Stranded in Florida During a Hurricane

Hurricane prep looks different if you have nowhere to go

Fallen tree after the hurricane — photo by author
Fallen tree after the hurricane — photo by author
Fallen tree after the hurricane — photo by author

Hurricane season is here again, and as I wonder what this will look like in corona times, I’ve been reflecting on my most recent experience of a hurricane, when I was stranded in Florida during Hurricane Irma. Here’s what I thought then:

In Barbados, we’re used to hurricanes avoiding us at the last minute. The last serious one was Hurricane Janet in 1955, which caused significant damage to the island. Since then, we’ve flirted with danger from others, and have experienced floods and other inconveniences from storms as they sidestep the island on their way up the island chain, and on to the US.

So, it was kind of ironic to end up vacationing in Florida just as Hurricane Irma was about to hit. Back in Barbados, there were high winds and rain, but people were basically safe. In Fort Lauderdale, it was a different story, as every new report put Irma closer and closer to our location.

As a writer and an introvert, I’m always observing, and it struck me that there’s a major difference in how Americans and Barbadians face a hurricane.

In Barbados, we know we have to prepare for hurricanes, because in most cases we can’t evacuate. Nobody’s laying on extra flights, nobody’s waiving travel costs, or anything like that. When a storm’s due to hit, you protect your home and hunker down.

Preparation starts early. In our local papers, June marks the start of hurricane protection warnings. The papers print checklists, and disaster preparedness agencies share info on Facebook and Instagram.

Like other families, we have most of our essential hurricane supplies year round: candles and matches, canned food, bottled water, torches, batteries, wind up radios, backup chargers, and so on. Many people have generators.

We’re always prepared, and we double check each June to make sure everything is ready, and the crackers are still edible. (We’d eat them anyway, if it came to that, but we’d rather avoid soggy crackers if we can.) And when there’s an actual storm warning, people fill up their cars, and stock up in supermarkets.

In contrast, a key part of hurricane prep in Florida was leaving the state. I was surprised by the mass evacuations, as in the Caribbean, locals usually can’t leave. I thought then what a privilege it was to have somewhere to go that was out of the path of the storm.

Those who decided to stay in Florida picked supermarket shelves clean. It’s amazing what people consider essential — there were no Doritos, though you could still get canned tuna snacks. And there were only a few bottles of flavored water left in our local Walmart.

News reporting took a rather more panicked tone than I’m used to in Barbados, where reports on impending hurricanes tend to be pretty matter-of-fact. I don’t know if that’s because we’ve been lucky so often.

As we weren’t from the US, we had nowhere to go, so there was no change for us. Our flights were canceled, and so we got extra food and water and came up with our own hurricane plan for the hotel where we were staying. That meant figuring out where the stairs were in case we needed to move to higher ground, deciding to pack our stuff the day before so we could keep it off the ground, and catching water to make sure we had enough for drinking and washing.

Meanwhile, we watched the local news updates. Some seemed more scaremongering than others, no doubt born out of the eternal hype of the 24 hour news cycle. Don’t get me wrong, hurricanes are dangerous, but it became difficult to work out which dangers were real and which were hyperbole.

Pictures didn’t lie, though, and we felt sorrow for the people devastated by Irma across the Caribbean and eventually the Florida Keys. Most Caribbean people have friends or relatives in other islands, and so I knew people who were stranded, who were without power and water, and who lost their homes.

Back in Florida, our personal trial by Irma wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Our last meal out before the storm hit provided two days of tasty leftovers, which was pretty useful.

After that, there was a sense of community. Some guys with a portable barbecue used it to heat food for guests when the power went out. The hotel, which was rated hurricane safe, offered shelter to people and pets whose homes were in danger. Tolls were suspended to ease evacuations and travel. And one bakery gave its goods away for free rather than let them spoil.

After the storm, we went for a drive and the devastation was real. Flooded areas, felled trees, smashed cars and buildings — all the destruction nature could wreak was on display.

But people were already out and about starting to clear up and get on with their lives. I was amazed by how quickly the utility companies got the lights back on, and how soon businesses were able to reopen. That’s a definite up-side to being in a bigger economy, because a couple years later, some small island states are still trying to recover from hurricane devastation.

More than a week after our scheduled departure, we finally made it home. And though we counted our blessings, we decided that the next year, we’d plan our vacation a little bit earlier, and hope to avoid another hurricane.

Sharon Hurley Hall is a professional B2B writer and blogger, and co-host of The Introvert Sisters podcast. See more of her personal essays on Medium at Being Sharon and ILLUMINATION.

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Pro writer (B2B/B2C). Antiracism writer. Co-host: Introvert Sisters podcast. Global citizen. She/her. Sharon’s Anti-Racism NL: https://antiracism.substack.com/

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