It’s one thing to watch a monstrous hurricane on TV spinning its way toward someone else’s home. It’s quite another to hear it arrive at yours.
While it’s wind is whirling around you in the dead of night, you hear torrential bands of impulsive rain pounding down, more like bullets than water. Your walls and roof make cracking sounds you never heard before. There are thuds outside that sound like small bombs going off amid the whistling wind that’s constantly pushing against everything around you. You keep hoping it will stop, but it goes on hour after hour. All you can do is wonder if it will eventually tear its way through the shingles and walls that are separating you from it.
Then the power goes out. And no matter how many people are around you, you feel alone.
Having lived in Florida for more than 25 years, I’ve been through many hurricanes. But none like Irma. Her twisting and turning path for days on end left millions wondering if there was any place to run or hide from a hurricane so huge, radar maps showed it swallowing up the entire state in a single, massive cone of uncertainty.
When the clock finally let daylight end the shuddering night, I knew what all the thuds were. They were the sounds of trees having their limbs ripped away and tossed to the ground like toys, despite their massive weight. The tree debris field was absolutely everywhere.
We were lucky; our roof stayed on. But living without electricity, and thinking it may not come back on for days or even weeks gives reality a whole new meaning. For one thing, Florida is hot in September, and without air conditioning, it can be hell. Add to that no refrigeration for food, no running water, no TV, internet, or no cell phone service, and you quickly realize that you are cut off from more than your routines. Even if you stocked up on bottled water, batteries, and canned food, you realize after a few hours that it’s just not enough, especially when more than 5 million other people in your state are as powerless as you are.
I keep a small temperature and humidity monitor on my desk, and as both began to rise to uncomfortable levels, I looked at my two dogs and two cats, and worried. They were much better off than countless other animals that were either abandoned or swallowed up in the storm, but they didn’t know that. There was nothing I could do to make their discomfort go away. That was hard.
Our power came back on the next day, and I wasn’t forced to make the choices others did about where to get food, water, or worry about finding a place to live. Like so many other things in life, what you get and what you don’t can be a crap-shoot.
Beyond wrecked homes and lives, a natural disaster like Hurricane Irma quickly turns into a depressing reality-check for the millions of people who don’t have millions of dollars to easily pick themselves up and start over. Everything takes money.
Without a doubt, millions in relief funds will be raised because when push comes to shove, those who weren’t directly hit tend to open their wallets for those who were. Still, I have to wonder if that money will reach deeply enough into the cracks that too many people will fall into. Sure, FEMA will hand out some money if you jump through enough hoops. But anyone who has ever dealt with a government program already knows that they fall woefully short of making people whole again. Finding out how to get help from private disaster relief organizations can be confusing at best, impossible at worst. Then there are those who lost less than others and don’t want to feel like they are taking resources from people who lost everything. So they don’t get help because they don’t ask.
I got a kick out of Gov. Rick Scott in his media briefings during the storm when evacuation orders were going out. He kept saying that people could replace their homes but not their lives. Technically, that is true. But only a man with as much money as Scott could think replacing a home is as easy as he made it sound.
If you were in the path of Hurricane Irma, there’s a good chance that surviving it changed you in some way. If you rode out the storm, you will never forget the sounds you heard through shuttered windows and rattling walls as the night became a nightmare. The feeling of helplessness is both terrifying and humbling.
If Hurricane Irma left you with your life but took everything you owned or loved, there are no words or amounts of money that can make you forget the difference that just one day can make when you meet a monster named Irma.
Featured image via Maryann Tobin
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