One of the most powerful hurricanes in recorded history to impact the United States, was Hurricane Irma. At one point her winds were 185mph. Florida was no longer a state of refuge and vacation land, it was a state of fear.
Thirteen years after the destructive force of Hurricane Charlie, which ravaged my town of Lake Wales with winds of 125mph, Irma determined she would establish a similar path. For two days, a Tampa news station reported that Tampa would be in Irma’s direct path as the storm was shifting steadily toward the west coast of Florida.
As Irma crossed the Florida Keys and began working her way up the the west coast, the center of the state was breathing a slight sigh of relief, believing we would only experience winds of 50-70mph. However, just as Charlie, Irma changed course early in the evening at nearly the same landfall point as Charlie and began tracking toward the state’s interior.
She locked onto Lake Wales and forced her way up the heartland and struck our town with winds just over 100mph. The weakened storm was still powerful enough to create widespread damage across the entire state. The massive eye of this mega-storm was the fourth to pass through Lake Wales. Charlie, Francis, and Jean all crossed over our little town within six weeks in the summer of 2004. Weather forecasters said it was virtually impossible for that to happen, and yet somehow, nature pulled it off.
During the last five days, here in September, without power or running water, it has been difficult enduring the intense heat while cleaning up debris with a heat index reaching into the upper 90’s. We had to trash almost all of our refrigerated and frozen foods due to not being able to find enough ice to keep things cold.
The sound of buzzing chainsaws, along with the hum of neighbors’ generators, dominates the air. I purchased a generator after Charlie knocked us out of power for nine days but, failed to maintained it and there was not enough time to get it repaired before this devastating hurricane struck. More than 90 percent of our county was without power and it may be several weeks before everyone’s power is restored.
Now for the good news!
We are alive and well. We lost only a few shingles on our roof and most of the damage was to our beautiful trees. We have food, water and, lucky for us, a swimming pool. How wonderfully refreshing to take buckets of water from our pool to cleanse our sweaty bodies and then take a swim. In order to cool down, we swam many times during each day and night.
I charged my smartphone in my car so I could communicate with family, friends and coworkers about the storm and recovery efforts afterwards. Being that it was stifling hot in our house, my wife and I would spend evenings on our pool deck and she actually slept out there. Miraculously, the screens of our pool enclosure were not damaged, so we could enjoy a bug-free environment.
Our favorite, stress-relieving event was watching a movie each night on my iPhone 7+. We would place the phone on a table between lounge chairs and take our minds off our dismal situation and enjoy a flick under the stars. Paula referred to them as “starlight movies.” Coincidently, we live on Starr Ridge Drive.
When our power was restored last night, I felt such relief and a moment later, an enormous sense of gratitude. How fortunate Paula and I are to have a secure home with power and running water. I am so grateful to have survived this catastrophic storm with so much left in tact. There are thousands of people who have lost family members, friends, pets, their homes or businesses. It may take up to a year for some islands and areas in Florida to fully recover.
I wish for those who have suffered loss as a result of Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, here and abroad, many blessings, rapid recovery, peace profound and love in abundance.