Writing this is my therapy from the last week, so apologizing in advance if it comes off in rambles. Hurricane Irma hit Florida and it hit it hard y’all. We are on the west coast in central Florida in Tampa, and for about a week, we were feeling impending doom headed our way in one way or another. Here is my account of the events and how my momxiety took over for a hot minute.
Irma was predicted to hit the opposite coast of Florida, but knowing it’s size and living here my whole life, I know things can change last minute and they did. A few days ago, the spaghetti models (I don’t want to eat spaghetti for a long, long time FYI) swapped coasts and it was predicted to make land fall in the Florida Keys and then continue up to Naples or Fort Meyers. Tampa was still within the cone as a possibility for landfall, but mostly looked like we would get the eye over us as a category three as it traveled up the coast.
I’ll fast forward through the agony of the few days prior as we were glued to the weather watching those dang spaghetti lines inch west over and over again and just get to the day of. Let me preface this by reminding everyone that our hearts were already with the victims of Harvey in Texas and those already hit by Irma in the islands. The pictures kept rolling in and my heart was broken (and still is as I cover them with prayer and think of ways to help). I don’t want this to lessen what has happened there or to those that took the landfall part of this storm, just giving my part of the story as I work through my emotions.
Why’d we stay here knowing what we did? This storm was not supposed to linger like Harvey did and most water issues would be storm surge related and we are just outside of all flood zones. The biggest concern for us was wind damage. We live in a well built, block home with no existing issues to warrant additional concern. We have lots of trees, but some areas of the house without that we would stay anchored in. We have three small kids and in effort to keep things as normal as possible, made the decision together staying seemed better (I certainly second guessed this the night of, but glad we did). We were worried with so many people evacuating it would be hard to get back, there’d be gas shortages, general traveling safety risks and knew that all of Florida was at risk so would have to go really far to truly escape it. We had back up plans in place here and felt confident in them. So we boarded up our windows (my husband and dad are incredible by the way), removed everything out of our yard that could be projectiles, filled up multiple 5 gallon water containers to freeze to drink or save for bathing, did all the MacGyver things we could do and “hunkered down” as you call it.
A little personal backstory here so you can understand the feelings I’m about to talk about from the night of. I have a little post traumatic stress from the loss of one of our babies six years ago. This will NEVER equate to PTSD that soldiers or other victims experience in any way shape or form, but it is something that has changed how things function for me as I continue to work through it. For those that know me, I am trying to talk about this more, but am still discovering about it within myself. In a nutshell, I was pregnant with twin girls (full story here) and mid-way, one of them required fetal surgery to remove an amniotic band on her ankle and umbilical cord. The day prior to being operated on, the band on her cord tightened and cut off blood flow to her. They were doing the pre-op ultrasound to check for positioning and such when they discovered this and we, needless to say, were floored.
I had to continue to carry her alongside my living daughter throughout the rest of the pregnancy (I don’t know if I’ve ever said that here before) and the emotional toll was only shielded by my faith to get me through at the time. I still may have rented a heart doppler to listen to Ella’s heartbeat every day and once here, couldn’t sleep because I just wanted to make sure she was still breathing, but it was better than it could have been. It all hit me hard around her sixth month of age as it seemed I finally was processing the grief cycle. This, on top of being a prior ER nurse, then at the time a NICU nurse, led to what I call momxiety—the fear of something unbearable happening all of a sudden to my children. I just had seen too much—too many babies that passed, families crying in horror after a child had drowned, officers killed in action leaving children behind--just too much for my new momma heart to handle. As a Christian, this is hard to talk about because I know people are thinking I shouldn’t still be walking through this, some even saying “what’s the big deal,” but sometimes things just change you. This non-anxious, faith-filled person day-to-day still has struggles that lead me to lean on Him even more. If we were perfect, what would be the point of casting our cares to Him? He is there for the good and the times of need. Side note of how good God is: I went on to get pregnant with twins again, and although they were preemies, are perfectly healthy!
Over the course of the last few years, I’ve seen my struggle manifest in a few ways which I know many mommas are familiar with and then other times it becomes more extreme. For example, visits to theme parks are hard to enjoy because I am fearful someone will grab the arm of my child the millisecond I look away. It can’t just be a normal “I hope they don’t get lost” thought, it is always ten things that could happen. Even with every door and window on our home alarmed to go off the second something opens, I still pop up at the slightest sound wondering what imagined scenario could be the cause. The hard part is my mind gets a visual that once seen is difficult to escape and is often accompanied by a racing heart and nausea that only praying can resolve. I don’t want them to miss out on things on my part, so life must go on as I learn to face this battle.
The latest culprit? Irma. The hurricane that has baffled us all and left our entire state with damage of one scale or another. I told you reasons why we stayed, but part of trying to keep normalcy was for me. Adding on the stress of leaving our home and not knowing what it would look like when we came back, what if we got in a horrible accident as we traveled, or were taken advantage of stuck on the side of the road without gas or even family members needing us in an emergency and we weren’t able to get to them, etc.
The day of Irma’s planned arrival we made all our last minute preparations and then just had to sit and wait. We explained the storm to the kids very matter of factly about the wind, but otherwise, tried to hold the stress to ourselves (except when they wanted to argue over something silly and we were stress balls inside). The wind started to pick up in the afternoon and slowly began to gain strength further. We had just seen news that the water in Tampa Bay had been sucked out due to the power of the storm (later heard it did this as far away as Alabama), tornado warnings popping up all over and now watching closely as it passed over the Keys as a category four turning towards Marco Island/Naples for a second landfall. Destruction was happening at that very moment. Homes were being torn apart, people wondering if loved ones were safe and I started panicking. The eye was still projected to come over us at this point and I’m like “no thank you Irma, you can go away now please, you've brought enough havoc.”
Our house is on a corner lot with several channels for high winds to flow through, especially from the two streets we are are angled at and our backyard. We don’t live in a cookie cutter neighborhood, so the homes aren’t super close together to help shield. It hit us a category two, many counting their blessings, but in my mind I knew it was this way because so many had already taken the hit and for that, it was hard to rejoice at that thought.
The high wind gusts started getting worse and then to the point where I was full on freaked out--sustained winds. I do not normally scare easily and will try many adventurous things, but my kids right here by us in this mess, are my world. There was no let up on the sound of that sort of wind pummeling against our home as we wondered what it will look like in the morning. Four hours of just that type of wind plus the hours on both sides of gusts during some of the bands. There were a few extra crazy gusts that I squeezed my husband’s hand so tightly and fought back tears as it felt like the roof was going to blow off. Many times we heard five or six transformers loudly blow in the distance increasing in sound as they approached in order awaiting our turn for darkness. Add that to the loud thuds of debris hitting things everywhere and my nerves were done.
Remember all those things I wrote about above? I was struggling. The only thing I can sort of equate it to is like when you get an MRI and you finally get used to the crazy sounds, you find yourself tense again without knowing multiplied by hours on end. Add on complete exhaustion from days prior, being boarded inside and not able to see what you’re hearing. We had just gotten our kids to sleep prior to the stronger part of it thank goodness and seeing them sleep right next to us soundly, I tried to remember God is our comfort in the midst of the storm. He never said you won’t go through trials, but that He would be there with us. If I didn’t have that hope, I can’t imagine how much more I would have been uneasy. In my human moments, I am always realizing how much more I need Him.
The eye of the storm started falling apart the longer it was on land, still with winds of around 105 as it just skirted to the east of us, the outer band of it's front wall remaining still nudging us per the live radar. Even though the whole state was on watch, many seemed sure the eye wasn’t headed to them, but the last path took many by surprise and it had much strength left even after it weakened. The lights had been flickering since the beginning with them going off completely three times, two of which, they came back on quickly, the other off for around 20 minutes. We kept our power miraculously when millions were already without. I am now looking back to thank the lineman that replaced our transformer when it blew a few normal Florida storms ago.
After the worst of it passed around three in the morning, we finally tried to catch some shut eye, but I was still so restless knowing so many couldn’t even be in their homes that night and that the storm wasn’t over for those in the path, many of which were friends and family farther north. When a smidge of daylight peeked through the clouds, we inspected our home and it was somehow in perfect shape, just with the yard being a mess of limbs and debris. Our neighborhood has downed trees every few hundred feet, but already neighbors were helping each other clear things from the road as deemed safe.
Tragedy has struck Florida and the islands. There is a lot of work to be done, a lot of emotions to work through, a lot of needs to be met, but everyone will get through it together. People are offering their homes as shelter, sharing warm meals with those that don’t have access and a general appreciation for life can be felt. Something our Governor Rick Scott stated over and over before hand was that “things can be replaced, but people can’t,” and that is so right. The road ahead for many may be long, but restoration will occur. We are all human beings that experience things differently. Some slept through the storm (I wish this was me), some were unphased (also wish this was me), some it felt like more than they could bare, some it changed everything.
Thank you for reading my side of the story of hurricane Irma as I know many have them. I want to extend my greatest prayers of hope and restoration to those who need it today. Whatever is troubling you today, I am believing as the storm literally passes, so will the struggle—day by day with each forward step.
*We will start to share ways to help locally and across Florida as we validate reliable organizations, but for now, start with your neighbors, friends and family. Allow them to talk about their experience as I have done here, give them water if you have extra, let them use your shower, whatever they need as you would want the same offered to you if you were in need.
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