Hurricane Irma – The Emotional Aftermath

When I wrote my last post, the words spilled out naturally. It was easy to write because I desperately needed some sort of release. This post has been much harder. I have had several different drafts, but it’s been hard to find the words to describe my experience. I don’t think it helps that the last 10 days or so has completely drained me. But regardless, I wanted to share an update about my thoughts after experiencing, or maybe not experiencing, my first hurricane.

A week ago, I mentioned that we were planning to hunker down as Irma made her appearance. But that plan quickly changed when the news scared us with storm surge estimates and, of course, a mandatory evacuation. I suppose I’ll enter lesson one here: know your evacuation zones prior to making your plans. Evacuation zones are completely new to these Iowans, but looking back,  it’s pretty common sense that we should have expected to be in a mandatory evacuation zone. I’m sure most of you reading this are rolling your eyes and calling us idiots, but when we learned the hurricane was a legitimate threat, we went straight into survival mode, meaning rational thoughts weren’t always present. We made a very last-minute decision to evacuate with my future in-laws. A vehicle was loaded full of the clothes we could grab, the snacks we’d bought, and off we went with no plans except that we would drive north. Luckily, we were able to get a hotel room for a couple of nights.

The trees in Tallahassee, where we evacuated for Hurricane Irma, were beautiful

So, what have I learned now that my first hurricane has come and gone? Well, like I’ve already mentioned, it is absolutely exhausting. I think I shared this in my last post, but the models are constantly changing. Constantly. And they are changing until the very last minute, so it’s difficult to know what’s really going to happen until it’s there. So one minute, you feel like you’re going to be spared, and the next you feel like you’re going to lose everything. Every time the predictions changed, so did our plans. When things looked ok, we’d plan to hunker down; we got supplies “just in case”, and we talked about how fun it would be to play Monopoly by candlelight. But then when the predictions didn’t look so good, we looked for hotels in several different states only to be discouraged by the high prices and lack of availability. My dad described it as an emotional rollercoaster, and honestly, that’s a good way of summing it up. Every time we promised each other we would commit to a decision, we broke that promise.

Waiting is the worst part. It is so weird and creepy to just sit around and wait for something awful to happen. It’s at the back of your mind constantly, and the reminders are everywhere. Your phone constantly gives you notifications, it’s the only thing on TV, the lines at gas stations spill out onto the road, and Target is a madhouse. I constantly felt like I should be seeking shelter, even when the storm was days away – I kept wanting to scream at people, “Go home! Don’t know you know there’s a storm coming?!” Friday night, we tried to enjoy my future in-law’s pool and hot tub, but it felt odd. I felt like I should be hunkered down waiting. How could we possibly enjoy ourselves knowing what was to come?

After the storm, bouncing back from the evacuation is so much harder than I thought. When you prepare for the storm, everyone can tell you exactly what to do: you go grocery shopping, you get plywood or put up your hurricane shutters, you fill sandbags, take out cash, fill up on gas, and buy candles, flashlights, and candles. But once the storm is gone, everyone just tries to get back to normal even though things aren’t normal right now. After the emotional rollercoaster I’ve been on for the past couple of weeks, I’m still a little dizzy.

This was at one of the gas stations we stopped at while evacuating. “Be nice, we’ll be ok.”

After 10 or so days of preparing, watching the news, and waiting, I still check my weather app constantly, forgetting the storm is gone and I’m safe now. I get a little antsy when my gas goes under 3/4 a tank, as though there still isn’t gas here. I’m not really sure what day it is, and my routine is completely off whack; although, admittedly, it doesn’t help that I have a lot of leave scheduled at work for the rest of September!

Overall, regardless of whether this post reflects it, I am just feeling incredibly thankful. It was supposed to be so much worse than it was. I still have a job, I still have shelter, and my cats are ok. We even have electricity! I so look forward to life returning to normal, and I hope that I don’t experience another hurricane anytime soon. I have learned so much about what goes into preparing for a hurricane, especially emotionally. I feel so humbled by salt life residents who have experienced this so many times, and simply got up with a smile ready to re-build.

“Bad things do happen in the world, like war, natural disasters, disease. But out of those situations always arise stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.” Daryn Kagan


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