For some, sheltering close to home makes sense

OKEECHOBEE — It’s all the waiting that really gets on your nerves.

We knew days ahead that the hurricane was coming to Okeechobee. We watched the “cone of uncertainty” and the “spaghetti plots” on TV. Which one to believe? Would it hit us or not?

Finally, we realized the hurricane called Irma was so large, it didn’t matter where you were in Florida, it was coming and it was to be endured whether you wanted it or not.

My husband and I are originally from Michigan so we have lots of relatives up north. They watch the weather channel too and realized we were right in the path of the storm. So for days before the storm our phones blew up with texts and calls advising us to get out and just drive north out of the path of the storm. And, I know folks who did just that. Some got to choose to go, some were under mandatory evacuation orders. It didn’t take long to realize the roads going north were all becoming long, skinny parking lots. Also, the gas locating app on the phone told us gas stations here and all over the state were running out of gas. There wasn’t a hotel room within 500 miles.

The state evacuated in stages depending on the path of the storm. But the predicted path kept changing. The storm was wobbling around. You didn’t know what shoreline community was going to be evacuated next depending on the predicted path of the storm. And it wasn’t just the obvious communities on the ocean or the gulf. Any community adjacent to vulnerable parts of Lake Okeechobee was subject to evacuation, especially when we thought the storm was going to barrel right up the center of the state.

We realized ready or not, we were going to have a hurricane and decided we were going to ride it out right here in the clubhouse that is part of the subdivision we live in. There is one good reason to ride it out as close to home as possible and this is what we explained to all the relatives up north.

If you left, you would have a hard time getting back. Right after the storm the roads could be impassable with downed trees, sagging power lines and all manner of things you don’t usually find out in the street. For example, in our neighborhood we found stairs from someone’s home in the middle of the street. It turns out those stairs had been in back of the house right next to a parked car that was between the street and the stairs. Somehow the wind picked the stairs up and deposited them out in the street without leaving a scratch on the car. I’m glad I wasn’t watching that.

Preparation

When we went to the grocery, we didn’t shop very well and didn’t know that until after the fact. Besides many of the store shelves were bare. We live in a society where the store is always open and just down the road. We did, however, fill up the cars with gasoline and laid in 20 gallons of gas for the generator. We also stumbled upon the opportunity to buy 20 lbs. of propane to add to what we already had. We prepared the best we could.

We have hardened the house over the years with accordion-style shutters and a metal roof. It’s a manufactured double-wide home which was also built according to new code. It’s a stout little house.

We brought in everything that usually lives outside that could be tossed around in the wind, including hose, bikes and garbage cans. We didn’t remove the globe on the outside light. Our globe made it, but lots did not. I saw a round white globe rolling down the street during the height of the storm.

During the storm

By Sunday morning it was time to close up the house and go to the clubhouse for the duration.

The clubhouse, we assured ourselves, would withstand the storm, because it is reinforced concrete construction and has a new metal roof, installed only three weeks before. The building codes in Florida since Hurricane Andrew in 1992 had steadily been getting stronger and the new roof on the clubhouse was installed according to up-to-date code.

Earlier, when we first got into the shelter, we found about a dozen “nests” had been prepared in the clubhouse with people planning to stay there.

Some of them never showed up, which must mean they stayed in their homes. Some lost the roof. It must have been terrifying to hear the sound of the roof, screened porch or patio cover being torn off by the wind.

My husband commented that being in the shelter is like waiting for the order to attack during a war. Your mind works against you. Consider the things you had seen on the news such as extensive coverage of Hurricane Harvey only the week before. The media was full of the most horrific images of what was going on in Texas. With shutters covering all the glass including the doors, we only had a thin vertical view of what was happening outside while it was still daylight. Each person in the clubhouse in turn would wander over to see what was going on outside. We were waiting. As I said, the waiting was the worst.

The clubhouse in Palm Village Ranch lost power at about 5 p.m. on Sunday. The emergency exit lights popped on but were only good as long as the batteries held out. The people inside used flashlights and candles to get around.

Luckily we had our next-door neighbors in the clubhouse with us that we could talk to. They too chose to shelter close to home. As in life you cannot choose your relatives and you cannot choose your shelter mates either. We were seven souls and two cats in the clubhouse, with folks you barely knew. We were all stressing about what was happening outside. We passed the time in our own way. Some played card games. Some read books until the power gave out. I brought along my Kindle that is backlighted so having light to read was not a problem. We had been advised to keep all electronic devices charged up to 100 percent until the power went out.

So, when the power goes off and you are sitting in a darkened shelter, your mind tends to replay those videos you have seen on TV. We were only about a mile from Lake Okeechobee and the famous dike. Will the water come up? Will that canal overtop? Will the dike hold? Will that wind ever stop? The shutters on the windows were creaking and howling. The rain beat against the roof and those shutters. The double glass doors on the front of the clubhouse were flexing and making a racket. The glass on the windows was also flexing and we discussed if the glass would hold. There was water coming in under the door on the east side of the building because of the hard rain and wind.

That door was really taking a beating. Would it hold? Finally, all that was left was to try to get some sleep. Our minds needed the rest as much as our bodies.

After the storm

By Monday morning the storm was finally past us enough to get moving around. No one had slept much and we were ready for the ordeal to be over.

Waking up at 4:30 a.m., my husband decided to see what was going on with our house only four blocks away. The wind was still gusting at about 40 mph, but he had to see if the house was still there. Yes, it was still standing and seemed to be untouched. The next thing he saw was the neighbor’s palm tree laying in the road. He came back to the clubhouse and reported what he saw. By 6:30 a.m. we were packing up and eager to go back home.

No one talked much or even said goodbye to each other.

At home we pulled out the old camp stove and used the outdoor grill to heat water and perk coffee the old fashioned way. You need an old style coffee pot to even do this. The urge to throw it away over the years was there, but it never ended up in the junk and so now we have a use for it again. The power was out. No phone service or internet. No air conditioning. We used the generator to run the refrigerator and turn on a few lights. It is only for the important stuff. We don’t dare use the stove, hair dryer or microwave.

Notice the stairway to nowhere. Hurricane Irma somehow moved these stairs from the back of a mobile home. The interesting thing is there was a car between these steps and the street. The car survived without a scratch.

Before the storm, our daughter in Ft. Myers was looking for a safe place to stay, and did have several alternatives. Of course we invited her to Okeechobee but it was her decision. One of the duties of a parent is to prepare your children for life and that continues when they are adults. The haven she first chose was about a mile from the Caloosahatchee river. But when it was predicted the storm would make landfall near her it became an evacuation zone and she had to move back inland. Her new shelter proved sound and she is safe. Now she has no power, and is screwing propane bottles onto a tiny grill to heat her food. She made sure to get a supply of them before the storm. By contrast, our son in Michigan was stressing in his own way, but was helpless. He couldn’t figure out why we chose to ride it out locally. We explained several times our reasoning for staying. The folks up north were watching the weather channel and wondering where Jim Cantore was at that moment. They knew he would be in the thick of the storm. They also knew he was too close to mom and dad for comfort.

My husband says it’s like psychological warfare. He blames TV news. We had 24-hour coverage on all network channels for three full days before the storm. Regular programming was simply not available. Thankfully on Sunday at 5 p.m. in the clubhouse, the power went out and we could not watch any more. In a strange way, it provided some peace and quiet. On the other hand, after 24 hours of no TV or radio, I find I am craving news from outside of our community. I want to know what happened when the hurricane went into northern Florida, but I won’t know for a while, because our TV is blank. The wires on our satellite dish were ripped off during the storm and who knows when we will get that fixed. Thankfully that was the only damage to our home. My heart goes out to my neighbors who were not as fortunate.

And today (Sept. 12, 2017), we understand 90 percent of Okeechobee County is without power. FPL promised prestorm that they were well prepared to restore power post storm. How many days will it take?

More waiting.

It’s hard to identify what this structure once was. It ended up at the entrance to Palm Village Ranch on SW 16th Avenue.

Diane Timmons can be reached at dtimmons@newszap.com.

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Powered by Facebook Comments