I am not a fan of attaching fancy, clinical titles to every extraordinary event we encounter along the bumby road of life. However, what began well over a week ago, and dragged through the duration of the evening of September 10th, forever dubbed in my lifetime as "the longest night" has left me befuddled; suspended in a surreal phase of recovery.
To leave or not to leave. Countless hours of preparing the house for an event of epic catastrophic proportion. Hunting down life sustaining essentials to survive days after the wrath of the storm. Chasing down gas tankers to fill the car after waiting for hours in long lines only to be turned away. The mad dash and chaos at grocery stores; shelves already stripped of provisions.
3 year newbies to the state of Florida, this was not our 1st trip to the hurricane rodeo. But this one was different; unique and eerie. Old, salty sailors had packed and left state for the first time ever. All forms of media brodcast turned into around the clock maddening coverage, 6 full days ahead of impact. A direct hit immanent, by a monster storm with seemingly nowhere to run; nowhere to hide. Beautiful, sunny days with no sign of super storm Irma, became fully engaged with one, simple goal; survival.
And then it was over. Or was it? We were entering into phase II of the storm; the "After Irma". Next up: 4 seemingly endless days & nights without power, water, limited gas and food, no hotels available or knowledge of the condition of our beloved island home.
Then I received a magical email. One of our island families had made it back. Putting their own needs aside, they provided pictures of our houses so we could plan our return. The approach to the ferry was daunting. Two words: war zone. Once on island, any tree that wasn't a palm: down, dangling power lines and boat canopies looked like they had passed thru paper shredders. But structures looked solid and as we approached ours and initial inspection, we were in tact, with minimal damage. We were joyous! It was finally over. Or was it?
No power, generator, water, rancid, rotting food in the fridge and a lime green pool that was rapidly transforming into gooey, slimy algae bath. We received word that the damage to the power grid was more severe than expected. Best guess, a specialized crew needed for repair was indefinite.
Spent & exhausted, I was drawn to the beach. I longed to dig my toes in the sugary white sand, smell the salty elixir of the soothing sea and of course, fetch that first, prized seashell. What I discovered was quite different. The approach, barely passable; littered with palm fronds, pieces of busted up vessels and assorted debris. White sandy beaches replaced with thick black sediment and those amazing, signature turquoise blue waters, now murky, brown slurry, unfit for man or beast. Not a seashell in sight, not a sand dune or beach; all washed away as if it was an unknown, unfamiliar, undesirable new place.
A welcoming thunderstorm brought cooling to our steamy abode. Enough to rough it out another powerless night. Morning broke with bright blue skies and sunshine that would quickly escalate rising temperatures. We quickly realized it was time to evacuate . Even if we could endure another sultry, steamy night, our fur kids could not. With little power left in my phone, portable power depleted and remaining gas in the car used sparingly to cool our pups, planning our next move was even more challenging. We attended to tasks in need of immediate attention and began to regroup to leave again. With little daylight remaining, we regrouped to depart again. The silence of the island was deafening and still. And then it happened; like pennies from heaven, we heard a gentle hum. The AC had kicked on; WE HAD POWER! And so it was finally over. Or was it?
Days after Irma had passed, we were finally beginning to absorb the magnitude of her destruction. We learned her initial impact broke apart the eye, her aftermath left largely populated areas devastated and condemned. As resources and relief poured in from across the counrty, their focus on hardest hit Florida Keys. It didn't take long to discover highly populated areas in Southwest Florida, endured greater damage and destruction than originally thought. Tent cities set up in grocery store parking lots; equipped with cots and bare necessities to serve as makeshift homes for HEROIC linemen arriving from out of state.
After endless, sleep deprived nights of an hour or two ahead of the storm, I found myself struggling to rise after 10 to 12 hours. As island life began the long restoration and clean up process, life on the mainland wasn't progressing as well. Widespread Power outages in populated areas, families left homeless sheltering in schools that needed to reopen as, well, schools. So many in need, so few permanent solutions.
As ALL of Florida continues to rebuild and heal, I have come to realize it may never be over for some. For that reason, it will never be over for me. A Post Traumatic Irma Syndrome (PTIS) if you will.
Until the last family has found new refuge, SeaShellabration will donate 10 % of all proceeds to The American Red Cross: hurricane recovery mission.