Tennessee), loaded up both cars, secured the house and all of our business stuff and got ready for an early morning departure. Actually, Aaron went out fishing that evening and I stayed home and tried to finish things up. Luckily, my mom was there to help.
The stress levels were high all day and I felt I wasn't getting my voice heard...so it kept getting louder. It didn't help things, I now realize. I can blame part of it on the anxiety of the storm and my lack of good coping skills.
Eventually, the cars got packed and a plan was made to leave the next morning. My mom spent the night and we were all ready to go early the next morning.
Friday, September 8, 2017
In a rare bit of cooperation, we got both cars loaded, dogs and the cat packed up and hit the road at about 9:00 am. Our first stop, Starbucks set the tone for the rest of the trip. They were closed--because of the storm. We immediately realized this was no ordinary road trip---this really was people running for their lives.
So our breakfast stop was at Wawa. Good thing we had gotten gas the day before, --they were all out at Wawa.
We drove both cars---my mom, Nova, Bella (the cat) and I, in my car. Aaron, Sawyer and the three dogs in the van.
Once we got on the road, we realized the immensity of the situation. Thousands of people were leaving. I-75 North was packed. There was NO ONE on I-75 South. We used the Waze app to get us around a lot of the biggest traffic and that was actually really nice. We were on a lot of beautiful back roads in parts of Florida I had never seen. I enjoyed most of the drive.
The rest areas were jam packed and it only got worse the further north we drove. We stopped a lot to give the dogs time to stretch their legs and for us too.
Right before Tallahassee, we stopped at a local park, an archaeological site to make lunch and let the dogs run around. It was the perfect pit-stop....no one was there, there was water and clean bathrooms. The dogs loved it and it was a good break for us too. We used that time to try to find a new place to stay for the night. It was clear that Aloha wasn't going to make it to Pensacola. Aloha was so miserable in the car (she is huge and has rheumatoid arthritis and just couldn't get comfortable).
I cancelled our Pensacola hotel reservation and tried to find one in Tallahassee. It was not going to happen. Everything was booked. We even drove up to a few places hoping to get lucky but, no. It was chaos all around the city and especially near gas stations. People were worried about gas and were filling up their cars and all kinds of gas cans. The lines to get gas took at least 45 minutes. It was getting dark and we didn't have a plan. I was getting nervous.
As we drove, I had Nova do research to find us a place to stay for the night. The only place that had space was in Panama City Beach at the Edgewater Beach Resort. We confirmed that they would take our dogs and then booked it. As we drove there, down dark quiet roads, I couldn't help but wonder why this particular place had space available. Could it be that no one else wanted to be on the beach during a hurricane? Was it going to be a dump? Were we making a big mistake? Our plan was to sleep and then move further north the next day.....we needed to stop driving and we really needed to give the dogs, especially Aloha, some time to stretch out and get comfortable.
We arrived at our home for the night pretty late. We checked in, got the dogs settled and just laid on the couch watching the Weather Channel. We were so tired and knew that we likely were making another move the next morning. Oh, and by the way, we loved the condo. It was so well decorated and super comfortable.
Saturday, September 9th, 2017
Our condo was so comfortable---we really didn't want to leave.
The National Hurricane Center was showing that so far the panhandle was safe from the worst weather from the storm. We asked at the front desk if we could stay for another day or two because we really couldn't stand the idea of loading the dogs back in the car and trying to move further inland. There were problems with going inland other than the dogs too---there were no hotels available from south Georgia to Atlanta, gas shortages were real and the further we went north, we would have to make the same trip back. None of us really wanted to do that.
Luckily, the great people at the Edgewater Beach Resort were able to find us another room in another tower for the next few days. It took awhile but they were so patient and helpful. I was surprised because the prices were reasonable (no price gouging!) and they were waiving their pet policies due to the hurricane evacuees.
We had a beautiful view and as you can see, people were out and enjoying the beautiful day.
We were grumpy. I think it was related to the stress of the previous day and just general anxiety of the path of the storm. By this point, the National Hurricane Center was showing the storm to hit the Sarasota and Bradenton area directly. I had images of a huge tree falling through our roof, rain falling in and flooding our house and our stuff blowing around the neighborhood.
I wish we could have enjoyed the resort more but the heavy level of anxiety just loomed over the day. We did go to the little touristy section of town for lunch and found a Target for more supplies (e.g. comfort foods, beer and bathing suits).
Sunday, September 10, 2017
It's Aaron's birthday and we all wake up with a better mood. We have decided to stay here for one more day, in hopes that the storm just moves off. So far, the National Hurricane Center cone still shows this area as feeling minimal impacts. The cone keeps shifting though so that is making me nervous.
We decide to try to go out and make the most of the day. The wind has picked up a bit but the beach still looks beautiful. We take the dogs to the beach. Normally, I am not sure this would be allowed but rules seem to be relaxed a bit while people deal with the storm and we take advantage of that.
Aloha hasn't been to the beach in a very long time and Flower never has. All of them love it and we all have a great time there. The wind blows the sand up every once in awhile and it hurts as it hits our skin.
The dogs get so much attention and love. I think they are really enjoying this storm.
After the beach, we spent a lot of time in the pool and hot tub. NO ONE WAS THERE. It was kind of eerie. The hotel employees were busy boarding up windows and removing furniture. It felt weird that we were enjoying the hot tub and pool while friends were back in Sarasota getting ready for the storm. I still kept wondering if we were making the right decision to stay there but really didn't want to leave.
We were so comfortable.
Aaron spent more time in the hot tub than we did and more people started to join him. They told him about a great place for a birthday dinner and he came back to the room ready to celebrate. I think we were all ready to get out of the room although it felt a little bit odd to be going out to lunch when we knew that our friends in Sarasota were hunkered down and were already beginning to feel a bit of the storm.
We headed up the road to Dusty's Oyster Bar---an oyster house that was open but was planning to close early and was only serving a limited menu. We didn't mind. The place was interesting and the air was filled with an almost festive, nervous energy. It was filled with locals and some evacuees.
The kids got along great and everyone was happy. This is a uncommon occurrence these days so I was happy to see it.
Aaron got to eat fresh, local oysters for his birthday and really enjoyed that.
I know the kids were happy to celebrate with him.
After dinner, we went back to the condo and tried the hot tub again. Unfortunately, the water was not warm and the air had gotten much cooler. We only lasted about five minutes. The rest of the evening was spent glued to the Weather Channel, preparing a safe room in the hotel (just in case) and refreshing Facebook feeds to keep updated with friends. I was so excited to go to bed that evening. The winds were howling near our bedroom window but the rest of the condo seemed so very solid. The winds were actually quite comforting and I slept so well, waking occasionally to check on Nova who was sleeping in the living room, near a giant picture window.
Monday, September 11, 2017
In the morning, we realized that the heaviest impacts of the storm had hit the Keys, Naples and then had moved about 30 miles to the east of Sarasota. The whole Sarasota and Tampa Bay area had been spared the biggest impacts and the storm was dissipating quickly.
We had a great idea of hitting the road and getting ahead of all of the returning traffic. The storm was really just a bit of wind and rain and we didn't think it would be that big of a deal. It was a bit crazy loading the cars in the wind but it wasn't that bad.
Traffic was light and we were pretty sure we had made the right decision until we got to Gainsville, Florida. In Gainsville, we could NOT FIND GAS.
We had enough gas to go about 100 miles but our home was about 200 miles away. None of the gas stations had gas. We used the app Gas Buddy to try to find gas, but there was none. We drove around for about two hours, looking for gas. All of the stations had cars lined up outside, but those were mostly people that were totally out of gas and needed to sleep there for the night. People were in a panic.
We had two choices...1) keep looking for gas and potentially run out on the side of the road or 2) stay in Gainsville and hope things were better in the morning.
We chose the latter. Not only was there no gas, there were no stores open either. Many places had no electricity and just couldn't open. We ate tuna sandwiches, microwave Indian food and drank wine (I saved a bottle!) in our rooms.
I was so impressed with our animals. We were all crowded in one hotel room and they didn't bark, whimper or do anything wrong. They were perfect. It was almost as if they sensed the tension and knew exactly what to do. Either that or they were so comforted by our closeness that night.
I was so tired. Relived, because we got messages that our house was fine in the storm---lots of wind brought down a big tree and tons of branches and smaller trees, but the house was fine. Worried about when we might possibly be able to get gas and get home. And, just mentally stressed from the whole ordeal. Our hotel, Country Inn and Suites is not one I would normally chose but I slept so well, the beds were so comfortable and the staff was so kind, I have to re-consider my opinion of this hotel chain.
Tuesday, September 12th, 2017
Aaron woke up early to go outside and try to find gas. He talked to some people that direct him to a station down the street. We both get up and go down there only to find they are already out of gas.
I read on CNN that the Port of Tampa is still closed until 2:00 pm and the fuel tankers are waiting there to get gas to the stations. It doesn't sound good for us to get gas today and I really didn't want to spend another night in a hotel. The expense is one thing but I also just really am ready to get home.
After chatting with my colleagues, I remembered that one of my co-workers lived in Gainsville. I reached out to him and he offered to bring a few gallons of gas to us. That gas was such a game changer! It gave us the confidence to keep driving further south, where we had heard people were finding gas. Although it wasn't enough to get home, it was enough to get us closer.
We hit the road around 11:00 am and drove for about 100 miles until we finally found gas. It was cash only but luckily we had cash. We also found food and enjoyed Taco Bell under a tree on a weird stone table that we found. Such a relief to have gas and food!
We made it home around 4:30 pm and Nova and I immediately left to get her to gymnastics practice. I can't believe how much she wanted to go but judging from how many people showed up, these girls needed to get some energy out.
Our house was spared but our yard was a mess. A big palm fell in front of the house but fell away from the house and just missed my mom's car that she had parked there. Our backyard was flooded and littered with branches. A couple of our large bird of paradise trees fell on the pool cage but they didn't do any damage.
Our entire neighborhood had trees come down including huge oak trees but it doesn't seem as if any one has much damage to their homes. Our power was out for a couple of days but luckily it was back on when we arrived home.
We are so happy to be home and are still working on cleaning up and getting things organized after the storm. We feel very lucky with so little damage and are grateful that we weren't here for the storm. Everyone I talk to says they were scared. The wind was howling and they could hear trees coming down. I am happy we left and learned some lessons from the whole ordeal. Next time, we might do things a bit differently but I think we would still leave. These storms are scary.
Were you in Florida during Hurricane Irma? I would love to hear your story!