So, Tom’s in the hospital with Mysterious Complication from Cancer Surgery, and we’re waiting for the doctors to figure out what’s going on, treat him, and discharge him, and, oh-by-the-way, there’s a monster hurricane apparently headed our way.
So… Hurricane Irma.
First of all, Irma was larger than the entire state of Florida, so if it hit anywhere near the state, all Florida residents were going to get major hurricane force weather from this thing. We’re on the Southwest Coast, just near the Everglades. The only way we were going to avoid the hurricane is if it went way West (into the west Gulf of Mexico) or way East (out into the Atlantic). And the storm was intense, jumping to Category 5 very quickly, and moving very quickly. The biggest issue is that because it was behaving so unusually, and it was so big and powerful, no one really knew what the heck it might do. So the worst was assumed- especially after what happened with Hurricane Harvey. Irma was expected to be cataclysmic.
A day passed, then two. Tom was still in the hospital and the doctors weren’t able to estimate when he’d get out, and the storm moved closer and closer to the Caribbean and Florida. Wwe had to start thinking about it, even though the idea of starting storm prep and possibly having to evacuate out of the state without even knowing when Tom was getting out of the hospital made my head want to explode.
As Irma came closer to our part of the Atlantic, officials began voluntary evacuations throughout the state of Florida. Tom (still in the hospital) and I discussed packing up and getting out of town when he got out of the hospital. But then Tom found out he couldn’t travel because the surgery made blood clots a risk, especially if he sat in one position for too long. As the evacuations ramped up, estimates were that it was taking 25+ hours to reach the Georgia/Florida border because 25% of the state was under an evacuation order– 6.4 million people, one of the largest evacuations in US history. The roads were packed and there was a gas shortage, as well, so if we did evacuate, we’d likely be stuck in the car for hours, with no way of getting him to a hospital if something *did* happen.
So evacuation was out of the question.
I was a little torn on this. I hate the idea of evacuating and we normally don’t evacuate for storms because our house is secure. We didn’t evacuate for Wilma (we did shelter in a safe location) and it was fine. Also, as the years have passed, we have grown to be a family that has eight pets to take with us, and it’s hard to find places that will let you bring animals, even if most of them are senior animals that spend most of their time napping. And we would never ever leave without them.
But I didn’t want to put my family and pets in danger by staying, either.
While the wind speeds were terrifying, most of the structures- including the houses- here on Marco Island are built to endure Category 5 hurricanes. So that wasn’t the issue.
The big issue with Hurricane Irma was the possible storm surge. Storm surge is “a rise of water pushed onto shore by a hurricane. Storm surge can be as rapid as several feet in just a few minutes. The storm surge moves with the forward speed of the hurricane — typically 10-15 mph. This wind-driven water has tremendous power. One cubic yard of sea water weighs 1,728 pounds — almost a ton. This means a one-foot deep storm surge can sweep your car off the road, and even a 6-inch surge is difficult to stand in.” (information from Weather Underground).
Since Marco Island is exactly *at* sea level and the storm was huge and powerful, many experts were predicting the storm surge could be up to 15′, which would basically cover the island. Add to that the 8-12″ of rain that was predicted from the storm itself… the island is completely underwater.
Our house was built to survive major hurricane winds and was built several feet off the ground because we had to build over a large septic system, so if it were a tropical storm, or even a Category One, Two, or Three Hurricane (which Wilma was, and everything was okay) we would just put up the shutters, take anything loose from outside and move it inside and hunker down. Even if low-level flooding happened, our house’s elevation makes it safe. But Irma was predicted to remain a Category 5.
It was a hard call. On one hand, I always know in the back of my mind that Marco Island- a tiny barrier island that basically consists of threads of land, each surrounded by LOTS of water- is likely not destined to be around for the very long haul in a geographic sense. Not with the beaches eroding and the water levels rising, which they have been steadily over the years. Seawalls that once towered over water levels are now often covered in water during high tides. We’re also having major issues with flooding from rain storms (see photo below- that’s during a rainstorm- NOT a hurricane!) so we have some serious trouble *without* a hurricane. So I had to ask myself “could this storm really wipe this island off the map?” and the answer was scary.
But then I also thought about our experience with Hurricane Wilma. That was also expected to be severe, and it was, but the island sustained more damage from wind than from flooding. Plus I know that Florida was being very proactive and careful with the way they were issuing evacuations because of what happened with Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Katrina. It’s always better safe than sorry.
I really struggled with the evacuation decision until my parents decided that *they* weren’t going to evacuate- no one in their building was leaving for the storm. That really shocked me- my parents were more freaked out about the storm than anyone. My father seemed positive it was going to destroy everything. But the manager of their building reminded them that the building was built to handle not only major force hurricane winds but also storm surge. It’s where AT&T keeps their main cell tower for the area and where the tower for emergency services for Marco Island is located, so it’s apparently known for being a sturdy building.
Unlike many of the buildings here on Marco, their building isn’t a bunch of tall, thin towers bunched together, instead it’s like a squat, short square of concrete. Almost like a compound. Most buildings down here maximize view and living space by using the majority of the building’s blueprint for residential space, but my parents’ building is this weird big square where the center of each floor is common areas, and then the individual units that people live in encircle the exterior of the big square. So once you are inside the building, and not actually in a condo, there’s no windows or door to the outside, except on a few floors. Totally perfect place to shelter from a hurricane.
Plus, the manager of the building was staying on-site, and there was a large generator that would provide lights and power to a few centrally-located outlets, as well as run one elevator for about two days after the power went out. There wouldn’t be running water once the city’s power grid went out (no power to the pumps that drive water up the building) or any electricity in the condo units themselves, but it was rock solid and ready for the storm.
Grace, Tom and I were welcome to use a small guest room in the building during the storm, and there were a few empty interior storage rooms where the cats and birds/Jack (the gecko) could stay, as well, safe from any water or possible debris. We sheltered there during Hurricane Wilma and it was fine. A few exterior windows got busted from the winds, and there was some cosmetic damage to the building, and some water that seeped in to some of the units from around the edges of sliding doors, etc. but the building was pretty much a fortress.
And as we made the decision to stay, we found out that a lot of people on Marco Island were also staying. I did understand the reason for this: There was a mandatory evacuation during Hurricane Wilma and nearly everyone left Marco Island and went to the east side of the state. Wilma hit Marco Island directly, but it wound up doing more damage to the central and eastern side of Florida, so all the people who went over there for safety would have been safer here.
Plus, if a hurricane hits and it’s not cataclysmic, but your house sustains any sort of water damage and you’re not there to deal with it right away, there’s a good chance your house will be a petri dish by the time you get back. Say a window breaks and some water gets in- if you leave that standing there for a few days while you are traveling back from wherever you evacuated to, and everything isn’t mopped up and aired out immediately, your house will be covered in mold by the time you make it back home. Mold is a house destroyer here, especially if the power is out, which it usually is after a storm. And since everyone here is dealing with their damage and their moisture and their fallen trees and blasted roof, it’s hard to find someone to come over and take care of your stuff, too- at least for a day or two after the storm, because they are busy taking care of taking care of their homes.
So, we were staying. Unsettling, but also a bit of a relief because it gave Tom a few extra days to get better, gave us a few extra days to get the house secure, we didn’t have to try and figure out where we would go, and we would be here to immediately do any repairs to the house after the storm passed.