Hurricane Irma hit us last Sunday evening. We heard transformers pop once, twice around 7, and then we lost power. An outer band struck at 10:30 with long lashes of high speed wind and driving rain, and I winced as branches bashed my roof and skylight. The monster weakened as it came near us, and the wind didn’t pick up much intensity. The eastern wall of the eye passed through downtown Orlando (five or six miles west of us) at 2:30 Monday morning. I collapsed on my bed at 3:00 and slept through Irma’s parting shot, an outer band that ripped us one more time at 6 a.m.
I began to pick up downed branches and clumps of leaves Monday morning after the wind started to slow down. I kept looking up to study the trees looming above me. Folks get killed in the aftermath of a storm when a limb or a trunk suddenly give way. My daughter and son-in-law joined me in the afternoon after they returned from an emergency veterinary clinic. (One of their dogs had become ill shortly before the storm hit.) The day was fairly cool and breezy (thanks Irma), and we got most of it done by four p.m.
My daughter and her husband went out on a scavenging expedition on Monday evening and found a two pound bag of ice at a Walgreens near a hospital. The store still had power as the electrical lines nearby had been buried. Most of Winter Park sweltered in darkness.
I spent the next four days searching for ice. My wife has a limited diet, and we had to keep certain foods edible. No grocery, drug or liquor store had any ice, and one clerk told me that the local supplier couldn’t make any more as their plant had no power. I began to visit 711s and quicky-marts to get ice from soda fountains. They all charged fifty or 75 cents per cup, and I ended up shelling out a couple bucks a day.
On the last day on which I had to make an ice run, a clerk at a 711 handed me a small grocery bag and told me to fill it with ice. She charged me a buck for an amount that normally would have cost two. She smiled at me with compassion as she rang me up, and that went a long way to lifting my spirits.
I had been grateful on Monday that we had been mostly spared. The rental house next to us had been struck by a fallen tree that grazed the roof, snapped off the power line and damaged an electrical meter, while we remained unscathed. And we heard reports on our battery powered radios of massive destruction in the Keys, South Florida, Barbuda, Puerto Rico, St. Martin and Cuba. Orlando had gotten whacked hard, but we hadn’t been plowed into the ground and washed away. But after several days of 90 degree heat, falling asleep covered in sweat, and struggling to cook and refrigerate food, I felt weary and woozy. And my neighbor in the rental unit acquired a generator on Wednesday that sounded like a growling motorcycle. He set it up ten feet away from my bedroom window. When he ran it, we had to choose between leaving the windows open to catch a stray breeze and going insane from the constant rumbling, burbling noise.
I realized on Thursday that I had symptoms of heat exhaustion. I felt listless, dizzy enough to slightly veer as I walked, irritable and impatient. On Friday morning, I had difficulty teaching a drawing class. My thoughts jumbled, and even when I felt more coherent, my tongue and mind refused to cooperate with each other. I babbled a few times and had to carefully slow down my speech so that I could think about a concept, choose the right words to express it, make a few edits, and then speak. Once class had progressed for a half hour, and once I enjoyed enough cool air (the school has the same power line as the hospital and Walgreens) to refresh mind and body, I began to feel good enough to function normally.
I’ve heard some folks criticize the toughness of Floridians following the storm. We’ve been called whiners and babies who can’t take hardship. My only response to that is to feel sorry for these compassionless schmucks and wonder what happened to their sense of humanity. What compels them to attack folks while they suffer? What makes them feel superior as they sit in comfort far away from downed power lines, roads blocked by fallen trees, tattered roofs and flooded homes?
The clerk at the 711 still shines as an angel of mercy to me, as does the waiter who kept filling our glasses with ice water when my wife and I took refuge at an Outback after three days eating cold canned food. And most people I met didn’t whine and complain about anything. They simply went about their business of cleaning up, going back to work, finding ways of getting through some rough days and nights.