When you live in Florida, and probably anywhere in the Caribbean and along the Gulf Coast, you keep an eye on the weather from June 1 till November 30—hurricane season. My earliest memory of hurricanes was Donna in 1960. The next was Alma in 1966. I know there were others that made a Florida landfall, Cleo and Dora, for instance, in 1964, Betsy in 65, and Inez in 66, but they must not have affected my very young life. After that, we lived in Tampa which did not have a major hit for nearly 100 years, or so I recently heard.
As a newlywed, we lived out of state for five years so I was hardly aware of Agnes in 72 and Eloise in 75, which created a 12-16 foot storm surge from Panama City to Ft Walton Beach. Then we moved back to Florida and suddenly hurricanes were a fact of life again, one made more real because of the two little boys we now had to protect.
There was Elena in 85, which sent us to our first evacuation shelter. Andrew in 92 was the one that really opened our eyes to the danger of hurricanes. Good thing because Florida landfalls picked up suddenly after his arrival. Gordon in 94 whipped around and made a U-turn, hitting Florida twice. Erin in 95 followed suit with two landfalls in the state and then Opal arrived only a few weeks afterward with catastrophic damage. Georges wiped out the Keys in 98 and Floyd came along the east coast in 99, giving us all a good scare. Then 2004 brought four hurricanes over the state in only a few weeks—Charlie, Frances, Jeanne, and Ivan, which actually made its first landfall in Alabama, wiping out the Florida panhandle which sat on its dangerous eastern side, then crossing the southeast, heading back into the Atlantic, and traveling down to cross South Florida. And those are just the highlights.
So when Irma came rolling off the coast of Africa we kept an eye on her all the way across the Atlantic and into the Caribbean. We watched as she grew from a tropical wave into a depression into a storm and finally into a hurricane. We watched while her winds increased daily, peaking out at 185 mph—category 5.
They kept telling us it would turn north—first, in time to miss the mainland altogether, then in time to miss Florida and bounce off the Carolinas, then in time to plow into Georgia. Then we were told that Miami would take a direct hit and Irma would skirt our eastern coast and off to the northeast Atlantic. Then the forecast moved west a bit, with this recalcitrant hurricane forecast to come straight up the spine of the state as a category 5. By then she was really close, so that is what we had to plan for.
If you have seen those Saffir-Simpson animations, you know what a category 5 will do to a house—destroy it. That's what a category 2 will do to a mobile home. We have lived in a doublewide "manufactured home" for 35 years. Obviously we've taken care of it—a roofover, siding, skirting, hurricane tie-downs that were up to code at the time. The inside has been practically rebuilt as the years passed and we saved enough money to do so. But we were still facing the real possibility—probability—of losing it all. That only took into consideration the winds, not the massive live oaks that spread their branches over us and make our air conditioning bill manageable. Any one branch of those trees could destroy the house.
And so we had some decisions to make. What if we lost it all? What would we try to save? It surprised me how little it was.
We packed a suitcase each of basics: jeans, tees, underwear and socks, and a couple pairs of shoes. After a hurricane there is neither time nor inclination for dressing up. We packed photo albums, bank account ledgers and checks, 2 back-up thumb drives of files on the computer.
We filled a box with our Bibles and all the notes from every class either of us has ever taught. I added the September schedule for this blog in case I could find a way to keep it going. Then we added probably a dozen books that were special to us, less than 5% of the total number we own.
We are experienced campers. If the house was destroyed, we planned to use the tent as housing until something permanent could be arranged. So we packed a cooler, paper plates, paper towels, and cloth towels—things that needed to stay dry. We figured we could find the rest of our camping gear in the debris.
Everything we packed fit into the covered bed of the pickup, the trunk of the car, and its backseat.
I remember thinking, "We know that someday we will have to leave this place and downsize and we wondered what we would keep. I guess we just found out."
Keith nearly echoed my thoughts after our day of packing. "We started from scratch 43 years ago. We can do it again."
There was a sadness about it, yes, and I shed a few tears, but that was all the time I had for that nonsense. Irma was coming and time was short. We had prayed for her demise for weeks and continued to for 24 more long hours. But there was also a sense of acceptance as she came closer and closer. When you pray, "Thy will be done," there must be, or it isn't really faith.
I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come... Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread on my high places... (Hab 3:16-19).