This past Sunday, Hurricane Irma hit Orlando with a vengeance. Thankfully, we had enough time to prepare, but we weren’t exactly sure what we were preparing for. We knew we were going to get hit, but didn’t know if it would be a direct hit as a category 3 or 4 or if Irma would come up the state and hit us as a category 1. For a while there at the end of last week, we weren’t even sure which side we would get hit on – from the east or west.
In a hurricane, you definitely don’t want to be hit from the west because that puts you on the east side of the storm winds, where wind, rain, and the chance of tornados are highest. Unfortunately, due to a last minute turn through Tampa, Orlando had a double whammy. We first were hit by the north east side of the storm as it came ashore and that is the worst place to be. But then we also go the eye of the storm as Irma turned northward.
As we prepared for whatever we were going to get from the storm, Chris and I made the decision to not evacuate. Mostly because we are inland and not in an evacuation zone, but also because if there was damage to the house or property, we wanted to be able to get there as fast as possible. We had heard of the drive to Atlanta taking over 14 hours from Orlando, when it is normally a 7 hour drive at most. We had also heard of people running out of gas because gas stations from here to Georgia were out of gas and the last thing we wanted to do was sit in a car that long, only to run out of gas on the way. We ended up being very safe inside our house, which had no damage done it it, except for a crack in one of our windows from a tree branch that hit it, so it started leaking in the middle of the storm. Thankfully, Chris was able to duct tape the crack during the storm to stop the leak, which was getting all over our couch!
The storm itself started around 5:00pm on Sunday afternoon at our house. We started getting tropical storm force winds at that point and that continued until about 9:30 or 10:00 when the bands of hurricane forced wind started. That’s when we lost power. Thankfully, that’s also about the time Bean and Gracie fell asleep, so they weren’t awake to see the really strong winds later in the night, which would have really scared them. We all slept in the downstairs family room together that night for a few reasons. First, our bedrooms are on the second floor and we wanted to be lower to the ground in case of a tornado. We also wanted to be closer to the downstairs interior bathroom so that if we needed, we could all stay in the bathroom during tornado watches or if the wind were to get really bad – thankfully we only had to do that once. And it just made us feel better to have the kids with us (and the dogs, of course!).
Around midnight, the wind kicked up and we are pretty sure that’s when the category 2 winds began. And it was intense! We watched trees bend all the way over to the ground. There were transformers popping all over our neighborhood, and whenever a tree or branch fell on someone’s house, you could hear a loud boom. Not only was there that noise, but the wind itself was howling. Louder than I’ve ever heard it before. We had lost power and internet at that point and we don’t have a weather radio (though I ordered one the very minute I got internet this week!), so we didn’t know if there were tornados on the ground, too. I was listening for that tell-tale train sound, but it was impossible to hear anything really because of the noise of the wind.
Between 1:00 and 3:00am, the strongest winds came, which we later learned was the eye wall approaching. At that point, we had been without power for so long that we didn’t know what we were going through or how long it would last. I was able to text, so I kept asking my mom and sister in Atlanta (my mom and Grandma evacuated to my sister’s house) to send me screenshots of the weather radar for me. That’s the point in the night when things in our neighborhood got pretty scary. Now, whole trees were falling, not just limbs. Our neighbor’s tree came crashing through our fence and a few minutes later, a different tree fell on the other end of the fence.
By 5:00am, the storm had mostly passed, but left us with strong winds for the rest of the morning and into the next day. As we walked around our property to assess the damage, all of our neighbors began to do the same. We took a midmorning walk through our neighborhood and were relieved to see that, while everything was covered in debris, most homes had very little structural damage. A few shingles here and there, but for the most part everyone was safe and sound. The craziest part was that everyone had these blue paint chips all in their yards and covering their cars. They came from our town water town, which is about a mile away! Isn’t that crazy?! The storm peeled the paint right off!
(Can you see the water town in the back of this next picture?)
We spent Monday cleaning up and helping neighbors get their property cleaned up, too. It was really awesome to see everyone out helping each other – lending power tools and man power, sharing food and cold drinks. We had friends who were driving around with coolers full of ice cold water bottles, passing them out to people as they worked in their yards. We had neighbors who brought us their generator when they got power so that we could save our fridge and plug in a few fans. There were teenage boys roaming the neighborhood, jumping in and helping with anyone’s lawns and not taking a dime in return for their labor. It was just incredible. But not surprising. Orlando continues to prove that it is as strong, communal, and kind as it can be and we are so very grateful that this is where we call home.
We went without power for three days and finally got it back yesterday afternoon. In all honesty, it wasn’t TERRIBLE without power. The nights were actually relatively cool for Florida and with the windows open, it was almost comfortable (though I have a hard time sleeping when there is no noise, so I missed the hum of my fan!). And cooking wasn’t too bad because we had all of our camping equipment and had prepared meals that were easiest for camp cooking, so that was good. But during the day, the temperature outside was in the low 90s and inside the house was even hotter than that. It was pretty miserable, so we tried to sit outside with neighbors or drive around in our car. Even still, getting A/C back was WONDERFUL. I have it set on 68 degrees in the house today, just because I can!
Thank you to everyone who send thoughts and well wishes our way in the days before and following the storm. It was so nice as I periodically got internet access to see people checking in on us and keeping us in their prayers. I’m so thankful for my real life community who rallies around in times of need, but I’m also thankful for my imaginary community who surrounds our family in love and support. We are blessed, in every cliche sense of the word. xoxo