Hurricane Irma tore through the Caribbean and lower part of the United States a little over a week and a half ago. My family and I live in Naples, FL and we were unlucky (lucky?) enough to have the eye of the hurricane pass right over us.
If you’ve never been through a hurricane, here are the basics: rain, wind, more rain, more wind. You’re extremely likely to lose power, storm surge is a definite threat (especially if you live on the coast), and damage can range from torn off roof tiles, flooding, fallen trees, dented pool cages, and more. Make sure to stock up on gas to fuel your cars/generators, bottled water from anywhere you can find it, and flashlights/lanterns.
Here is a detailed account of my experience with Hurricane Irma from the first days of preparation to ten days after the storm.
Check out a vlog I filmed of my experience here.
Tuesday, September 5
I wish I were kidding when I tell you that when I went to get gas on Tuesday — five days before the storm was scheduled to hit — lines were winding down roads and people were fighting over gas, but alas, I am not. This was one of the most stressful experiences of my life — and I’ve driven in downtown Miami. Luckily, I was able to get gas at the THIRD gas station I visited. I went to a job interview a bit later on, and then, holed up in my house for the rest of the day to avoid the madness.
Wednesday, September 6
My Dad lives in my childhood home, which he and my mother designed and built from scratch in 1996. It’s a beautiful home, but during hurricane season, it can be a pain in the butt because it’s so hard to put up shutters. After Hurricane Wilma hit Naples in 2005, my dad got professional shutters installed (vs. having to nail plywood over every window) — of course, a serious hurricane hasn’t hit Naples since.
I went over early on Wednesday to help him start putting shutters up on the house because we knew it would be a two-day venture.
He had some hurricane supplies for me (water and batteries), and I took them home after about an hour of putting up shutters.
Later in the evening, a LOVELY gentleman from my mom’s neighborhood put up her shutters for her. She has far fewer windows than my father, but she lives on the second-floor, so without a tall ladder, she’s helpless to put up or take down shutters on her own. After talking to another man who was going to charge her $400, my mom found this guy who was putting up almost half the communities shutters for a much lower price (such a sweet soul).
Friday, September 8
(Yes, I skipped Thursday because there is only so much hurricane preparation you can do.)
Naples was relieved when projection maps had Irma’s path predicted to travel closer to the east coast, but that relief was very short lived when the path was quickly shifted and the storm’s eye was predicted to now go directly over Naples.
I went back over to my Dad’s on this morning, and him, my uncle, and I finished putting up the shutters. I left, knowing he and everyone he was providing shelter for (including my 92-year-old grandmother and 90-year-old great-uncle) were going to be safe.
After helping my dad, I chatted with a member of Elon News Network (my alma matter) about my experience with Hurricane Irma thus far in Naples sharing the previous experiences I have had with hurricanes throughout my life, tips on how to handle hurricanes, and some positive news of people that are always willing to do good even during the toughest of times.
My family lived in Miami when Hurricane Andrew hit in 1992. My brother was only 18-months-old, and my mother has vivid memories of sitting on her kitchen floor, holding an umbrella over her head, and cradling my brother in her arms as the roof was ripped off of her home. Reasonably so, her and my father are a bit weary of Category 5 hurricanes. My mom’s best friend and her husband (I call them my aunt and uncle) own a condo that is on the second floor of a four story building and there are cement columns in the walls making it a very secure hurricane location. My mom and I decided to ride out the hurricane there.
So, later in the afternoon, Mom and I packed up her car with food, hurricane supplies (think water and flashlights), clothes to last us at least a week, cat necessities, and more. We drove over to the condo, and proceeded to unpack the entire car and move into our temporary home. Needless to say, I hit 10,000 steps pretty easily that day.
Saturday, September 9
My mom’s brother actually has a vacation house in the same community we were staying in, so in the morning, we stored her car in his garage for the duration of the storm hoping it would be safe from damage there (i.e. flying sticks and roof tiles). Everyone was so supportive during the storm and offered us anything they had in their fridges or pantries (I took some chocolate so we would have some snacks for when we were nervous during the storm). After parking her car, stocking up on more supplies, and securing the garage, Mom and I made the ten-minute walk back to the condo when it started to pour as soon as we got in the apartment.
After showering, eating lunch, and cuddling with my cat, Mom and I were able to go outside for a bit and read in the late afternoon. We knew Sunday would be a long, stressful day spent indoors, so we wanted to get as much outdoor time as we could between rain showers.
We distracted ourselves in the evening by coloring and watching “Moana.” (If you haven’t seen the meme, a lot of people were relating Irma to “Moana” and telling Maui to return her heart.)
Sunday, September 10
Hurricane Irma hit today.
We began hearing pounding sheets of rain and howling winds as early as 10:00 a.m. We knew the storm wouldn’t become anything serious until a bit later, so we spent the morning coloring, eating one last hot meal, and reading.
We could see the floor-length sliding glass doors shaking and bending with the wind that slipped through the shutters, so around 1:00 p.m., Mom and I decided to move into the bedroom (it only has one small window that was covered by shutters). During the first half of the storm, wind and rain were beating against the east side of the condo. It was eerie to only be able to hear what was happening and not see what was going on outside.
After two hours of flickering lights, the power finally called it quits at 2:04 p.m. (We had power for much longer than others — for instance, my dad lost power around 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, and I know people who lost power on Saturday night.)
The eye of the hurricane was over us from about 4:30 p.m. until about 5:30 p.m. Mom and I were lucky enough to be able to go out into it and see some of the destruction that Irma brought along with her. If you don’t know, an eye of a hurricane is extremely calm (please listen to “Hurricane” from “Hamilton”) and completely safe to go out into as long as you are truly in the eye of the storm. In this instance, the wind almost completely stopped and the rain lessened to a drizzle. At this point, destruction took the form of broken tree branches, a bit of flooding in the parking lot, ripped off roof tiles, and broken gutters. We were still expecting a massive storm surge during the second half of the storm and plenty more wind and rain, so destruction was expected to get a lot worse.
The second half of the storm was much calmer and attacked the west side of the building (it had gone down from a Category 4 to a Category 2 by the time the eye passed over us). We felt much safer during this part of the storm, and moved back into the living room playing Scrabble, reading, and making dinner. The whistling of the wind was disconcerting, and my mom and I decided to put a heavy dresser in front of the door just incase the wind tried to knock it in.
We went to bed still hearing the howling of the wind.
Monday, September 11
Mom and I took it really easy today because we knew the roads would be a mess (not only due to damage, but no power means no functioning streetlights). We walked over to my uncle’s house to retrieve Mom’s car, and then drove around the complex assessing the damage. We spent the day without power and very minimal cell service, but kept ourselves busy with reading, coloring, and cards (Do you sense a theme here?).
Tuesday, September 12
Day two without power, and we were struggling. The problem wasn’t the lack of power, it was the lack of communication with the outside world. Mom had a bit more cell service than me, but neither of us could get online to get updates about news going on in Collier County or hear about the safety of our friends and family.
We decided to go to my mom’s place and check on the damage, and we were lucky enough to be able to get some of her shutters off with the help of my uncle and strong will power. (See my strong will power below.)
In the afternoon, I went and checked on my dad. He lives a bit farther out of town, so I wanted to make sure he was okay with all of my eldery family and without power. When I got there, I took some footage of the damage, played with my pup, and hung out with my grandma for a bit. (She was incredibly thrilled to see me, and it made my freaking day.) Aside from having no power (and being hot), everyone seemed okay. My dad’s neighbor generously loaned him a generator, so they were able to take showers, cool down a bit with the aid of a fan, and keep the refrigerator cold. (Wow, thank you to everyone who is just so kind during these trying times! You give me faith in the world.)
My mom and I went back to the condo later to gather up some of our supplies to move back to her place and while moving things, the power flickered on for a single moment. With hope in our hearts, we headed out to get dinner.
My town is SO amazing and giving. Some restaurants were already open with limited menus two days after the storm (like, what? That is just incredible to me), so we decided to get a hot meal. We got back home, and I kid you not, I leaped out of the car when I saw the outdoor lamp pop-on. The power was still incredibly iffy, but after it turned itself off and on a couple of more times, it stayed on for the rest of the night. We are SO SO SO fortunate that our power came back so soon (I cannot emphasize how grateful we were) after the storm you have no idea. My mom’s place is situated between a fire station and a hospital, so I think luck was on our side.
Wednesday, September 13
After finding out I had power, I went back to my dad’s place to see if there was anything I could do for them (like take my grandmother home with me so she could have power). After arriving, I found out that the community where my grandmother lives (it’s an independent living community for the eldery — don’t forget, I live in Naples), got power back! And they had running water! Nani was thrilled to be heading home because she knew how much pressure had been on my father over the last couple of days (having three elderly people in your home [two who have PTSD from Hurricane Andrew] is a lot on the best day). I packed up my car with Nani and Louise’s (my dad’s girlfriend’s mother) belongings, and took the home. Unfortunately, the elevators were not working (this happens more than any elderly home would like to admit and is really something that needs to be fixed). Once I made sure they had both made it safely up the stairs and into the apartment, I began to unload their belongings (luckily, it only took three trips). My great-uncle’s daughter, who lives in Miami, had actually driven over to Naples, so she bought friend chicken, rolls, and potato salad for lunch.
Thursday, September 14 – Tuesday, September 19
Over the next couple of days, I didn’t do anything related specifically to post-hurricane efforts. I checked on my dad, spent time with my grandmother, completed some work, and generally tried to get my life back to some semblance of normal. Collier County was under a boil water notice (meaning you can’t drink the tap water without boiling out the contaminants first), people were advised against swimming at the beach, neighborhoods were losing water because it was being shut off due to problems with the sewage system, gas was an extremely rare commodity, and thousands were still without power (including my dad and some close family friends).
One of my mom’s close friends and his family came over a couple of times for dinner because they were without power and water. He has two young boys, so they were thrilled to have spaghetti and meat sauce and get a nice bath after almost a week without power.
Wednesday, September 20 (Ten days post-Irma)
My mom is the math coach at an elementary school in Immokalee. Immokalee is one of the poorest areas in the state, and it was hit extremely hard by Irma with intense flooding and damage. The school actually served as a shelter during the storm (along with about 25 other schools in the county). On this day, some of the staff members organized a volunteer drive to collect canned goods, baby supplies, clothing, water, and more to give out to members of the community. After carting in all the goodies, my mom, a couple other teachers, and I spent about two-and-a-half hours sorting through clothes and organizing them for families. It was amazing the amount of supplies these people gathered in just one morning, and I can’t begin to explain how thankful the families are for these supplies (some of these families are displaced from their homes for an undetermined amount of time and have lost everything).
As of 6:00 p.m., my father finally got power back.
Photos courtesy of Village Oaks Elementary Facebook.
I don’t think life will ever be the same in Naples again.
Yes, stores will open up, the boil water notice will be lifted (and it has been), people will get power back, school will start (as of September 25, kids are back in session in Collier County), and homes will begin to be put back together, but nobody will be the same after this storm.
Hurricane Irma taught the people who rode through it a huge lesson in resilience, strength, and the power of community.
Because of Irma’s massive size, other counties and districts in Florida were impacted drastically by the storm, and my heart goes out to them. I hope every life that has been touched by Hurricane Irma can return to a new normal soon.
Don’t forget to watch my vlog experience here.