When daylight dawned after Irma blew through, the mess was astounding. Trees had fallen across roads—huge water oaks bigger around than your kitchen table, pine trees taller than telephone poles, or enormous, tree-sized limbs from the live oaks. Branches, limbs, moss and other air plants, brushwood and smaller sprigs of leaves, all lay across yards and fields. For some folks shingles littered their property, for others pieces of eaves and white aluminum roof-overs lay twisted across the grass. For still others, siding and whole roofs lay torn and scattered by the winds. You could tell where the tornadoes had plowed through—trees lay in every direction like a pile of pickup sticks, their branches stripped bare of leaves.
The clean-up started immediately. First order of business was to start the generator so we didn't lose the thousand dollars' worth of food in the freezer and fridge. It also gave us a couple of outlets for a lamp and a fan. Then we set up the camp stove on the porch to avoid heating up an un-coolable house, and started the stovetop coffeepot. After a quick breakfast , it was time to get to work.
We tried to contact family. For some reason we had a phone for a few minutes that morning and were able to reach our boys and my mother. All were well and undamaged. Then the landline went out and cell service was spotty and downright weird. My phone kept trying to call out by itself, but of course, it couldn't. Even on a good day I can only get one bar out here and only next to one window in the house. Though we had those few outlets next to the fridge and freezer due to the generator, my cell would not charge. We lost it completely the third day.
Then it was time to check on neighbors. We had heard the whine and rev of chainsaws earlier in the day, and because of them we were able to get down the highway, which was covered in sawdust from the tree and limb removal. Everyone looked all right so we headed back to our own mess.
And what do you do? First, you haul in the water. Heavy five gallon buckets, one next to each toilet for flushes, trying your best not to slosh it on the laminate floors. They don't much like pools of water.
Then you unpack. All those things we had placed in the truck and car were unloaded, unpacked and put back into place. Then we started on the outside.
Keith swept off the roof, which was carpeted with twigs and leaves, and the carport which sat covered in an inch of blown-in water, and caked with mud on the edges. We toweled off the outdoor furniture and unlashed the garbage cans. We put the bird feeders back on their poles and filled them up. Then came the hard part.
Our garden cart holds about 10 cubic feet, Keith thinks, at least 6 five gallon buckets. We filled it up half again as high as the walls sixteen times as we traversed the yard, back and forth for two days. Bend over, lift, and drop; bend over, lift and drop. Over and over and over until our backs ached and our heads swam from the changing height. The temperature was slightly better than a usual September day in Florida—88 maybe instead of 93, but the humidity was nearly 100% from all the water everywhere. It has been my experience with people that you really don't understand that until you have lived in it. We were without an air conditioner for 9 days. The doors swelled and became difficult to open and close. The salt became one huge block, even in those "guaranteed" plastic sealed containers. The dining chair backs were sticky in our hands and the table was covered with condensation every morning. The only way to get the bath towels dried out between uses was to hang them in direct sunlight for several hours, praying for a good stiff breeze. And that's why 88 felt more like 98 and we wound up soaking wet.
But remember what I said about the usual September day down here? Normally the 90s don't leave us before October, and even then we might have a day or two when they return, all the way till November, with a heat index over 100. Yet I have noticed that after every hurricane we get a little break. A day in the 80s was a reprieve we all needed. And the weather continued that way for 3 or 4 days before the 90s began to show up again. By then, for us, the brutal outdoor work was done.
I thought of the rainbow then, the one after the flood. God gave them a sign that such a catastrophe would never happen again. We know we will have more hurricanes, but we also know that God is aware of our needs. Maybe those more moderate temperatures are His way of showing us that He cares. We may be hurt by the warnings He has sent to a people who continually reject Him, but He will still show His mercy in ways that only the righteous may be able to understand. For me, it led to far less griping about the inconveniences—no power, no running water, no means of communication. It could have been so much worse, and for others it was, especially in the Caribbean, the Keys and South Florida. But they, too, felt the cooler air for at least awhile, whether they acknowledged who sent it or not.
God never promised to keep the storms of life away from us, but He has always promised to be with us as we endure them.
For you have been a stronghold to the poor, a stronghold to the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat…(Isa 25:4)