Special Edition: Hurricane Irma

Friday 8 September

I awoke early around 5am and while it was cooler (78F) I filled my car with some boxes of belongings and drove to the new house. I then returned to pack up a second load. One of my friends Wayne met me at noon to collect more stuff in his truck and then we drove to my house in convoy. Since the storm was imminent the state governor had waived all road tolls on the highways and so the journey was quicker.

My next stop after that was 2pm at a flooring store where I was to meet a colleague to collect the flooring he would fit to my master bedroom. Unfortunately the store had closed early ahead of the hurricane. So I returned home again to pack a bit more and relax. Later I visited the bar and returned to watch a movie.

Saturday 9 September

Since the evacuation had become mandatory overnight I decided to leave the apartment with as much as I could and took it to the house. Then around 3pm I checked in to work to prepare for the 4pm Mass. I had decided to lead a time of prayer as people arrived focusing on Jesus walking on the water and the statement ‘Do not be afraid’. The Mass was the only Mass of the weekend as the Pastor had cancelled all the Sunday Masses earlier in the day. The homily was really good. I remember Fr Paul Deutch SJ’s observation that the worst thing was the waiting. He compared it with his experiences of earthquakes. He suggested that during the time when the electricity is cut we take advantage of the opportunity to pray. What else can we do?

At 6pm there was a wedding! This was uneventful. Fr Mike remarked that just as babies will be born during the hurricane period that it was natural for a wedding to occur also!

After the wedding I visited the bar and enjoyed two beers and a steak melt. By 9pm I was back in the apartment where at least I could sleep in my own bed. I had imagined that I might enjoy a chilled white wine but in the event I could not find the corkscrew and had to make do with champagne instead!

Sunday 10 September

Soon after 6.30am I awoke and packed a few more things. I stopped at a gas station where I met a local who lived in my apartment complex. He was really worried and only 2 weeks earlier had moved from a second floor apartment to the ground floor, a decision he now regretted!

The roads reminded me of a ghost town and it was not long before I reach the house. I did not see a single store open. After a cooked breakfast I opened up some of the boxes and spent the morning filling cupboards with crockery, glassware and cookware. I also set up my temporary bed and prepared things as best I could.

I cooked two pizzas at midday and put them in a glass dish to eat later. For lunch I had shrimps in a lime sauce with naan bread. I found a local radio station and listened to the storm watch channel.

At 2.30pm the wind picked up with a mighty gust and I could hear palm fronds hitting the roof. Now it is 3pm and there have not been so many gusts to compete with that. I’m hearing reports that the sea is behaving strangely. Vast expanses where normally there would be water appear like dry ground! Do you remember people said the same before major tsunamis occur? This prompts experts to expect a major storm surge in the Bay.

By 3.30pm local forecasters were beginning to be a bit more optimistic. At 5pm there was some activity around the Northdale Community Centre which I can see over the garden fence. I wondered if it was being prepared as an emergency shelter. By 7pm Irma was tracking the west coast but with the eye over the land which though incredibly destructive tends to reduce the power of the hurricane. You would not believe it if you were here in Tampa. Already the winds were gusting very high and greatly affecting the trees in the area. I can hear things bouncing along the roof and I see 5 palm branches in the garden. This is 5 hours from impact! I decided to open a red wine.

The lights started to flicker for the first time soon after 7pm and I feared a power outage (which is what they call a power cut). I was already getting darker so I was hoping this would not happen. It is one thing when you can see trees bending but it is much more worrying when all you can appreciate is things going bump in the night.

The power outage happened at 8pm. By 9pm there were many bumps. The wind had really picked up a lot and it was getting warmer in the house. A radio which I had brought from UK and which until today I had not used because it didn’t seem to work had kept me company all day but I had already put some batteries in it during the early evening and was astonished that it continued to function well. An hour earlier I had come across a rosary in amongst the tools I had packed. I didn’t intend to bring it and had forgotten I had been given it by a choir member. I placed it around my neck and it gave me some comfort. Earlier I had put on facebook a picture of me with a saucepan on my head. It seemed appropriate protection for the predicament I was in. A friend Vanessa who knew me from my Goan trips told me that her partner Simon had said the Goan shirt would protect me … but I wasn’t wearing it and doubted that I would fit into it now!

The wind seemed to be blowing across the length of the house so I positioned myself ay the far end on the ground floor. Although I could hear the heavy rainfall and wind nothing hit the nearby window so it seemed the best place to be. Outside I could hear the occasional crack which I presumed to be branches being broken from the main tree. The morning would tell the truth.

Some time after 9.30pm with heavy winds there was a mighty crash and I discovered that a tree limb had broken off and pierced the roof. Water was pouring through the roof into the rear lounge area which is a single story part of the house. I grabbed a few communication devices and went next door to wake my new neighbours, John and Tina. As luck would have it they were still up and Tina was reading the Hobbit to her son so that he had something to distract him. They were very hospitable and invited me to stay with them in a space room. The hurricane was so noisy that no one could sleep so I retrieved 4 bottles of wine and started a series of conversations and stories which the son considered were more entertaining than the Hobbit … until he fell asleep! At 1am the wind had died somewhat and so we went to bed.

Monday 11 September

Over 10 years ago this day, popularly known as 9/11, was celebrated for an act of terrorism which transformed the world in the minds of many. What we experienced overnight was indeed terrifying. The power of nature is terrifying. When God created Order from Chaos he did not do away with Chaos. Occasionally it rears its head in different guises as major or minor disasters but also in illnesses like cancers.

I awoke around 7am and by 8am I bade farewells and started to ring the insurance company. Over the next 4 hours I made 34 calls but the calls kept getting dropped at various stages of the automated process. In frustration I went into the office which still had power but the phone lines were down. So I tried several times more on my cell phone and eventually got into a queuing system and a real human being at the end of it. She took my details and promised that someone would get back to me in 24 hours.

By 1pm I was able to leave the office and head out to the apartment. None of the forecast flooding was evident and as I opened the door I felt the cool breeze of the AC and realized that the power was on and in fact had not been cut at all. Having checked the apartment for damage and found none I then returned to the house to remove the food from the thawing freezer and brought this back to the apartment where I stayed that night. At Charann’s bar which opened at 6pm there was a sense of relief and standing room only!

Tuesday 12 September

I went into work and stayed there much of the day. I was able to get quite a bit done as hardly anyone was around. During the day I had discovered that power had been restored to the house so I returned to the apartment to move the food again from the freezer and return it to the house. The route I had been using would normally have accrued toll charges but the governor had waived these before and after the hurricane. I then returned to the apartment to sleep.

Wednesday 13 September

I started the day by cancelling choir practice as the school was closed and it seemed increasingly unlikely that we would have power restored to the church for the weekend. At the house I met with a friend, Dale who arrived with all manner of power tools to remove the tree from the roof and effect a temporary tarpaulin over the hole. He left by about midday to attend the final interview for an executive job he was pursuing. At around 2.30pm contractors from the insurance arrived unannounced to remove the tree. Well that had been done already so instead they made a complete job of spreading tarpaulin over the roof and securing it with bags full of slate from my pond as they had exhausted their supply of sand! Another contractor pulled up the floor and assured me that they would have to replace the entire floor to the ground floor. This had only been laid in July! As they were leaving I tried to open one of the French windows and discovered that it would not open. Another contractor found that the door frame was cracked and that outside the soffits had popped. This was going to be a more significant claim than I had imagined. I returned to the apartment for a final sleep.

Thursday 14 September

I awoke super early to do some final boxing and preparation for the removal guys. I had booked 3 men for 4 hours but only two turned up at 10am. They worked really hard and it was clear that I was in the way so I retreated to the swimming pool for an hour or so. Soon after 1pm I got a call from Dale who had arrived early at the house to do some further chopping and tidying of debris from the gardens. I decided to leave the removals team to finish up and drove to meet Dale. At 1.30pm the third man arrived and we were set to leave the apartment. When they reached the house they were diligent about moving stuff to where I wanted it. By 4pm they were finished and I was exhausted. So I took a dip in the pool and cleared some of the debris from the pool in the process.

I spent the rest of the evening sorting my bed. I had decided to sleep in the spare room.

Friday 15 September

Some of my work colleagues had decided to visit me later in the evening so I had good reason to be super active, pausing only occasionally to cool down in the pool. I was not feeling great and had a slight pain in the ears and my breathing was a little wheezy. I visited Frontier to fix up a new contract for TV and internet. Installation set for Monday 25 September.

My friends arrived around 6pm and immediately set about doing stuff. In the process the mattresses got moved and the TVs got connected and ready for set up. At least I could watch DVDs. The women set about sorting the take away food and feminizing the kitchen! Audrey had been delayed at work and so we had to wait to eat.

The meal was wonderful and we had a great time together. The house was greeted with general approval. I slept contented.


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