Movers brought our first load of household goods – about 10,000 pounds of stuff – on Sept. 5. On the weather channel, Hurricane Irma was looming far off in the distance. We joked with the movers about how funny it would be if we had to evacuate after just moving in.
Wouldn’t that be hysterical?
The next day, Sept. 6, forecasters started to talk about Hurricane Irma potentially heading our way. We grew up in Florida and knew what to do. We bought some bottled water, topped off our gas tanks, and stocked up on nonperishables and batteries.
By Sept. 7, things were looking pretty serious. We joined the hoards of other local residents lining up at Lowe’s and Home Depot to buy plywood for a few windows on our house that are not protected by hurricane shutters.
School was canceled for Friday, Sept. 8, and the official evacuation order came at around 9:30 a.m. that morning. By this point, Irma had the potential to be the worst storm to ever hit Florida – and the eye was projected to come right over us.
We had planned to go to my mother-in-law’s house over on the other coast of Florida, but Irma was so big that she was ordered to evacuate, too.
We assumed the kids would have Monday off school (or at least be excused if they had evacuated), so we decided it would be a perfect time to visit our close friends who live near Mobile, Ala.
It should be noted at this point that, generally, only people who live on or very near the coast are “ordered” to evacuate in hurricanes, and usually those orders only affect a few counties at a time.
But Irma was different. The storm was so big that it was threatening nearly all of Florida, and even many of those not under a mandatory evacuation decided it would be safer to leave their homes. And not just leave their homes, but get out of the state entirely.
Hence, we ended up heading to Alabama with what seemed like half the state of Florida. Seriously. What would have normally been a six-hour drive to North Florida took us 16 hours. We stopped to sleep for a few hours at that point, and then ploughed on. Mark, our son and our cat were in our big Ford F350 diesel truck. Our daughter and I were in our Volvo SUV.
Gas stations along the route ran out of fuel. We waited in line for an hour fill up the Volvo. Others waited much longer, some even overnight.
By the time we got to our friends’ house, Irma had diminished in strength and taken a slight turn to the west, but was still going to wallop us. The full force of the storm hit overnight on Sept. 9 – 10. Thankfully it was not nearly as devastating as predicted.
We started the journey home the afternoon of Sept. 10, as soon as we heard the bridges to our beachside community had been re-opened. We had two gas cans of extra fuel for each vehicle, a cooler full of ice and milk and a few other things, and a couple of cases of water. We drove through the tropical-storm strength remnants of Irma along the way.
The trip back was eerie. There wasn’t a lot of other traffic. Gas stations, fast-food restaurants and homes were shuttered and boarded up. Once the sun went down, it was pitch black. Pretty much the whole state was without power.
Our next door neighbor, who had returned to the neighborhood several hours before us, called and told us that other than several small trees down, most of the landscaping being a mess and a considerable part of the backyard being underwater, our house was fine. (True story: There was so much water in our backyard for weeks after the storm that a manatee was swimming in it eating the grass.)
We arrived back at our new home, still crammed with unpacked boxes, around midnight. Everything looked good. We had no power and no water. The kids would not return to school until a full week later.
Mark inspected the roof the next morning in the day light. No apparent damage. Two home inspectors told us before we moved in that our Spanish tile roof was the best there is, and it should last another 20 to 30 years, at least. Our homeowner’s insurance had given us the highest discount possible because we had a roof virtually guaranteed to survive a hurricane.
The Publix down the street had a generator and was open for business. The Lowe’s a few miles away was also open. But everything else around us was closed for days.
We still had our two mobile wifi hotspots that we used while we were on the road in the RV, so thankfully we had Facebook and YouTube to entertain us. We cooked on the grill and used buckets of water from the river behind our house to flush the toilet when necessary. We swam in the ocean to cool off.
But September is brutally hot in Florida. By day four without power, I decided to get up at 5 a.m. and drive an hour away to a Home Depot that supposedly had a truckload of generators arriving. I was halfway there when Mark called to tell me the power was back on. Water was restored the next day, with a 48-hour boil notice.
All in all, we were lucky. We made some good memories, during the brutal evacuation trek to Alabama, with our friends there, and back home during “recovery” mode. While some people did unfortunately lose their homes and many others are still suffering financially, there were no lives lost in our immediate area.
A week after Irma, we got hit by torrential rains for almost 48 hours straight.
Our son woke us at midnight on night two of the rains to tell us water was dripping from his ceiling. We poked at it and a big chunk of drywall fell down, followed by pouring water. It was coming out from a few other spots in his ceiling as well.
We used a screwdriver to poke holes in the ceiling in the living room and master bedroom. Water poured out of those, too. We spent the rest of the night checking to make sure the buckets we placed under the holes weren’t overflowing.
That was nearly six months ago. Most of the roof is still covered with tarp, and the entire thing needs to be replaced. There were so many roofs in the area that needed repair, as well as around the state, that roofing companies are just now catching up. Since we didn’t notice our damage until a week later, we went to the bottom of everyone’s waiting list.
Our goal is to have a new roof before hurricane season starts again.
We’ve got 89 days.