It was Wednesday of last week when we realized Irma (that nasty hurricane) was headed more toward the west coast of Florida, where we had been happily vacationing, than had previously been forecasted. What to do? Well, call the airline. Any return flights home before Sunday? No, nothing. Clearly leaving on our scheduled Sunday flight wasn’t going to happen. The airport would be closing. We had a car, but the traffic was so jammed leaving the state that it would be impossible to drive anywhere without running out of gas. Yeah, that was in short supply. We decided to ride out the storm.
So it was off to the store for water, non-perishables, and a flashlight (we found one!). Everyone we came in contact with would end the conversation with “Be safe”. Wow, it was getting real. These Florida hurricanes you don’t take lightly.
By Saturday morning, the forecast became even more ominous. This hurricane would pass right over us, skirting up the west coast and creating a devastating storm surge. Our neighbors came to tell us they were leaving. Roger and I looked at each other and without a word made the decision to leave, too.
Driving away from a potentially life threatening situation was surreal. The ride was slow, after four hours on the road with a lot of other evacuees, we were essentially in the same area. I knew because we were still listening to the same radio station. We were going northbound. On the other side of the highway were emergency vehicles. Ambulances, the National Guard, rescue and utility trucks, all headed south. Talk about the reality of it all setting in!
We eventually made it to the Georgia border. We stopped at a rest stop along with all of the others escaping the storm, had some food, and watched people walk their dogs and rest up. Of course with mostly Florida plates on the road, it meant finding a room was going to be problematic. At least I was able to secure a flight out of Atlanta on Sunday morning. But in the meantime we needed a place to stay. I spent more than an hour on the phone, in a moving car, trying to find something. Finally, I got a room! Not the prettiest, but it worked.
Flying back on Sunday, I thought about what was to come for the people of Florida. Would it be worse, would it be better than expected? For us, in the Bradenton area, we ended up dodging a bullet. There was damage, but the worst of the storm was felt in other places. And because Irma made landfall and tracked a little more to the east, it had weakened. The storm surge was downgraded for us. Not for everyone, though.
I have a few takeaways from my experience escaping Hurricane Irma. Making the decision to stay or go isn’t always as easy as it seems. Deciding to leave was the right call. In times of crisis, people really are there for each other.
Let’s hope, after Harvey and Irma, that the hurricane season now takes a big break!