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On Being in the Eye of Irma, and Visiting Florida During Hurricane Season

As I’m writing this post, we still don’t have power or internet access in our house. It’s been six days so far. The price you pay for living in the woods, I guess. I hope that by the time the post goes live, my life will finally be back to normal.

My husband just went on a mega rant that we need to invest in solar panels, something he has been pushing for years. Sure, honey, as soon as we pay off the Mustang and the epic trip to South Pacific.

Lack of a/c is messing with our heads. Last night we got into a huge fight and he fell asleep in a recliner. When I quietly walked into a living room, he thanked me for not stabbing him to death. He was only partially joking.

I’m currently sitting near his office at work, using internet, and just saw a giant rat walk across the room. Lovely. My husband named it Bob. Welcome to my bizarre reality.

Irma has surprised our county by taking the turn at the last minute. We were supposed to get some wind, just not 120 mph force. The silver lining is the fact that Tampa got spared due to us getting punched in the face instead.

We’ve been in this situation before when hurricane Charlie turned at the last minute and headed our way, bringing 150 mph winds and devastation. So it could always be worse. I remember when I moved to Florida heartland, my in-laws were telling me that we don’t have to worry about hurricanes around here. And yet, in the last 13 years we got slammed by a powerful storm … twice. It goes to show that statistics and prior history matter very little in the era of global warming.

I had a feeling this might happen to us with Irma. When the forecasters kept showing the western shift, I had Charlie flashbacks. Sitting in our house, hearing tornadoes ravaging the neighborhood. Seeing a relatives’ roof being blown off the house. As my husband’s cousin put it, we’ve seen things. She wasn’t being a drama queen.

I didn’t want to take any chances with Irma, so we decided that we would seek refuge in our place of worship. After all, it has no windows, and was built to withstand a minor apocalypse. That way, if Irma turned, my kids would be safe. Or so I thought.

Ironically, our decision ended up putting them in even bigger danger. Only forty minutes after we left home, there was a tornado in the same spot where we just drove.

Later in the day, when the winds were still manageable, my husband wanted to go home to grab some Coke bottles. Are you kidding me? This is why I couldn’t leave the state. I had a third child to protect!

Being surrounded by friends is definitely not the same experience as being in a public shelter. There is room to spread out and a more relaxed atmosphere. Still, camping out with a bunch of families in the same room can be a challenge. For one, my kids started going nuts after a few hours.

I thought they may end up climbing the walls due to boredom. Going to sleep was a challenge too. Just when I was about to dose off, I heard a neighbor eating chips. Crunch, crunch, crunch. I felt like someone was poking my brain. But what can you say, right?

It’s just a difficult and stressful situation, period. And the stress doesn’t end after the hurricane passes through. Then you are dealing with no power and hot/humid Florida weather. It really tests your sanity, though I have to say, I think I did better this time around. Having kids forces you to keep it together even when you feel like falling apart.

My sister in law finally had enough and found a rental in Ocala. It has power and a/c, all the things we normally take for granted. She left yesterday and took the kids with her. The school is closed till further notice, so there is no need for them to stay in this misery. My daughter said she is happy that Irma came to Florida because she got another vacation out of it. Yippee!

The stress of dealing with natural disaster and resulting devastation can definitely test your character. I consider myself a fairly hospitable gal,”mi casa su casa” type person. But few days ago I started getting sick. I was running a fever and barely holding it together.

In the midst of it all I get a call from my father-in-law asking me if some friends can crash in our living room. I just about lost it and said I’m not up for it. I could barely move, felt sick as a dog and this heat was making me cranky. But then I started thinking: these people just lost their home, how can I turn them away? So, I agreed, though they ended up staying with another relative of ours.

I’ve seen some people on Facebook wonder why everyone in Florida didn’t just leave. The answer is: it’s not that simple. Folks have jobs, elderly parents etc. My husband had to be back at work on Tuesday, right after hurricane. ATMs have to function so people can get cash, and he is responsible for it.

My sister-in-law and I thought about leaving, but she has a business here, too. Plus, she wasn’t comfortable leaving her parents behind. I suppose I could take the kids and go somewhere, but I don’t like the thought of being separated from my husband.

Another issue is the fact that hurricanes are unpredictable. You probably saw how they kept changing the forecast: east coast, then center, then west coast. We really didn’t know till the last minute that we would get slammed the way we did. By then it was too late to leave. I did try to find a hotel room in Orlando few days prior, but everything was sold out.

The truth is, unless you live near low lying areas or the coast, you are better off seeking shelter than battling traffic in order to escape the storm. Well, unless the tornado crosses your path, of course. But honestly, it’s almost “darned if you, darned if you don’t” type deal. Some of our relatives did leave the state, and it worked out well for them. It may be something to consider in the future, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.

All in all, we will get through this just like we did with Charlie. I feel bad for poor folks in the Caribbean who don’t have access to the same resources we do. On a lighter note, here are a few signs that you have lived through hurricane Irma:

1) You obsessively check the predicted path of the hurricane every hour or so, even though you very well know that it means squat. Plus, the update comes out every three hours anyway.

2) You are excited when you see several giant trees in your yard. After all, they could have landed on your home instead.

3) You are grateful that the line to get gas is only half a mile long instead of a full mile like it was at the previous gas station.

4) Your cheapskate father-in-law who is normally obsessed with the price of gas doesn’t seem to care about it at all.

5) You tip a few bucks to the gas station attendant who left her family behind in order to go to work when the gas tanker unexpectedly made a delivery.

6)  You are thinking about slipping an anonymous note telling that one neighbor that they should really go hunt for gas (to fill the generator) themselves and not sit at home and borrow it from others. Telling your pet to go poop in their yard works too.

7) You plan on kissing the worker who finally restores your power and don’t care if your husband sees it. Unbeknownst to you, the husband is thinking about doing the same thing.

8) You keep telling everyone that you will finally move to another state, but deep down you know it won’t happen because you love quirky Florida too much.

Should you take a chance and travel to Florida (or Caribbean) during hurricane season?

I can’t tell you how you should spend your hard earned money, but as a local, will offer a few suggestions. The reality is, hurricanes don’t develop overnight. As long as you are aware of the fact that your vacation may get cancelled, you will be fine. It may be prudent not to tell the kids till the trip is a definite go.

If you see a storm brewing in the Atlantic, pay attention. That’s where having easily cancellable flights and hotel reservations pays off big time. The most obvious choice for cancellable flights is Southwest Airlines, though it depends on your form of payment. If you used a gift card, you will have a credit in your name, good for one year from the time of the original reservation. The points are simply redeposited.

If you are staying in a hotel using points, you can usually get them back without penalty as long as you cancel few days ahead. By then, you will have a pretty good idea on the development of the hurricane in question. Just make sure to disregard the projected path and instead, focus on the cone of uncertainty.

I almost always book us a beach getaway during Labor Day weekend. The water is warm in September and rain comes and goes sporadically. This year, the weather was perfect in Lido Beach, one of our favorites in the state of Florida:

So far, hurricanes have not been an issue for us, but I always keep an eye on the forecast. And believe me, the hotels most definitely don’t want you on premises if there is an approaching storm. Of course, unlike most of you, I don’t have to worry about flights.

Let’s say you decide to go despite hurricane fears. When it comes to evacuation, not all parts of Florida are created equal. It’s a heck of a lot easier to get away from panhandle area than it is from the Keys, for obvious reasons. Regardless, make sure to heed evacuation orders and don’t wait till the last minute. Personally, I would avoid Florida Keys during August and September months.

The same goes for Caribbean islands, except those outside of hurricane belt (Aruba and few others). It can be very difficult to evacuate because you can only leave one way, via plane. And you will definitely have plenty of competition for those seats. At least in Florida, as long as you have a car, you are good to go. It may take awhile, but you will get out of the state eventually.

By the same token, I would have no problem taking a cruise during a hurricane season. If the storm is approaching, the ship will simply change itinerary. As long as you are flexible when it comes to ports, you will be fine. We took my parents on a 5-day cruise in October to what was supposed to be Jamaica and Grand Cayman. I thought about going to Cozumel and Key West instead because it was cheaper. Well…

One of the passengers got drunk and jumped overboard. She was rescued, but had to be taken to Key West for medical treatment. A fun fact: she later sued Carnival because she claimed they took too long to rescue her. Right.

Anyway, there went our Grand Cayman stop. Then Hurricane Sandy was approaching Jamaica, and that stop got scrapped as well. Yup, we went to Cozumel and my parents were super excited about visiting Mexico and touring real Mayan ruins.

So, my point is, hurricane or no hurricane, you have to be flexible when it comes to travel. And hey, maybe you can even make lemonade out of lemons. Just ask my daughter.

Oh, the power and internet are back!

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Author: Leana

Leana is the owner and founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.

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4 thoughts on “On Being in the Eye of Irma, and Visiting Florida During Hurricane Season

    • Clyn6, I’m glad you enjoyed it! It was a very stressful situation, for sure, and looks like Florida may get hit again soon. But it’s important to find humor even in the worst of times. Every human being faces challenges at some point, but overall, I try to remember just how fortunate we are.

  1. I can’t imagine what your family went through. No school, not feeling well, no power, and it’s 90 degrees? That just sounds horrible. I hope everything returns to normal fairly soon.

    • @Stephanie Thanks. We finally got power a few days ago, yay! The heat was the worst, for sure. It was a rough week but honestly, many people were in worse shape than us. At least our house was intact. I felt so bad for older folks and those with chronic illness. Many did not get out in time and had to endure the conditions since there was literally no gas to even fill the car.

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