When Hurricane Irma blew through Florida Sept. 10-11 and left a trail of devastation in its wake, for many, it was a week fraught with fear and indecision. Ultimately, for most in the Wesley Chapel and New Tampa area, Irma spared us the worst of her wrath. Here’s some local takeaways from a crazy week:
1. Storms Are Stressful — It was, in a word, a crazy week. Between the forecast track of Irma changing every few hours, the panic that set in and left most store shelves empty as the Category 5 storm approached Florida, and the final days of deciding whether to board up the windows and hunker down or get in the car and leave (which had it’s own set of perils, as rooms and gas were in scarce supply as far north as Tennessee), the hurricane tied everyone’s stomach up in knots. There have been other hurricanes, but we’re not sure any previous storms produced the kind of nervousness we saw this time around.
2. Be Prepared, Darn It! — This goes without saying. It’s also coming from the guy who was wondering what all the fuss was about when water began flying off the shelves a week before Irma arrived; a guy who decided to board up his windows the day after the entire area ran out of plywood and who finally decided to move his family into a shelter the morning the storm arrived. Next time, the first item on my checklist: make an actual plan.
3. Oh, And Batteries! — Dear People: That drawer full of AA and AAA batteries to keep your kids’ electronic devices and games running just aren’t going to cut it in a storm.
C and D batteries.
P.S. Remember us?
4. Meteorologists Aren’t So Bad — We all know that no weatherman is perfect. Here in Florida, we curse them daily. We demand perfection from them.
But, while it was easy to make fun of the ever-changing spaghetti models, and the way they scared the bejeezus out of most of us with their Irma forecasts, remember this: every station’s weather person told millions to flee, and millions did — and are still alive because of it.
5. No, Really, They Aren’t! — Whether it was FOX 13’s Paul Dellagatto, or ABC Action News’ Denis Phillips, or your favorites from Bay News 9 and the Weather Channel, many found comfort in their most trusted weather person.
My wife was on a first name basis with Phillips during the storm. She asked constantly if “Denis” had updated his Facebook status yet. His posts were calm, reassuring, and most important, honest. He said it was going to be bad (it was), he said it was going to be scary (yep), he said it was going to do some damage (it did) and he reminded us not to panic (although some of us did anyway).
When there was no power or no signal, a friend from California cut and pasted his updates into texts so she could read them.
6. You Can’t Please Everyone — Hurricanes are unpredictably predictably unpredictable, or something like that. However, many people afterwards were actually angry that the storm didn’t pass right over their homes — because the forecast said it would —and now they had a 15-hour drive back from Atlanta. And, all this water they bought. And, so much time wasted boarding up. It was all for nothing! Waaaah.
Would these people have been happier had the storm passed through and took their house with it? Would that have made it all worth their time?
7. Our Schools Rock — How great were the Pasco and Hillsborough County schools during Hurricane Irma? Many of us take our schools for granted, but they are remarkable places that take care of our kids during the day and then, in a crisis, can spring into action and provide shelters (and three squares a day) for thousands of people, old and young, and even their pets.
To make this happen required administrators and teachers going above and beyond, and dozens of volunteers giving their time to meet the needs of the evacuees. We saw volunteers getting aspirin for one person, an extra blanket for another, and even a cup of ice for an older lady to feed the chips to her nervous dog.
Yes, we know it wasn’t cozy or luxurious and the internet and phone service were spotty and the food was meh, but our schools were what they needed to be: Safe.
8. Tampa Bay Was On The Ball —Yes, there were still people without power heading into last weekend, but it’s not for a lack of trying. The pictures of literally hundreds of trucks from power companies lined up on the interstate and ready to head south were reassuring, as was everything about the county’s response.
Almost second-by-second updates, an app that was useful, first responders ready to go and an overall feeling that those in charge were in control. The county planned for a Category 5 storm. You could tell. Here’s hoping they can keep it up during the recovery mode.
9. It Takes A Village — Hundreds of stories have unfolded since the storm, good stories that remind you how lucky we are to be surrounded by neighbors, friends and even strangers, who rushed out to help those with no power, those in need of a tree being removed and those desperate for food and water, just needing a shower or a bag/cup of ice or a generator.
There’s really no shortage, it seems, of people willing to help, with countless posts on Facebook offering to check on people’s homes while they were returning from evacuation, towing cars out of flooded areas and helping others to safety.
10. We Got Lucky!
That is all.