Getting ready for Hurricane Irma

Today is the sixteenth anniversary of that terrible September 11th. Some days it feels like yesterday; other days the shock and pain are overlaid by more immediate concerns.

I hope everyone was, is, and will be safe during the dangerous storms this hurricane season.

Two weeks ago, I got up at 2 am on Saturday to start a terrific vacation: A bucket list trip beginning in Seattle and driving to Vancouver, British Columbia. A ferry ride to Victoria, BC, to visit the Butchart Gardens and have afternoon tea before taking another ferry ride back to the States. Driving back to Seattle for our Alaska cruise with friends. My husband’s birthday during the cruise. The fantastic cruise, with sunshine every day.

This past Saturday I got up at 2 am to evacuate from Vero¬†Beach, heading to (hopefully) safer ground at my brother- and sister-in-law’s home in The Villages.

Two weeks were¬†the difference between the breathtaking and the heartbreaking. So soon after Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston, residents of Florida and everywhere else in the path of Hurricane Irma are battening down the hatches and heading out for safety. Reports of the destruction where Irma has already hit are coming in (I’m writing this early Friday morning), and it is epic.

We were cruising on the ship when we first began hearing that Hurricane Irma might hit Florida. In our group of eight, six live full-time and two live part-time in Florida. Husband had boarded up the house before we left, just in case. It was too soon to be worried.

That didn’t last long.

Our cruise ended on time Tuesday morning in Seattle. The six of us flying back to Florida on Wednesday got to the hotel and checked in for our overnight stay, headed back out for Seattle sights, and then back to the hotel for our early morning call for a 3:30 am shuttle to the airport for the return trip home.

Wednesday was our travel day, Thursday was supposed to be back to work.

But.

Hurricane Irma was taking a track projected to bring her straight up through Florida. The size of this hurricane would hit our city, no matter if/where it makes landfall.

The building supply company I work for closed at 5 pm on Wednesday, giving employees time to get their homes hurricane-ready, and to safe shelter in or out-of-state.

Instead of being in the office and catching up on the paperwork from my seven days on vacation, Thursday and Friday were spent packing pictures and other fragile belongings into protective plastic bins, doing laundry, and packing to go out-of-town again.

Our house weathered Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne in 2004, Wilma in 2005. Could it, would it, make it through a stronger hurricane?

What do you take when you think you might not have anything left to come back to? Important papers; sentimental jewelry; clothes and toiletries for two weeks, in case that’s all I have to start over with. My laptop. My husband.

Lessons were learned from Hurricane Frances, when we were out-of-town for a wedding in Richmond VA, a few days in Buffalo visiting family, and a memorial golf tournament in Pinehurst NC honoring my father on what would have been his 70th birthday had he not died six weeks previously. We stayed with my stepmother for nine days after the golf tournament, coming back home after we knew we had power.

We were lucky, losing only some shingles from the roof, the back fence, and the refrigerator. Nine days without electricity were not kind to our refrigerator. Suffice it to say my husband spent four hours cleaning it out wearing a breathing mask, heavy-duty gloves, and using copious amounts of bleach. The refrigerator didn’t make it.

Plastic bags are now part of our frozen food prep. We put all the food in the freezer and the refrigerator into plastic bags. If we lose power, melting is contained and the bag is easily disposed of, as is any grossness resulting from foods not getting necessary refrigeration.

This is not just for hurricane prep, when we know we won’t have power. This is for daily containment in the case of an unexpected outage. Tip: freeze water in a small cup and put a coin on top of the resulting ice. If you come back home to find evidence of a power outage, check to see if the coin is now encased in ice. If so, it’s an indication that the cup ice melted enough for the coin to sink into it and re-freeze, and some frozen foods might not be safe to eat.

We’ll pack up what food we can take with us. There won’t be power for at least three days, since we’ll turn off the water and the breakers before we leave.

Why the breakers? There is a risk of fire from the power surge when the power comes back on after a major outage. It’s happened before in the aftermath of hurricanes, in our town. Safety isn’t just getting out-of-town, it’s also preparing for the return.

Be careful, be prepared.

Most of all, be safe.