Let's start here---most importantly---we are all safe! Everyone in my family and all of my friends that we've made contact with are safe and sound.
Irma began potentially threatening our coast of SWFL on Monday. Conversations buzzed around our office on Tuesday, our first day back after the holiday weekend, as most people were planning their hurricane preparations. Some were determined to leave and others were looking for water and supplies. We still weren't committed to leaving just yet, the latest model had shifted the path towards the east coast. I went into the office on Wednesday along with only about ten of the eighty or so people that work in my building. When I got home, my husband was putting shutters up on our house. I immediately started packing my bag, convinced we would be leaving shortly thereafter. With another update at 5pm shifting Irma east yet again, we decided to hold off.
Work and schools were all closed Thursday and Friday. We woke up to a dark house thanks to the hurricane shutters. My husband and I started laundry and finished putting everything away that we needed to. After Macie's nap, we decided to take the kids bowling to get out of the house.
The 2pm Thursday update showed Irma potentially moving slightly back to the west but most of of the models were still showing landfall on the east side of FL. At this point, panic started setting in--were we making the best decision? Had we waited too long to leave? Would there be gas available on the highway if we did decide to leave? We still were praying it would shift back east and tried to enjoy the hour bowling with the girls but I was distracted. We headed home a little before 4pm, anxiously awaiting the 5pm update.
Irma's path was even more west at the update. My husband and I, fraught with uncertainty, decided to go. We were thinking it was better to leave and not have needed to rather than the opposite. We began a mad dash of packing food, water, dog supplies, and gas. I called my mom and she was packing up as well, she had been planning to stick with us through the storm. The closest hotel outside of the cone of Irma was in Niceville, FL about 7 hours away on a good day. We booked one night and got on the road around 8pm.
The drive up was surreal. It was in the middle of the night but the roads were packed. Rest stops were filled with hundreds of cars parked in every spot and available curbside. We never let our gas go below a half of a tank. We pulled into a gas station at 2am and it was buzzing as if it were noon. A few times during the drive, tears were streaming down my face as I stared out of the window. I was uncertain what I would be coming back to, Irma was currently slated to be making landfall in my town. I was worried about my friends that were staying behind. I was worried what we would see. Overall, the uncertainty was nerve wracking. We were on day four of anxiety, uncertainty, and fear. I was emotionally exhausted.
The roads were decent until we hit Ocala, FL. The traffic started backing up. The Governor had opened the shoulder for driving to allow more movement. Once we had settled into the drive and after seeing updates of the path every three hours, a calm washed over me. We had made the right decision. It was the first time all week that I actually felt slightly at peace. We arrived at our destination ten hours later. The girls slept nine of those hours and I couldn't have been more grateful for that. We checked into our hotel at 7:30a and rested until our noon check out. We found a beach condo for rent nearby and decided to turn this into a vacation, a hurrication so to say. We found a place for Fitz to hang out and dropped him off as we headed to Destin, FL.
We have been here three nights so far with one more to go, potentially two depending on the situation with our power back home. It is gorgeous here. It has all of the things I love about Florida but with seasons (well enough seasons for this Florida girl.) The temperature right now is 69*. The beach is beautiful, the sunsets amazing. We were enjoying time on the beach and in the pool but not without guilt thinking of those back home awaiting potential destruction.
Irma made landfall first in Cudjoe Key, FL. This is the Key my sister-in-law lives on. She evacuated earlier in the week back home to Virginia. No reports of what is left but everyone is expecting total devastation. Next, Irma made landfall in Naples, FL and the eye of the storm traveled up the coast and eventually right over my neighborhood. The storm had weakened which was a blessing. Our house appears to be fine on the exterior, only some pool screens blown out from what neighbors have reported. There is water everywhere, some friends have experienced up to three feet of water inside their homes, some have missing roof shingles, and others have trees down. The power will likely be out for a while. Clean up efforts will be massive. Irma was the first storm to affect every county in the peninsula of Florida. We are thankful for the minor damage we received in comparison to Barbuda and some other islands. The State of Florida has been handling this storm great so far and I pray it continues. We are planning to stay here for a few more days to see if power is restored. Thank you to everyone that has said a prayer for Florida. Thank you to everyone that was polite and respectful at every gas station and grocery store despite elevated stress levels. Thank you to all of the neighbors that helped each other put up shutters. This has been an event of epic proportions that I hope to never experience again. Hurricane Jose is out in the Atlantic right now. Let's pray Mother Nature gives us a break. Stay Safe Florida!