Photo(s) of the Week – Hurricane Irma, One Person’s Perspective

This post is shared with mixed feelings.  On one hand I am so grateful to be sitting in our cozy home in front of my computer right now, ourselves safe and our home undamaged.  Our yard looks different, but how much does that really matter?  On the flip side, I personally know people who have lost much more than a few trees, and there are countless others who have been affected even more profoundly throughout the state of Florida and the Caribbean.  I was just reading the latest news on Hurricane Maria, which has torn through an already battered set of islands as it slowly makes it’s way up through the Atlantic.  Though I’m grateful Maria is unlikely to strike here, I am sad for the people who have been devastated by two powerful hurricanes.  Rebuilding will be a long and difficult road.

As I share a few pictures from our own experience here in northeast Florida, keep in mind that I may joke about things occasionally, and that in doing so I am not attempting to make light of a difficult situation.  I simply try not to take myself too seriously all of the time.  In addition, I would like to point out something briefly:  although northeast Florida did not get the worst of the storm by far, what we did get still made a significant impact on our area.  Jacksonville and some of the areas nearby experienced record flooding in the wake of Irma, and numerous people have gone back (or are going back) to devastated homes.  Walking out of our house on Monday morning after the worst of the storm, and seeing how much our little neighborhood was affected, made me grasp a little more just how grave the situation was for places further south of us.  Even then I didn’t realize quite how serious the damage truly was due to loss of electricity/internet and such.  We were focused on trying to clean up our place at first, and I kept up with events some on my phone, but it wasn’t until a few days later that I began to see more of the pictures and news reports from Jacksonville and other areas in Florida.

(So to some of the people out of state who are shrugging their shoulders and saying, “Well, your area wasn’t really hit that hard”:  you’re right in that it wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but you’re also wrong because it wasn’t good either.  Irma was a massive storm that covered the entire state.)

Anyway, enough of all that…  I’m going to share a “few” pictures and be more light-hearted now. 🙂

On Saturday the 9th (Sept 2017), I finished the last of our storm preparations.  We had already filled up the cars with gas a few days before, and my trip to the grocery store to make sure that we were more fully stocked on nonperishable foods was completed on Monday (almost a week beforehand).  Even on Monday, I was amazed to see that the shelves of bottled water were nearly empty, and I noted that the SpaghettiOs had been cleaned out.  (Why SpaghettiOs?  I can think of about 300 other nonperishable foods that I would rather eat.  I mean, if I was hungry enough, yeah, but still…)

We knew that this storm was likely to be worse than Matthew was last year, and the forecast track was uncertain, with some saying the storm would travel up the east coast, others the west, and still others saying Irma would go straight up the peninsula.  I wanted to be prepared for anything, including high winds and the possibility of a massive tree coming down through our roof.  So, I took all outdoor objects such as chairs and decor (anything that moves) and put them in the house or storage shed.  I also relocated quite a few items in our house from upstairs to downstairs to help prevent water damage in the event of a fallen tree resulting in rain coming into the house (I wasn’t worried about downstairs flooding since we live on higher ground).  Our local power company was warning customers to prepare to be without power for a week, so I decided to make a lot of baked goods to be sure we had enough food.  (Cookies = necessary.)  I also filled large bins of water in the event we lost water in addition to power.

Side note:  I did buy one case of bottled water, but I don’t understand the frenzy of everyone going to the store and filling their carts with as many packs of water bottles as they can.  In our area, tap water is safe to drink (I drink it all the time) and I mean, come on, if you need water to wash your hands and flush your toilets, are you really going to use expensive bottled water?  (Sorry, that makes me laugh.)  It seems much more practical to me to take large plastic containers and fill them with water rather than spend a lot of money on bottled water.  Anyway, I digress…

I knew we would be sleeping downstairs on Sunday night for safety, so I made pallets in the living room.  We got one more good night of sleep on Saturday night before waking up to a fair amount of rain and wind at 4:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, Sept 10th.  *switching tenses alert*

Wait, rain?  Wind?  The hurricane hasn’t arrived yet.  I know that there is a lot to this storm, but it seems unlikely that we would be getting rain from it already.  I lie in the dark listening and then decide to check the weather radar.  Why, hello there, random nor’easter off of the Atlantic (perhaps related to Irma).  The rain starting early this morning combined with the oncoming storm means that we will probably be stuck inside for the next 24 hours at least, depending on how long the wind continues (not to mention the possible flooding).  I check the National Hurricane Center and see that Irma is currently pummeling the Florida Keys.  Unable to sleep, I get up at 4:30 and go downstairs, and decide to write a blog post while I listen to the storm outside.  I flip on a light switch.  Yay, we haven’t lost power yet. The sun gradually pretends to come up behind the dark clouds, adding a small amount of light to the house.

Halfway through the morning, the rain continues.  Irma’s outer bands still aren’t here, and my in-laws are already saying that water is seeping into their garage.  I just heard the first tree crack and fall in the distance and am trying not to think about the large trees standing near our house.  It’s going to be a long day (and night).  I look out the window and see that the ground around us is saturated, but thankfully we’re on a hill so all that water has a place to go.  Casey and I set up camp in the living room downstairs, and try to keep ourselves from going stir crazy.  I do some reading between checking the latest from the National Hurricane Center and radar.  Since I’m a weather nerd, of course I have to read all the latest news on Irma and check her progress every five seconds.  We keep our phones plugged in so they will be fully charged once the power goes out.  Casey plays his Nintendo switch.  Our church had to cancel services today, but holds a brief online service through Facebook live, which is a blessing.

Oh, and I decide to drink multiple cups of tea.  (Stress?)  I’m not sure why I’m using my Christmas mug.

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Noon approaches and I’m in disbelief that we haven’t lost power yet; we’re usually some of the first to go because our neighborhood has so many trees.  I decide to cook us a hot meal since it may be a little while before we get another one.  Do grilled cheeses count?  Hey, we need some comfort food today.  We enjoy our grilled cheeses while watching a movie and eat some of the chocolate chip cookies I baked yesterday for dessert.

The afternoon slowly moves past, Irma’s outer bands just starting to hit us, and the wind gradually begins to pick up as we get closer to evening.  Irma’s worst will pass us during the night.  Hurricane Matthew went by during the day last year, and I will admit that I’m not looking forward to this storm being at night.  There’s something about that which increases the eeriness of it all.  It’s unsettling to know I won’t be able to see what is happening outside until morning (not that I can do anything about it anyway).  Amazingly, we still haven’t lost power at dinnertime, so we make homemade popcorn and healthy smoothies and enjoy them while watching another movie.  We stay up much later than usual, knowing we probably aren’t going to sleep anyway.  Around 10:30, we finally turn out the light (we still have power?!) and try to relax.  The wind and rain continue to strengthen.

Midnight approaches; our power blinks several times and then goes out at 11:45.  It’s so dark!  Irma is officially arriving, even though we’ve been getting the very outer bands for awhile.  I’m hearing branches cracking and falling almost constantly now, some accompanied by a loud *whump* as they hit our roof and slide off before hitting the patio.  Every so often I hear the deeper crack and rumble of a tree breaking off or coming up by the roots, accompanied by a slow motion crash as it hits the ground.  Each time I hear that sound, I unconsciously wince and brace myself for a tree to come through our roof or fall near the house with it’s outer branches breaking a window.  The wind is louder than it was with Matthew.  Some of the gusts are so forceful that the house creaks and I can hear the tops of the trees whipping and moaning above us.  I wonder half laughingly if there will be anything left of my car in the morning; thankfully we were able to park Casey’s in a family member’s garage.  Tornado warnings have been popping up all over the state today, and I have my weather alerts turned on so if one comes near us my phone will vibrate.

It’s around 3:30 a.m. and the wind seems to be at its worst.  Irma has weakened from movement over land, and is now a Cat 1.  The eye is no longer defined, but what is left will be passing very close to us.  The weather forecasters predicted the storm would move up the west coast, but it has taken a slight turn to the east and will be nearer to Jacksonville than anticipated.  I check my radar again and hope the worst will be over soon.  Between 5 and 6 I finally manage to drift off to sleep for about an hour, but am jolted awake again by the wind.

Once the slightest bit of morning light is here, we’re at the window straining to see.  Nothing.  Still too dark.  We sit and wait.  7:00 approaches.  Most of the rain is over but we will continue to get high wind gusts throughout the day.  We are still under a tropical storm warning and will remain so until later in the afternoon.  Clay County issued a curfew yesterday that is in effect until 8:00 tonight in order to keep people off the roads and give first responders priority.  Flooding and downed power lines will present dangers.  I hope that people will adhere to the curfew rather than give the police extra work to do with all the traffic lights out, but somehow I doubt many will listen.

Casey decides to go outside for a brief look around.  I stand at the door waiting a little nervously until he gets back.  As the morning continues, the wind is still whipping the trees around and I jump when I hear another crack and crash as a very large branch falls close to the house.  Once it is a little calmer, I go outside for a quick look.  Our yard is covered with debris and branches of all sizes.  Several trees have large pieces broken off, some of them dangling overhead.  We’ve lost three large trees in the storm, as well as one small one that fell right behind my car.  Add to that two trees that we had taken down just before the storm for safety reasons and we have a slightly big mess to clean up.  My vehicle is amazingly undamaged and the house is safe as well.  The tiny creek, (usually a mere trickle), at the base of the hill behind our house has turned into a small river, rushing through the ravine and covering parts of our dock.

(Note:  pictures taken on iPhone and slightly blurry due to poor lighting and me trying to hurry in order to avoid getting knocked in the head with a flying branch.)

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Pictures don’t do the tree below justice; it is quite large. The root system that you can see is over eight feet tall.

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Another large tree.

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The one bit of damage (amazing), a dent in our fence.

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A new river!

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We go back inside and relax a little now that the worst is past.  Casey fires up the generator long enough to make some coffee.  Throughout the day the wind gusts continue and gradually weaken.  The temperatures outside are mercifully cool, so we keep all the windows open and are comfortable despite the lack of air conditioning (usually no laughing matter in September in Florida).  Since my in-laws live near us, they come over briefly.  Even though some water began to seep into their kitchen during the night, they were able to keep up with most of it using the shop vac, and their home is safe aside from some minor water damage.  I try to check the status of things locally on my phone and it’s hard to see the extent of the damage yet in our area.

Near the end of the afternoon, the wind dies down enough that we decide to go outside and start working on the yard.  Casey chainsaws one huge branch and part of a tree as I haul the brush away.  I feel discouraged as I look around and see all the work that still has to be done.  Then I remind myself that it could be much worse.  Trees and branches aren’t a big deal; it may take awhile, but we’ll get it finished.  With the curfew being in place and the closest people to us not having power, we take cold showers and go briefly over to my in-laws house, as they live close by in the same neighborhood.  Our septic/plumbing has begun experiencing problems, so we only have one working toilet for the moment (yay!).  Haha.  I have never been so grateful for plumbing.

Due to the cool weather, I sleep like a log (pun intended) on Monday night and wake up ready to face the trees (ha…ha…) on Tuesday.  Casey goes out for a quick look, only to find that two of the main roads leading from our house to town are flooded, and a third was flooded but just recently opened up.  My amazing in-laws (and some other amazing family members, plus a friend from church) come over to our house and we work throughout the day on the yard.  I discover later in the morning that some friends’ homes were/are flooded and I begin to realize just how bad the flooding is in our area.  *switching tenses alert*

Tuesday the weather was nice, which made chainsawing and hauling wood and brush easier.  Wednesday the temperatures started climbing again, but we were able to finish almost all of the cleanup.  Only a small amount of branches, a large stump, and a brush pile (to be burned) remain; I didn’t get to that past week and hope to finish it soon.  The rest we set out by the road for the county to pick up later.  They’re going to hate us when they get here; we have the biggest pile of wood around. *embarrassed*  I thought about sticking a sign in it that said “Free Wood” as a joke.  Anyway, our power came back on Thursday night (the 14th), amid much cheering.  Our plumbing is still having issues so we hope to get that fixed soon.  Thanks to our place being almost completely cleaned up, we were able to spend the weekend after the hurricane helping others who had experienced storm damage.

Here are some pictures of our cleanup in progress:

So.  Much. Debris.  (This was just part of it, folks.)

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A fraction of the logs that we cut and hauled.

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When the logs are really heavy, it can be easier to roll them.  That log rolling is hard work though; sometimes you get pretty tuckered out.

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My husband and father-in-law taking a much needed break after chainsawing this ginormous tree.

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I did not expect my blog post to go on for anywhere near this long, so if you’ve made it to the end, congratulations.  I’ll make you some cookies after our plumbing is fixed.

~Katherine

 

 

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