First, I want to say that, compared to the victims of hurricane Harvey, the more severely affected victims of Irma, and the people in Puerto Rico hit by hurricane Maria this week, my experience with hurricane Irma was very mild. I do not want this post to be taken as though my experience was worse than the actual victims of recent and present hurricanes. But, it is an experience none the less, and I want to share it with you so that you can better understand what a hurricane does. ZooとThoughts will resume a normal schedule and I apologize for the interruption. Specific store names are also mentioned to give you a better understanding of the story, but this site is not affiliated with them in any way.
In the week and a half leading up to hurricane Irma making landfall, the paths had it going every which way. Most paths showed it going up the east coast of Florida, and the European model showed it veering more west. As that model made a more and more westerly track people in Tampa started to get nervous. That’s not even the best word for it. People were starting to freak out. Monday, I went to the store with a friend and the shelves were full, everything was pretty normal. By tuesday, people started to panic, and shelves were already empty. People went into grocery stores and grabbed everything. On Wednesday my university announced that they were going to shut down to allow people to evacuate, and when I left school people were lining up to get gas in their cars, and there were even gas stations that were already out of gas.
Tampa is about 200 miles or 330 kilometers north of Miami, and the people who were evacuating Miami a few days before came to Tampa because they thought it would be safer. Other highways were jampacked going north. We had a friend that evacuated Tampa, and it took her 13 hours to drive to the Florida Georgia line. To put that in perspective, that drive takes about 3 hours usually. By the middle of that week, evacuating north was getting to be impossible. Even if you didn’t take the main highway and stuck to the scenic route going along the coast of Florida up north to Pensacola, by the time the models finally started to show a western track, all the interstates were impossible to get through, plus hotel rooms, shitty hotel rooms, shot up to $300/night. My family and I decided we were going to stay to ride out the storm.
My brother brought home water from his work and my mom and I went to 5 different grocery stores that week, and three of them in one day trying to find cup of ramen, soup, bread, anything, even meat was gone from grocery stores. We were able to get meager supplies, enough for probably two and a half days. Keep in mind that even now after the hurricane, there are still people without power, and a way to cook their food. We decided to wait it out and my brother kept watching the models.
By Friday night, restaurants were starting to board up their windows. We went to a popular steak restaurant and their menu consisted of either a six ounce steak or a chicken breast, and limited options for sides. The next day we thought we’d make one more run to find food for the hurricane. McDonald’s was serving breakfast only and closed by noon, Subway ran out of bread and there were still 20 customers in line, grocery stores were closed. Costco was open. If you’re familiar with Costco, then you know that it’s always busy and noisy. When I was in Costco in Japan, it felt like I was back in America, just because of how energetic and loud and busy that store always is. When we were there that Saturday it was eerily quiet. Very few people were shopping, they were wrapping up the cash registers with plastic, and water from the vending machine was gone. At that point, we were still going to stay.
We got home midday saturday and we decided to start packing up fragile things in our home. We put pictures in plastic boxes, covered furniture with blankets, and were considering making an evacuation bag just in case. My brother came into the room at 4pm and said that the storm had changed directions and that it was going to be a category 4 when it hit Tampa, and that we needed to evacuate in one hour. Now, here’s the thing about where I live compared to most apartments in Japan, a lot of the construction in Tampa is wood. During a strong thunderstorm, our living room windows will groan. So in short, we did not have faith in the construction of our home and we decided to evacuate. I packed up my entire room in two and half hours and shoved it into or near my closet, I packed my most precious things because my brother basically gave me a panic attack saying things like, “don’t know if this will be standing when we get back”, “we can leave the cats”, and “If you don’t want to evacuate, you can stay here (and die). But I’m going.” Yeah … He really freaked out. Disaster situations do things to people.
There is a reason why younger sisters do not listen to older brothers, and this is a great example of why: we evacuated south to Loxahatchee, which is just north of Palm Beach, which is 60 miles north of Miami. We went toward the storm. This is where my brother thought was the safest place to go. A friend loaned us their house for the hurricane, and obviously going north was impossible, and my brother thought we were going to die if we stayed in Tampa. It’s all kind of hilarious now … It has to be, otherwise I just shake my head at the absurdity of it all.
So, we head down south, On our way there it’s like the zombie apocalypse has happened or something. Nothing is open. Literally, nothing. We find one open Mcdonald’s at 8:45pm and they’re going to close at 9. There are 15 cars in line and their menu is limited to soda, fries, and desserts. We’re past Orlando at this point, pretty far inland and literally every single soul in Florida is preparing for Irma. Finally we make the turn to go south on the turnpike. My brother’s car can show us the weather and I can see that we are heading straight for the rainbands of the hurricane. The siren goes off on our phones, and it’s a tornado warning. I’m trying to spot the tornado but it’s black outside, and there’s really no where to take cover. We’re on a long dark road with no overpasses and no close exits, literally out in the open with tornado warnings going off. The weather just keeps getting worse the farther south we go. At one point it is raining so hard that the view in front of the car window is white, and the wind is pushing against the truck so much that my brother can’t drive in a straight line.
We finally make it to Palm Beach and meet up with family who is going to take us to the friends house. There is debri on the road and cop cars that are enforcing curfew. It’s still raining when we pull up and drag all of our stuff into the garage and house. I can’t even remember what we ate for dinner that night but, the electricity was on, the wifi was accessible, there was a gas grill outside in case the electricity went out, and we had flashlights, and a transistor radio from 1975. Phone service sucked because we were kind of out in the country. At about 6am the next morning the electricity has gone out. Now we’re without AC and a way to cook our food, and the wind is already howling. I wake up at 9 or 10am and there’s no way to really describe the next 18 or so hours. It was intense, and it just never ended. The wind reached higher than 75 miles per hour or 120 kilometers an hour when they gusted. We could stand outside and hear pine trees that were 100 feet tall crack, it sounded like gunshots. After a while just rows of tall pines were bent over. I don’t remember a lot of thunder, but the rain was endless. Our phones were absolutely useless. Poor reception when we got there was minimized to near zero connection with the outside world when the storm was on top of us. The only thing that did work was the transistor radio. We ran that thing for nearly 24 hours straight, trying to figure out what was going on. That was also the most reliable way to listen for tornado warnings, which were very frequent. I remember there was one time it went off and I don’t think I’ve ever ran so fast to grab my cats and put them in the carrier to keep them safe. Then, we just kind of watched the sky to see if it was close to us. I know that you’re supposed to go inside immediately when the sirens go off, but for as big as the house was that we were in, there was only one good spot to hide from a tornado and it was about five feet by three feet in size. Two cats in a carrier and three adults could not have stayed in there for the hour and half that we kept receiving warnings.
It was warmer than was comfortable with no AC so we kept the patio doors open to get some cool air into the house. By nighttime, the storm had calmed just a smidge, but it was almost more scary. The house was dark with no electricity, we were conserving our phone batteries, flashlights, and propane for the gas lamp. We cooked dinner on the grill and had burgers and baked beans, all while listening to the transistor radio.
When I woke up at 6am the next morning, the transistor radio was still going, by that time we had had it running for nearly 24 hours. I looked outside and it was bright and sunny. The atmosphere outside was completely different from even 8 hours before. We could finally see the destruction from the day before. Again, there were people that were hurt worse than us, a whole heck of a lot worse, but the effects of it were still clear to see. As we left the house we saw broken pine trees, uprooted oak trees, downed power lines, and large tree branches in the road. The temperature outside was hot, and at this point we had been without AC for close to 36 hours until we got in the truck to get home. My two cats were hot and ended up getting sick in the car, so we had to pull into a gas station where workers were cleaning up from the night before. On the way home on the interstate fields were flooded, dry acres had turned into lakes, cars were stuck on flooded roads, and big metal signs that are on the interstate were bent completely back. We still did not have a good idea of what we were coming home to. The biggest worry leading up to evacuating Tampa was the storm surge. Irma actually ended up draining Tampa Bay’s waters, and we still couldn’t figure out quite what had happened. Coming into Tampa, the big plastic that is on the signs on the interstate was ripped, and more trees were uprooted. Once we pulled into our apartment complex though, everything looked fine. One large tree had been uprooted, our bikes were standing in three feet of water in the draining canal where we usually keep them, and the actual apartment only had ripped porch screens and had flooded at the front door.
What can you learn from a hurricane? I think for me, if I make a plan, then I need to stick with it. Running because you’re panicked is never a good reason to run, and most of the time rational decision making is lost when you’re under stress. Like I stated before, what I went through is nothing compared to what other people, and especially the Puerto Ricans have gone through this week. Most of all though, I probably learned what was precious to me. When I was packing up my room and my brother was scaring me saying that I might never see it again, I tried to find the things that were most important to me. Clothes weren’t it, though I did pack all of my underwear and a few nice things that I had recently bought, along with my SO’s Beatles t-shirts. I packed my computers, because that’s how I earn money and because that’s where all my pictures are. The last thing I packed was books for learning Japanese and economics. Finally, before I left my room I grabbed a picture of my SO and me from my closet because it’s one of the only hard copy photos I have, and it was especially precious to me that day.
Zoo to eigo,