Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Hurricane Irma, What a Fickle Storm She Was!

              Hurricane Irma, what a fickle girl! 

Last Tuesday began a week in which I feel like I have lived in a hamster wheel.  Spinning around and around but not accomplishing much.   Actually, not entirely accurate, we did accomplish a lot but at the same time, nothing.  It is an odd position you find yourself in when you prepare for a natural disaster.  Working fast and diligently at certain tasks; searching for water, fuel, staples, and at the same time, trying to do normal without doing much of anything in the way of normal.  And oh so much uncertainty.  To stay or go.  Let's go.  No we can weather this, let's stay.

While Doc and our son-in-law evacuated Wednesday, we still had a pile of dwarfs and a dog in the kingdom to consider and the reports of Irma Tuesday and Wednesday were indicating that the full brunt of the storm was going to be making a strong CAT 4-5  impact on our community.   I attempted to gauge my neighbors and their responses, as they are all veterans of the neighborhood for over 25+ years, as well as get current updates from the Prince's employer as they tried to make good choices for their 2500 employees.   One set of neighbors left for vacation, and the others seemed to not be pressed at all.  So we just took it one day at a time.

Tuesday while the kids were in school, I went out with Dopey and we filled up the gas tanks in our cars and I went to the store to purchase some basics.   It was about this time that I realized preparing for a hurricane is not anything like preparing for a snow storm and I may be a bit out of my element.
On Tuesday morning, there was no water, no canned goods, no propane, no dog food, no garbage bags and no storage tubs,  but plenty of milk and eggs and bread.  I purchased snack foods, paper products, and created some meals in my mind that I could prep in advance that we could heat on the grill or cook in the smoker.   I purchased the 2 most expensive cases of power-aide known to man as after a trip to the grocery yielded me no bottled beverages or water.  But with my new Speedway rewards card I know have 10 free power- aides to collect on!!   After school I had the dwarfs each pack a bag of clothing, as well as any items of a personal nature that they would want to always have (awards, trophies etc) and place them in the truck.   I also needed to run a pile of packages to the post office, and so as I was on the way to make a post office drop I spied a Pepsi truck off loading water and soda at a mom and pop gas station and store along the way.  I quickly dropped the packages and returned to find that while they did have water, I could only purchase one case, which I happily purchased!   Count on beverages for 8 people and a dog - 2 cases of power-aide, and one case of water - now I am starting to feel like I am making some progress in my hurricane preparedness!

All of this unrest in the kingdom,  lead to numerous meltdowns and attitudes because in the world of parenting special needs adolescents and adults, one must remember that processing is not a strength of theirs so their inability to rationalize or prioritize is not strong.  I sat cross legged in the yard for 47 minutes Tuesday explaining to Bashful why his shark fishing rod was not a item that would be evacuating with us should the need arise.  There were no amount of words in my vocabulary, or phrases that could help him understand that a fishing rod (shark or minnows) is made for the water, and that if the rains come and we flood in the kingdom, his fishing rod would be just fine.  His shark rod is easily 8 feet in length and while I now have the Hot Tamale (Yukon XL) , I did not want to be evacuating with a shark rod poking me in the back of the head, nor did the other family members in our vehicle wish to have to step around it or balance it on their shoulders for the duration of the ride to where ever we were potentially evacuating too.  This was all a precursor to the fact that he just could not understand what was happening, or was about to happen.  To make matters worse, at school that was all they were discussing as they prepared his high school for an emergency shelter.  He was angry because his days were not ordered and easy to understand in light of Irma.  His meltdown was the start of many more, and even as I write this and we are home safe, he has not been able to regulate back to a standard or normal.

While the Prince kept sending home updates and we kept making plans to evacuate, I began the torturous process of arranging my home by priority.  Pulling all decorations and photos out of the window sills around the house, boxing photos and photo albums, relocating furniture to the second story that would be damaged by water if the first floor flooded.  Elevating items that were of "lesser" value but still of importance on to counters and furniture of less value.  As you can imagine in a home, with 7 people living in it,  with a business running out of it, this was an extensive list.

Attempting to get as much product out of the house for the business, I would alternate working with evacuation and emergency preparedness action steps.  Wednesday we found ourselves calling neighbors to work for us, as I ran to last minute appointments for the vehicle and for the kids.  On Wednesday, we were still in the mindset that based on the reports from the Prince's office we were ready to evacuate,  but we were prepared to stay and ride out the storm as well.

During this day, I learned two very valuable lessons.  In both of these lessons, I sat in lines of traffic, on main roads thinking it was slow or no go because of people evacuating.  Nope - first one was a gas line ... I spent 7 minutes in that line on the road until I noticed the gas station signs and that the other two lanes of traffic were zipping right along beside me.  Second time I was sitting, was a line on a back road (because going North on the main highway was a non starter) and since it was a two lane road and I had no other choice but to sit, 37 minutes from a .4 mile right turn towards home in what turned out to be a free sand bag line... always know where your municipal buildings are before going out!  Most important lesson, besides just being aware of your surroundings and landmarks,  always use the facilities before running any errands during emergency preparedness by an entire community! Waiting in any lines for any amount of time with a full bladder is the worst!

Sadly, in the midst of this time sucking, line sitting afternoon,  the dwarfs decided to have another melt down.  Now remember when you read this they are adult-ish not toddlers.   I get photos texted to me about my ceiling fan spinning with laundry hanging from it, and the lamp shade being reassembled from the same ceiling fan by two particular male dwarves.   Additionally, the TV is on in the background  (the house rule is no tv until after dinner) and that they were eating ice cream in the living room.  Yes we have a house rule about that too... no eating in the living room and never is ice cream a right before dinner snack!! I call the prince to explain what I think about the chaos is at home, and he calls to talk to them.  While they respond to him, they are slow about it, and in the midst of it all completely sassy and disrespectful to the other dwarves at home.  Needless to say by the time I roll in I am completely agitated and aggravated, because with so much to do these knuckle heads are just creating more chaos.  I am immediately reminded that when these kids stress out they melt down. What they can control is acting out. Being simple minded and stupid in their actions and breaking as many of known house rules puts them in a position of power and control... but geez already - so there goes another hour and a half of talking them off their cliffs, and attempting to make them see that they really need to use their words and put their energies to wise use.  A fruitless endeavor, but one that none the less, while they live here and I am their momma, I feel it must be repeated in the hopes of some day making an impact in their broken minds.

All of this to say it is about this time, late Wednesday and Thursday,  that Irma decides to blow the other direction and head to the East Coast of Florida.   So we settle into a new normal, preparing to stay at the house and weather the storm, knowing we are packed if we need to leave.  We check in on our friends on the East Coast and let them know that if they need a place to stay they can come and seek refuge here at our house and I go about my day working, topping off my gas tank, running kids to school and work.  The Prince is keeping on top of the storm through his work and helping the employees of his company prepare the best that he can.

Friday is the day we determine to board up the house.  While we have an entire lanai filled with replacement windows that are impact resistant, the windows in the house are as old as the house...30 years.  The prince spends the day searching and purchasing wood for the windows and starts the tedious process of boarding the house up.  We continue to bring in the outdoor plants, secure things that could blow away Friday and into Saturday.  We board up the windows, sink the patio furniture in the pool, stack items indoors, and stack indoor items on top of other indoor items and fill all containers we can find with water.

We are all beat... the team of Prince, Sleepy and Porter have killed the outside prep.  Team Mom has killed the inside prep... as we, Sleepy and I sat on the front porch chatting and enjoying the calm before the storm, we look across the street and see our neighbor is struggling to push around a large pile of mulch.  We watch her for about ten minutes and it seems like the pile is not getting any smaller.  We both put on our shoes and go over to lend a hand.  We spent an hour working on spreading mulch (so that it would not turn into projectiles in the winds) and making new friends. Funny how a natural disaster brings everyone together! 

As we are wrapping up our last attempts to button up the house and having dinner, we get a report from the Prince's office that Irma is now coming back our way and she seems to be pretty angry. Indications are that she is going to hit us with winds up to 140 -165 mph potentially.   

For the record, this is the first time since Hurricane Irma talk started the week prior,  that I see the Prince with significant concern in his eyes.  He is sitting at the table rubbing his head (his great thinking pose), and I know that he now thinks we need to leave. Where do we go, is the next question.  It is no longer possible to get north, the traffic and the gas shortage are a great concern. We are grateful that we have several offers from old family friends in Alabama, strangers in Alabama and of course our family in PA as options for safety.  The Prince calls his life long friend on the East Coast, whom we were offering shelter to the day before, and asked if they would like some company to weather the storm.  Company coming in the form of  8 people and one dog (which potentially could be the end of a life long friendship), and they tell us of course to come on over!   We have a brief discussion of what an evacuation looks like for us and we prep all the kids at dinner about the next steps.  We let the neighbors know we are leaving (because just one hour before we were staying) share our left overs, and within 30 minutes of dinner being over we were in the cars heading to the East Coast.  

If you have been to our home or seen photos, the front door is a double door that swings in, so the Prince determined that we would barricade the front door by pushing the 12 foot kitchen table and chairs up agains the door and then wedging a section of the couch in behind that to make a secure seal up against the kitchen counter at the opposite end of the space.  This would prevent the wind from blowing in the door and deter potential for looters from getting in until we could get back.  We left through the garage, using the garage door opener to close the garage door because we boarded up the side door securely earlier in the day. (Remember this fact for later in the story!) 

We left the house at 7:15pm.  I think in the 3 hours we were on the road, aside from our three car caravan, we maybe saw 6 or 8 other vehicles. Because we were heading to the east, we were able to avoid major highways so it was back roads almost all the way.   It was like something out of a horror movie for sure. "It was a dark and stormy night..."  Business boarded up, no gas stations, no groceries, no restaurants... we drove through a series of rain showers and watched the lightening, as it lit our paths in front of us.  About 20 miles into the trip the Prince calls me to say that we left our lockbox at home.  Ugh, rookie mistake.  We boxed up and carried out tons of things but left the one thing that really held all our valuable papers and documents.  At some point in the journey we also realized that in our grand plan exiting through the garage door, it would be the worst plan if when we returned we had no power!  Rookie mistake #2!!  I believe we arrived in West Palm Beach around 9:30, unloaded in a rush as it was raining and pretty much fell to sleep in moments of making sleeping arrangements (our hosts and their son and dog in their room) four Lingle's and a dog in the second bedroom and 4 more Lingle's in the living room. Not going to lie even Bashful looked huge on the chaise lounge he called his bed!!   

We spent all day Sunday with power, playing card games, watching movies, eating, reading and walking the dogs when it was not raining, enduring tornado warnings from early am through late afternoon, about every hour, napping, and chatting and watching the weather reports.  We dined on boiled hot dogs frozen chicken patties, fresh fruit and bread and peanut butter and Miss Deb's amazing strawberry jelly!  Surprisingly, everyone held it together in such a confined space and did a wonderful job of getting along, and while it is not anything we would want to put on our top ten list of things to do again, if we had to we wouldn't change a thing!  We had power surges and thought for sure we would loose power at any moment mid Sunday afternoon, but woke Monday still having retained power overnight. 

We are grateful for the distraction, the electric and cable and friendship.  Most people would have thought long and hard about absorbing 8 grown people and an 80 lb dog into their two bedroom condo... we are thrilled that we were welcomed with open arms! 

Monday we woke to find the house still cool, the power still on and made our preparations to come back home.  In total the three hour trip took us 4. 5 hours from start to finish.  We searched twice in West Palm Beach for gas for the jeep, but could not find any - Sleepy used 3/4 of a tank to make the trip over and we only had 5 gallons of back up gas with us.  Adding that to her tank, only got her to the 1/2 tank marker.  She drove home with the windows down and the air off to conserve fuel.  She literally floated in on fumes and a prayer to our driveway Monday afternoon!  

The devastation that we witnessed on our drive back to the West Coast was overwhelming - sights that none of us would soon forget, and would make us so much more grateful for our intact and unaffected home!  Roads that were missing, sink holes the size of buildings, trailer parks where homes were roofless, and tipped over, campers on their roofs with wheels in the air, miles and miles of fencing down, flooding on roadways and entire areas acres of tree tops because their bases were underwater.  

We were 55 minutes from home when we hit the first traffic issue - downed power lines.  We tried a few detours, however quickly realized that because of Sleepy's limited gas situation and no open gas stations we would just have to wait the repair out.  We swerved around trees in the road way,  drove on the other side of the road to avoid standing water,  earning adventure points! Adding to the adventure points, breaking in to our own home upon arriving home, since there was no power!!  We are glad that we left a lanai door unlocked for our neighbors so they could use our grill while we were gone in the event of the power outage.  The prince borrowed two screwdrivers, and set to work on un boarding our bedroom window and then shimmying Happy in the window to move the furniture and open the front door!!  

The Prince is always about getting to work, we unloaded the cars, and took the boards off every one of the 33 windows in under an hour and forty five minutes!  We also started bringing the debris from the yard to the curb.  Our power was restored by 6:30 PM last night, as we were powering up the grill for dinner of reheated hotdogs and sausage! While there are still many in our neighborhood without power, we feel blessed beyond what we deserve.  

There are no words to describe our gratitude for all our praying friends, for the text messages, for the face book messages and the phone calls.  We are so fortunate in the midst of this storm to have sustained no damage to the house, no damage to the car that we left behind and no damage to the yard or pool cage.   If I have to clean up the yard debris for another week, or it takes me two weeks to get my house back in functioning order,  I will gladly do it with a smile on my face and a prayer in my heart for the thousands and thousands of people affected by Irma!  We are encouraged by the way neighbors and strangers alike are pulling together to serve each other in the middle of all that is going on.  Irma she was a finicky one!  

This is just the start of hurricane season here in Florida!  You Can't Make this Stuff up!