In the past week or so the whole world watched as hurricane Irma formed, then steamed headlong toward Florida, tracking up the full length of the peninsula. Glued to our TVs and mobile devices perpetually tuned into weather channels or the National Hurricane Center, we locked our attention on the massive hurricane’s ever-changing projected path as she spread her skirts wide across the Carribean. With warmer than normal temps in the Atlantic ocean and Gulf of Mexico, Irma quickly built to a dangerous Category 5+ hurricane.
Like many here in Florida my excitement, worry, fear, hope, irritation, panic, and gratitude cycled around as I made my storm preparations. And, although I saw a few panicked people rushing to buy plywood, bottled water, and gas, many others extended kindness, patience, and generosity to those soon to be displaced by the impending storm.
Mind-boggling systems of support, rescue, and recovery–both public and private–were mobilized and set into place. On social media people set up groups to track lost pets, check on loved ones in Irma’s path, locate available shelters, where to find gas and water, the latest evacuation routes, the best charities to donate to, and the latest weather reports. We posted pre- and post-hurricane tips. We told stories and posted pictures of past disasters we’d weathered. We shared memes that made us laugh hysterically and others that broke our hearts.
We posted “Be safe!” and “Please check in when you can.” over and over again on the walls of friends, colleagues, family and loved ones. One Facebook friend remarked that “Be safe!” sounded a lot like “I Love You!” so we started posting that too.
Having made preparations as best we could we crossed fingers and toes and formed prayer circles as Irma approached. We threw parties, long a tradition here in the Gulf states, toasting Irma with Hurricanes and smoothies and martinis, and visualized blowing her back out to sea. Someone vowed to take a drink every time they came across the word “hunker” and quickly became inebriated.
Disheartened, we watched the destruction on the islands that preceded Irma’s impending landfall on the mainland of Florida and counted it a good enough reason to break into our hurricane snacks. People made shelters in their hallways and bathrooms, supposedly the safest places to be during a storm. We saw pictures of cocoons constructed out of mattresses and pillows and forts made up for furry friends. Some donned helmets and others tucked chickens into their shower stalls.
Though thoroughly engrossed and entertained by the 24-hour coverage, I took breaks from Irma-watching to do a job for a friend, visit with another friend, and to spend time on the beach. Though we were not in the hurricane’s projected path here in the panhandle, Irma’s power was so vast she stirred up the waters, affecting tides and currents 500 or more miles away. The pull of her winds created tides so low people could walk far out into the sands. At my local beach, the Gulf was offering up larger than normal waves. Red and purple flags signaled warnings of dangerous marine life, rip currents, and a brisk northeasterly wind.
I’m like a kid at a birthday party with an impending storm and I have to make sure I don’t overdose on excitement. Going to the beach both calms and opens me. I found myself standing for long moments, gazing far into the horizon, feeling the power of the sea in my solar plexus. To conserve energy the seagulls huddled up near the dunes. Tucked out of the winds, they looked sleepy. A few surfers took advantage of the waves while other beachgoers scoured the shore for newly offered shells. Back home I posted pictures of the beach, told everyone I could think of “I love you!” and “Be safe!” After updating the latest hurricane stats and sent out prayers, I gave up and went to bed.
During the day on Monday I watched as Irma changed direction and intensity once again, heading further inland as it blew up the middle of the state. As she went, she quickly lost steam, doing far less damage than we had first feared. Waves of relief flooded over me as people began assessing damage and checking in. No one I knew personally suffered injury or had significant damage to their homes. Governmental and Emergency support teams already in place moved into action, clearing roads and restoring utilities as quickly as possible.
The damage from Irma is not slight and the total assessment of loss has yet to be calculated but we are grateful things were not worse. There’s the usual bickering and complaining about not enough being done but on the whole, community stepped up. We were there for each other, looking out for our neighbors, and offering whatever help we could.
Just as with hurricane Harvey in Texas a few days earlier, I am reminded once again that the majority of Americans are kind, generous souls who support each other when in need. Though we are grateful for federal assistance when it’s given, we can organize and mobilize and step up, even when our government can’t or won’t. My heart opens wide seeing all these examples of community at work.
Our hurricane season is not over yet so we cannot fully let down our guard. In the days and months ahead there will be much to do and much to learn. I continue to pray for those who have lost everything and will have to rebuild, repair, or relocate. Some veterans of powerful hurricane Andrew that struck Miami 25 years ago are feeling re-traumatized. Physical, emotional, and financial support will be needed for a long time to come.
Thank you to all of my friends and family who checked in on me and offered prayers of safety and support and shelter, should I need it. I am grateful beyond words. Let’s not forget to continue in our prayers and support for those devastated by hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and forest fires everywhere. try not to judge the difficult decisions people have to make when tragedy befalls them.
Just watching these disasters unfold can be exhausting, not to mention recovering from one. The initial surge of adrenaline from the excitement will soon wear off and can leave us feeling exhausted, irritable, and melancholy. Take breaks when needed. Laugh when you can. Eat well. Sleep. Get a hug. Give a hug. Know you are loved.