Irma, Grandma, Family
Well you already know Hurricane Irma hit Marco Island and Florida, and the Virgin Islands. Last I wrote, we in Marco were preparing. Hurricane Irma hit us directly as a Category 4 - that’s sustained winds of 130-156 mph, according to the Saffir–Simpson hurricane wind scale.
It was terrifying - the noises, the roof tiles ripping off, the trees flying by, the wondering if we would get the 15-foot storm surge that was predicted.
We spent countless hours preparing. Friends and family were calling for B and I to head north - Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York. We had such kind offers. The problem with a hurricane is that it’s a living thing and constantly changing strength and direction. We needed to prepare our homes, ourselves. There were no flights to be had even two weeks out. And even before the mandatory evacuations, gas was becoming a problem. Florida is a long state and Irma was set to hit all of it. We didn’t want to get stuck on the road when it hit.
B and I had a plan of where to stay. Not B’s home - it’s on the water and turned out to be ground zero for Irma’s landfall after the Keys. My place maybe - on the second floor we thought. Our friend Brad offered his third floor condo that had hurricane shutters and a back-up generator for the common areas of the building. That’s where we decided we would stay - until Marco Island issued a mandatory evacuation to take affect Saturday, Sept. 9. The mandatory evacuation was for the expected surge.
Government officials reminded us over and over on radio, tv, text, email and Facebook that we should “Hide from the Wind and Run from the Water.” We decided to leave the island for higher ground. B reminded me that 911 wouldn’t be available if my lungs were in need and we were in an mandatory evacuation zone. My dad called to remind me of the same. We didn’t want to risk our lives or almost more importantly, put any emergency responders in danger when we had been told to leave.
We said goodbye to our homes and our beach and off the island we went on Friday night - 10 miles north to North Naples to higher ground. It would take a 20-foot storm surge to get to us at our friends Matt and Anita’s home. Karl joined us eventually too - his dog Mosley wasn’t happy with his choice to stay at Brad’s and let him know that. When they joined us, she was calm and happy and it was clear she needed a pack with her.
As the winds started before the “be in place” deadline of noon on Sunday, Sept. 10, Karl, B and I took a trek through Naples to see what we could see. We stopped by Vanderbilt Beach where a couple of other people were also checking out the waves.
The worsening storm shook the house and rattled the second-floor sliders, sending water into an upstairs bedroom. For an hour or more, we took turns holding the doors. The guys took the longest turn - facing Irma without hurricane shutters or storm ready windows or plywood coverings. The doors stayed put. Anita and I were very concerned if they blew in, it would send the men flying down the stairs directly in front.
When it was over, there was tequila. And a walk through the neighborhood to see the damage. And much worry for our homes on Marco Island and B’s under-contract condo in Naples and listening to the radio to hear what was going on. No one slept much.
The next morning, we were out the door and headed back to Marco at 7:30. The destruction got worse as we made our way to the island. We weren’t allowed on until 11 a.m.
There was storm surge but not the 15-feet that was predicted. Irma wobbled just enough east, putting the storm directly on us and the eye as well. Our first stop was B’s - he was on the water at the point of three bodies of water - Collier Creek, Marco River and the Gulf of Mexico. I’ll drop in some pictures. It’s disturbing and some of the worst damage on Marco. What used to be there were a patio, beautiful courtyard, two sea walls and a large fishing dock - all on the front of B’s first-floor condo. The Gulf now runs freely underneath the building. Most recently, B was told it will be at least a year before anyone in the eight-condo, four-floor tower can live there again.
We stayed with Karl at his almost untouched house - also on the water but more inland on a canal. He had a generator - we could have fans to sleep, take cold showers after long hot days outside and use the microwave to eat some of the hurricane food I had carefully put together - dairy free, gluten free mac and cheese, canned tuna, canned chili, gluten full mac and cheese cups, Oreos, M&Ms, Gatorade, candy I could eat, peanut butter, crackers.
Two days after Irma, on Tuesday, my Grandma Wedding passed away. She was 88 and had cancer. Everyone is glad she is no longer suffering - but we still miss her. B and I flew to Kentucky on Thursday for the funeral. B stayed through Sunday, right by my side. And I got to show him a little of my hometown - the river, downtown, mutton sandwiches, the house I grew up in. I stayed seven more days, traveling to Tennessee with my parents to spend some time with Heather, Summer and Bob and their families. And with my parents - I enjoyed our six hours each way and the time together.
Grandma was mom’s mom. She had multiple lifetimes of stories and adventures. She was a step-grandmother but I only thought of her as Grandma. During our drive to the Smoky Mountains, I thought about Grandma and all my grandparents and how lucky I have been in that department. I have known three great grandmothers, three grandfathers and four grandmothers. I had Granny in my life until I was about 10 - she used to make me cookies and quilts. I had great grandma Cole to love until I was almost 19 - she had a masters degree in math, was a college professor and loved the color purple. She lived by the county fairgrounds, put our Christmas present money on the Christmas tree and always had fruit cake and candy bowl full of hard candy that was stuck together by the humidity. Grandaddy Ken Ken is still with us and going strong at 90. I had some very lovely visits with him while I was home. We talked about when the blue bridge over the Ohio River into downtown Owensboro was built, how he once walked across it when it was closed down for a run. We talked about Kentucky basketball, high school football and the best BBQ in town (that’s Old Hickory if you even get to my hometown).
Very very lucky me to have these amazing people to love and to be loved by.
After Kentucky, after getting power, after having my AC replaced - lost to Irma when something slammed through the condenser, B and returned from our trips to my place where we’re making due in my little no-water view but I-have-palm-trees condo.
One month after the storm and my plywood was taken down off my windows today. The nicest sweetest roofers were here and I asked them if they could do me a solid - and they did without hesitation. It's almost like Irma never happened when you look at my windows - almost.
The house is a mess - we’ve been so busy post hurricane with clean up and meetings and finding roofers and moving stuff that it looks like Irma came in and had a rest inside. Not really, she didn’t come in. I have no water damage and no mud. It’s just messy because we’re busy. But we’re working on it.
I lost my air conditioner to Irma. I had a new one installed while B and I were in Kentucky so I came home to a cool house - many still don’t have air conditioning, Internet or a roof. I won’t complain. Some still don't have power, water, Internet, air conditioning. Some don't have a place to live.
My little island is a mess but there are so many worse places and my friends and B and I are all safe and physically A-OK. I spend my time helping get my parents‘ homes in order, working with the amazing groups started by Marco Patriots and Goodland Buddies - they collect and distribute food, cleaning supplies, toiletries, water, medical supplies, clothes, toys and more to areas in Florida in needs including Goodland, which was inundated by water and muck and all the wind - yet they still help others too. Awesome. They also have been collecting for Puerto Rico.
What a wonderful place I live in. We’re going to be fine here. Blown but not blown down.
Now if I could stop dreaming about hurricanes and storms almost every night. Maybe now that the plywood is off my windows ...