When I was a senior in high school, I went through my first significant natural disaster. I was watching a high school volleyball game at Seaside High School in the town of Seaside, Ca. I was rooting for the Salinas High School JV team who were getting beat pretty good. Then, the earth shook. I ran from the bleachers and headed for the door outside. Being inside a gymnasium during an earthquake is a scary experience. The ground stop shaking by the time I got to the door, though I remember seeing one of the lights at the football field shaking for a few minutes. This was the Loma Prieta earthquake that many people watch happen live, as the World Series was directly impacted by the earthquake. It caused a lot of damage in San Francisco and Oakland, including several collapsing freeways and a section of the Bay Bridge’s top deck falling onto the bottom deck. But down where we lived, we had gotten lucky and only lost power for a couple of days. But, at the time, I didn’t know any of this. I knew we had had a significant earthquake and I drove frantically to get home. It had been a scary situation.
This past week, I was in a scarier situation. I live in western Florida and we had a hurricane that the models couldn’t decide where it would go. And it was a massive storm that was causing massive devastation to the Caribbean. Now, the good thing about a hurricane over an earthquake is you can see a hurricane coming and prepare. The bad thing about a hurricane is you can see a hurricane coming. You do your preparation and get yourself ready, but there comes a point where it is wait and see. And for me, that was the worst part of Irma. I would watch where the models were taking the hurricane and it would have a direct impact on how I felt. The models took it up the east coast of Florida and I breathe a sigh of relief. Then, the models slowly started taking it back towards the west coast and my anxiety level would increase. The worse time was Sunday morning. I woke up that morning with the models taking the center right over where I lived as a Category 3 hurricane. My family had decided to bunker down at my place and we had boarded up the windows. But, my mind started going to a dark place. Could the house handle Cat 3 winds? I was starting to doubt. I was worried about the safety of my family. The stress made me ill.
I finally stepped away from the hurricane coverage on TV and took some time for myself. I prayed and I calmed myself down. I played some card games with my family. Finally, I went back out to the storm coverage and things had changed. Irma was heading north and our local weatherman that we trust a lot was thinking that it was going to keep going north. The storm now looked to make landfall around Naples and go straight up the state. Being over land would weaken it and it would pass through east of Tampa and away from us. And we would be on the west side of the storm, which would be the weak side. Hope welled up in me. Yes, it would be bad for those in the central part of the state, but somebody is going to draw the short straw. And I don’t care who you are and how nice of a person you are, if a powerful storm is bearing down on you and then decides to veer away, you count your blessings. I was relieved.
We watched landfall and the storm passing through Naples on the Weather Channel, with Mike Bettis standing outside in the heart of the storm. Then, we occupied ourselves on other things, occasionally checking back in on the storm. My wife found the Avengers playing on FX and we sat down and watched that as best as we could. The wind started picking up outside and the power started flickering. I think I counted 7 or 8 times where the power flicked off for a second before coming back on. And every time, we had to reboot the cable box, which usually took about 3 or 4 minutes. We finally switched it back to local coverage of the storm as it moved up the state and was affecting areas near where we lived. Finally, the power went off at 11:15 pm and stayed off. We turned on the lantern and pulled out the battery powered radio, which I had already tuned to a station simulcasting our favorite local news coverage. And we listened as the wind howled outside. Having the radio on was very helpful, as it was good background noise that drowned out the winds outside. Occasionally, we could hear something hitting the storm shutters, particularly after the winds shifted to coming from the west. But, I just listened to the radio and drifted in and out of sleep. We mostly stayed in the living room that night, listening to radio and the winds outside.
The winds eventually died down and morning came. My wife and I ventured outside to a windy and rainy morning. There was debris everywhere. A tree had come down onto the street in one direction. A neighbor across the street had two trees in their front yard come down, including one over their car, yet not seriously damaging the car. We walked around the neighborhood, checking on one of my wife’s co-workers house while we were at it. It was an eerie walk as there was hardly anyone out or any cars on the streets. That would change in a couple of hours after Pinellas County was opened back up again. A lot of trees and fences down, but that was about the extent of it. We had gotten off lucky.
Shortly after returning home, a vehicle comes down the street, clearing away any debris that was blocking the street. The driver hopped out at one point and pulled out a chainsaw to cut off the top of a palm tree that had spilled out into the street. And then he continued on his way. Vehicles started pouring back into the neighborhood as people returned to check on their houses. There was no power, but we have a gas stove at our house. We offered our neighbors the use of it, which they accepted mostly to make coffee. By mid-day, people were starting to clean up their properties and piles of debris piled up on the streets, which are still there as I write this.
We got lucky where I am. It could’ve been a lot worse. Instead of homes uninhabitable and devastation all around, we have some debris and minor damage here and there. Power returned after two days and things are starting to get back to normal. Gas and supplies are still scare as restocking gas stations and grocery stores is taking some time. But, we are alive and it wasn’t as bad as it could be. I look at the pictures coming out of St. Marteen, the Virgin Islands, and the Keys. It is devastating. What breaks my heart even more is I have visited many of these places. The islands in the Caribbean will never be the same again. Tourism is a major part of their economy and they won’t be getting any tourists for a long while. It’s just so hard to imagine.
I don’t know what I will do next time. Will I evacuate? Will I bunker down and ride out the storm again? I really don’t know. I am also only one vote out of five. I pray for those who were hit harder than I was. But, I am confident that we will get through this and things will get back to normal. That is my hope.