Our lives got interrupted a few weeks ago by Hurricane Irma. It created quite the excitement in Florida. I’ve never seen anything quite like it really. The nervousness in the air was palpable for the whole week leading up to landfall. The grocery stores ran out of some foods and the gas stations were mostly empty. People were going a little crazy. I had a feeling from the first time I heard about it that it was going to be bad news. At first they were predicting an east coast landfall, similar to Hurricane Andrew. So we made necessary preparations – food, generator, oil lamp, flashlights, boarded up the house, removed stuff from the yard, etc.
However, the track kept pushing further west as the storm approached Florida. Our plan was to stay home if it was a Cat 1 or 2 but on Saturday morning, the day before landfall, they were predicting a Cat 3 or 4 coming straight into Tampa Bay. So, we made the necessary preparations and evacuated. It was our first evacuation in all my years of being a Floridian. I left with quite a bit of sadness. Ben insisted we had to leave. I felt things would change and figured we’d end up with a Cat 1 over our house, which is exactly what happened. I really hate road trips and I wanted to be at our home to take care of clean-up as soon as the storm ended. But we didn’t feel like we should risk it in case it did ended up being a stronger storm. The kids probably would have been scared. Hurricane winds sounds like a loud freight train going by outside. Also, we expected to lose power and didn’t think Andi could be in the heat too long without A/C. If it was just Ben and I, we would have certainly just hunkered down and experienced our first hurricane together.
Ben had to work until Friday and I had a wedding to photograph on Saturday (crazy, I know!?!) so we left late on Saturday night, September 9th, and drove through the night. We had a number of concerns about this plan. The news and social media were making it clear that the roads were packed full of cars, trucks and RV’s evacuating from all over the state of Florida. Some were predicting it was too late to leave, that you would get stuck somewhere and have to find a shelter to weather the storm – absolutely NOT what we wanted. The other issue was gas. Even in Tampa, gas was hard to find by afternoon, so how would it be along the evacuation route? We had concerns of going from gas station to gas station, having to wait in long lines, dealing with rationing. or maybe being stuck on the freeway running out of gas.
Well, all our concerns turned out to be for not. I guess by the time we left, we were among only the very few who were crazy enough to leave when we did. We felt we had a safe enough window – we would have had to have had a 15 hour delay and goggle was telling us the road were clear. So we went for it. There were very few cars on the road, maybe just as many leaving Florida as were coming into the state on the other side of the freeway. No slow-downs at all, other than the policeman who pulled Ben over concerned he was drunk (not the first time Ben has been pulled over for drunk driving). He may have been a little distracted listening to the end of the BYU/UofU football game, and the connection going in and out going from cell tower to cell tower. When we pulled off the highway after Tallahassee for gas, the first station we entered had no lines and plenty of gas. We refueled and were back on the road in no time.
We arrived in Alabama at 5:30am. We had a great time visiting Wendy and her family for two days! They have a large, private upstairs playroom and bathroom and we all camped out together. We visited the park, went to Payne’s place of employment – an indoor bounce house, and ate a scrumptious meal at Aunt Judy and Uncle Ken’s home. It was a fun 48 hours and it was so nice to have the emotional anticipation and concern relieved.
The worst of the storm arrived Sunday night in Tampa. The eye of the storm was literally over our house. We figured we would lose all the food in our fridge and freezer (a few hundred dollars), I expected our pool screen to get torn, and maybe a few trees would be down. Our neighbors were great to text us Monday morning with updates. They said we had a few big branches down and our house light fixture was hanging off the house – that’s it! We never lost power (yeah for keeping all that frozen meat!), the pool screen was fine, and there was no flooding. We were so relieved! We packed up and headed home Monday night. Drove through the night again (and through a Tropical Storm Irma) to get back to our happy home. Two all-nighters in 4 days was tough but the kids slept the whole way so it was worth it. We were some of the last people to evacuate and some of the first to return so the roads were still empty. We had about a 8 hour drive. I know lots of people whose drives lasted 18 – 22 hours along the same or similar routes. The news said it was the largest evacuation in American History. Half of Florida left it seemed like. So the drives could have been much worse and I’m grateful things went smoothly.
The blue line (above) shows the projected path of the storm at one point was only about a mile from our house, and directly over our church building.
We were so, so, so, so happy to get back home! When I shut off the kitchen lights and walked out the front door I remember wondering when we’d have a normal meal around the kitchen table again. So I was so thrilled to be back in our home just 2 days later with power, internet, and safety!!! We went out for celebratory frozen yogurt the evening we got home. Many shops and stores were still closed but we were lucky enough to find one open!
There were lots and lots of trees down around the area and almost everyone we know lost power for some amount of time. Many Pinellas county residents were without power for days. We’re feeling pretty good about the location of our home. Maybe the jungle in the backyard helped to block a lot of the wind and Heaven was just watching over us? We didn’t see any trees down in our neighborhood and we’re one of the few areas that didn’t lose power. My parents and Joe and Julie were without power for days. I went and cleaned out their fridges and freezers so it wouldn’t be stinky when they arrived home. Ben went down to Naples to help with clean-up last week and there are still so many people who don’t have power or who can’t return home because of damage. So sad! We feel so grateful that we were so blessed and protected! And we’ve been eager to help those who were less fortunate.