Hurricane Irma Comes Calling
Hurricane Irma Comes Calling.
It was early September, in the year of our Lord, 2017. A monster storm had formed in the Atlantic Ocean, off Cape Verde, near Africa. This is the meteorological spawning ground for hurricanes in the mid-Atlantic Region. Like most people, we watched the news reports as it drifted across the Atlantic, towards the Caribbean Sea. It was after all Hurricane season and storms routinely form there and come here.
The Nation was still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey that had hit a week before. That category four storm had inundated the south-Texas, Houston area, with up to fifty inches of rain. The swift response to this disaster had been heart-warming. Sectors of help came from all areas of the country. We stood behind the Texans as one. It was a good time for Americans to show that we were one nation who stood behind each other.
And now, Irma came knocking on the door. As the storm grew from a category two to a category four, the immediate threat, to the windward islands, became imminent. St. Martin’s, Puerto Rico, Haiti and Cuba all lay in its destructive path. The televised coverage became a 24-hour a day score card of devastation. Antigua & Barbuda came first. The storm blew over them like a wrecking machine. St. Martins was next. Officials reported that over 95 per cent of their buildings lay in ruins.
Puerto Rico followed with less destruction. Then, Haiti and Cuba slowed the monster down to a category three hurricane. By now, the entire state of Florida was in either evacuation mode or shelter seeking. The Florida Keys had been evacuated. Coastal beach areas, of both SW and SE Florida, issued mandatory evacuation orders. Some three to four million people were on the move. Long lines of fleeing citizens clogged the Florida Turnpike, Routes 95 and 75, headed northward to safety. Gasoline became scarce as filling station emptied their stores and new gas couldn’t be shipped in. At the retail level, water, milk, bread and other perishables disappeared in an instant. People were getting ready for the siege. We were familiar with the drill after surviving many blizzards and ice storms in Buffalo, N.Y.
Though frantic, as all such activities are, there are always moments of courage and self-sacrifice displayed. One man had purchased the last generator at a local Costco. The middle-aged woman behind him in like was sobbing because her aged father was on oxygen and needed electricity to power his life preserving apparatus. The man promptly turned the generator over to the appreciative women, who thanked him profusely. Bless the man for his chivalry.
By Friday, night, Florida Governor Scott was on CNN repeatedly urging citizens to evacuate or take shelter in stronger buildings. Most listened, some did not. They chose to make their stand at home and ride out the emergency. Everyone had that angst-ridden feeling of imminent doom approaching. We had been fortunate enough to remain in the Buffalo area as the storm approached. Whatever happened to our home in Florida, we would at least be safe and sound.
As Irma devastated the western rural region of Cuba, she slowed to a category three storm. The experts were still predicting that she would take a northward turn and escalate to a category five storm as the monster fed on the warm waters of the Florida Straits. Irma’s trajectory shifted from SE Florida to landfall at SW Florida, near Naples and Bonita Springs. The shallow coastal plain, offshore here, makes the storm surge a deadlier threat to homes near the coast. All of "Old Naples,” west of U.S. Route 41 and all of the barrier islands, like Sanibel, Marco, Captiva and Fort Myers Beach were ordered evacuated. The predicted storm surge could reach 10-12 feet. That tidal wave and the hurricane winds with it, could literally wash those islands away as had probably happened numerous times through the eons before man settled here.
The local schools and sports arenas began to fill up with thousands of refugees who sought shelter. The 24-hour news coverage had convinced them that this wasn’t “just another storm.” It was indeed a life-threatening monster.
On Sat. morning, the winds started to increase and bands of rain, from the fringes of the storm, started to rinse the area. Irma was coming. We and others said prayers for those caught in the storm’s path, hoping that they would ride out the hurricane in safety. We knew that our Florida home was probably forfeit. It lay right in the storm’s primary, landfall path. Still, we were safe and could always rebuild. Let’s see what happened tonight and tomorrow.
(to be continued)
Joseph Xavier Martin