No matter how well you prepare you will never be ready in the eye of a hurricane.
How many times have you planned ahead just to have someone, or something sabotage your entire strategy? This story is a tiny glimpse into my family and our first-hand experience with Hurricane Ian in Southwest Florida.
Many of you don’t know this, but my husband Carl, son Zane, and Jerry (our cat), live in North Naples, Florida about 2 miles from the gulf. My youngest daughter lives with me in Pittsburgh and we have 2 kids in college (Ohio State and Penn State). Four years ago, my 14-year-old son, Zane, moved to Bonita Springs, Florida to train for tennis full-time and began playing tennis on the ITF (International Tennis Federation) circuit. Zane lived with his coaches for the first year. Then my husband moved down full-time, and we rented a condo. We started looking to buy something in the area when my son found a great single-family home in our existing neighborhood. We closed on our house about a year ago.
Let’s jump ahead to Thursday, September 22nd, in the evening, when I flew down to spend the weekend with my family. I had just learned of a hurricane brewing in the Caribbean. On Friday and Saturday, it grew. Landfall was anticipated about two hours north of us, in Tampa, Florida. We started looking for supplies since we wanted to be ready, just in case. We could immediately order from Amazon flashlights, candles, and a solar weather radio, but all other items had a delivery date of one week or greater. In South Florida, we were unable to buy water or generators, and items on store shelves began to dwindle. I spent Saturday night purchasing generators online, only to learn several hours later that they had already charged my credit card and the generator was no longer available. In Sarasota, where I eventually located one, the clerk assured me that she had it behind the counter marked sold. We traveled 1 1/2 hours north and got our generator, before looking for water, gas cans, etc. Nearly everything was tough to locate. The landfall was still expected in Tampa/St. Pete’s, according to the weather forecasts. On Sunday morning, I departed Fort Myers for Pittsburgh aboard a Southwest flight.
My husband kept looking for supplies as the week got underway, eventually finding a couple cases of water and a 5-gallon gas can. Yes, this was a significant victory. In the driveway, he ran oil through the new generator to test it. The City of Naples in Collier County mandated the evacuation of Zone A on Tuesday. The west side of Highway 41, which runs north-south near to the Gulf of Mexico, is where this zone stretches. The entrance to our neighborhood is located on Highway 41’s east side, right below the Bonita Beach Road/Lee County line (so just outside the evacuation zone).
The local news announced that, because of the evacuations, the highways are allowing vehicles to drive on the shoulder. The National Hurricane Center was now projecting landfall between Naples and Sarasota. There are only two ways to leave Southwest Florida (unlike most places), either north on Interstate 75 towards Tampa or east on “Alligator Alley.” through the Everglades. We also discovered traffic cameras on Windy.com that showed flooding on many of the highway ramps and roadways. Tropical storm-like conditions had already started. My husband put up the metal storm shutters and filled the bathtub with water (to use for the toilets if the water and power went out). Many neighbors and friends began sharing tips about how to prepare for a hurricane.
On Wednesday, September 28th around 8:30 am, Naples residents were advised to Shelter in Place. The hurricane’s eye was gaining speed, now moving at a speed of one mile per hour less than a Category 5 and moving east instead of north as originally expected. Around lunchtime, I lost all contact with my husband and son.
This was my husband’s last text message before the hurricane made landfall and I lost all communication with them,
“If we get through this without flooding, we are truly f***ing lucky.”
A few hours later, I watched a video on Instagram of our favorite eateries on Bonita Beach Road, which are right down the street, being completely submerged. On Twitter, I started to see videos of Fort Myers, which is about 20 minutes north of us, becoming completely submerged in water. I can’t even begin to describe my feelings Wednesday afternoon, evening, and overnight. At that point I no longer care about our property, at all. I only cared about hearing from my husband, son, and Jerry, and our local Florida friends again. I could see on the news that people were dying. It was bad. Period. The phone would go dead when you called anyone’s number or the call would go directly to voice mail. My older daughter called from Penn State when she saw a video of the 7-Eleven just down the street from our neighborhood underwater.
My phone rang on Thursday morning and it was my husband. They were alive and safe. Never before had I felt such relief. To call me, he had to travel inland until he received a cell signal. He said that our home did not appear to be damaged. We were “f****ng lucky”!
There was tremendous devastation just down the road. Our favorite beachside hangout, Doc’s Beach House, was entirely submerged. When Zane was able to leave the house, he described the area as being deserted like a ghost town.
Saturday has arrived and there is still no word on when the electricity will be restored. Temporary cell towers have been installed with sporadic service. Our fridge and a fan are being powered by the generator that last week we never imagined needing. This morning, our cat Jerry slipped into the water-filled bathtub. Neighbors are showing up with thawing food that is going to spoil. My husband is driving around checking on friends’ houses who live closer to the gulf. We are okay, but many of our friends are not. Some people are even unable to find the street where their house formerly stood because the entire street has vanished.
I continue to read and listen to so many Southwest Florida residents say, “Ian was supposed to go to Tampa, not here.” For so many, it was too late to leave when Ian turned east. I’ve also read about people questioning why people stayed. I’m not going to go into that. Everyone had a reason-financial, pets, tennis tournaments, sick parents. As a business leader, I take calculated risks all the time. Sometimes I get it right; sometimes I don’t. To me, how a person handles the outcome of a decision is what’s important. Did we make the best decision we knew how to make, given the information and experience we had at the time? Yes. Would we make the same decisions next time? Maybe. Am I grateful for the lessons I learned? Absolutely.
For so many, preparation was irrelevant; change inevitable.
No matter how well you prepare you will never be ready.
The impacts of change will forever alter so many lives.
In actuality, change is unavoidable for each and every one of us. We just never know when, or how, but we will all experience it. For so many in southwest Florida, it’s now.
As a wife, mother, friend, and business owner, Ian taught me valuable lessons about change and managing the unexpected.
What I learned:
- Some things we can’t control, so worry about things you can control
- Do your best to think ahead and be proactive
- Think through different scenarios and plan for the worst
- When change happens, embrace it as quickly as possible
- Think about more than yourself, but the people affected by your decisions
- When you are lucky, help those who were not lucky
- When you can make a difference in someone else life, do it
- Patience and grace are critical in an emergency situation
- First responders are incredible, thank them
- Wake up each day and be grateful for the opportunity
So many friends, family, and colleagues, that have reached out, tried to help, provided words of encouragement, I can’t thank you enough. These are the people you remember. These are the moments you will never forget. The random texts, emails, twitter, fb, and insta dm’s have been amazing. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
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