Honestly, a hurricane is a lot of anxiety.
First you see a storm brewing. You have days to worry about it, pouring over the estimated track, wondering when you should start to panic. You check the weather twenty times an hour in the days leading up to the storm. And every hour, every update matters. The track can change at any moment. You have a small window of a couple of days to make the very important decision of how much you are going to panic and prepare. If you wait too long, it is too late.
I live in the Tampa Bay Area. With Ian, the track was headed straight for us. The news leading up to the day before, using buzz words like “catastrophic” and “state of emergency.” And honestly it is. You need to take it seriously or it could be your life that is lost.
Everyone starts the process of buying stuff. The water sells out first. Then generators. Bread and dry goods start looking thin on the shelf. And it is still days away.
Then, we ran out of sand bags. I didn’t think I had the strength to get them by myself, so I waited a day to see if my roommate could go with me. You have to fill the bags yourself, and haul the heavy bags to your car, and then to your house. I waited too long. By the next morning, everywhere was out. We improvised with heavy duty trash bags, duct tape, and potting soil. My yard is going to be well-fertilized after this, as I dump out five bags worth of miracle grow into whatever is left of my yard.
Then you have to tie down everything and remove loose items from your yard. Pretty much anything that can become a projectile needs to go.
And you need to figure out shutters. Do you buy plywood, strap it to your car, screw big holes into your walls and hope for the best? Some houses come with shutters and others take time, even days to install. We decided against shutters, but only after the storm started to turn away from us. I am not sure which is scarier, seeing the chaos outside or not seeing it, and only hearing loud noises, but we opted for seeing everything. The house is newer, so the windows are hurricane resistant, but that means nothing if there is a projectile or if a tree falls.
What else? So much prep goes into the process. Is your gas tank full? Better top it off. Stations will start running out of gas. If you need to run away, you need enough gas to get there.
After days of anxiety and prepping your home and livelihood, then you need to think about yourself. Do you evacuate? Do you run to higher ground? Do you risk the roads, and the gas stations and the hotel situation? What about pets? Not everywhere will take them, so you have to consider this. If you are staying, what do you do with a dog? It’s not safe to take them outside to pee. You need to create a space inside and hope for the best.
Finally, you are prepared, if you can ever truly be prepared… but the worst is yet to come. Scary words like storm surge and wind speeds and expected rainfall amounts. Now, you are streaming the news and the weather. Even though it makes you sick to your stomach, you watch the storm approach. You see areas you know with people you care about reporting catastrophic situations.
I used to live in Naples and Fort Myers. I have friends in Cape Coral. Hearing that Naples and Fort Myers are underwater is devastating to me. They had less time to prepare. The prep that took me three days… they had a day to prep or flee. You are texting your friends, but there is just no signal where they are. It can be hours between the “we’re okay” texts.
And meanwhile, the winds and rain are picking up. You hear the howl of the wind. The creak of the trees. The sound of rain being slammed into your windows.
And then… You are plunged into darkness. The power goes out. The internet is gone. The cell signal barely exists. You panic because you can’t reach anyone, and they panic because they cannot reach you.
Once the sound of AC is gone, everything else is magnified. The whole house creaks as the wind batters it over and over again. I have huge trees in the back yard. One hundred foot tall Australian pines (which have shockingly shallow root systems) and sixty feet tall oak trees. As the rain turns the ground into a giant sponge, their roots loosen up. I saw at least three pines fall and the oak is lifting its roots up out of the ground with the big wind gusts. If the storm hadn’t turned, I have no doubt those trees would have been on my house. But because the wind was going to the west, because we were north of the storm, those giant trees fell away from the house.
The sky is lighting up, with what seem like lightning flashes. These are actually from downed power lines. That is super scary too. What if a fire starts? First responders will not go out until the winds are under 40 mph. If something goes wrong, you are stuck waiting for help, possibly for days.
With power being out, water contamination is also a possibility. They told us to conserve water. If the water pressure drops, it will get contaminated. So our tubs are full of water, and our toilets are unflushed. No showers. No dishes. And we have no clue how long. It could be hours. It could be weeks,
I am afraid to go to sleep. What if the wind shifts and a tree falls on us in the night? What if a tornado spawns? What if the rivers that surround us finally rise and cause that flooding we’ve been warned about for days now. Even if my house doesn’t flood, I am about to become an island. Will we be able to get out for food or help after the storm? We don’t know. If the roads flood, we are stuck.
South of us is a disaster zone. They probably experienced the scariest parts of Twister. My heart hurts because I know that my category one conditions are nothing compared to their almost category five.
There’s another creak and a crash outside. We probably lost another tree. And yet we are lucky. Millions had it worse. We are alive and safe. We are resilient.
And tomorrow the clean up begins. We will pick up the pieces. We will help our friends and neighbors. And then, we pray as hard as we can that the next one misses.