It took us 17 hours to drive home from White House Tennessee to Cape Coral Florida and the relief of pulling into our own driveway at 2am last Thursday morning was palatable. Then that strange energy took hold of us all, cat included, and we had to see, check, assess where and how everything was. The obvious damage was to our screens out back and a slight musty smell to our abandoned home. It needed to be aired out. We had power but the water pump would not work. My husband used an extension cord to get it power so we would have water in the morning. What a good man.
Morning came too soon and I dragged myself out of bed to get ready for work. Moments of sheer relief and unbelief at the reality that I was standing in my own bathroom washed over me. I was exhausted but thankful. Felt like a zombie but glad I had a bed even as I had walked by it as I went out the door.
The city had a beat up, blown over, debris-strewn look to it and a strange quietness that permeated as the brutal morning sun baked the land after Irma. There was little to no gas available and most of the stores are still dark.
Remarkably, Cape Coral sustained minor damage compared to other parts of the state. The next community over was devastated and may not have power for weeks. Convoy of Hope was in the area two days after Irma struck and people from our church helped distribute food and basic necessities to those who needed it most. One of my ministry leaders, had 10 people living with her and some still there until their own homes have power. She is one of many amazing people who have opened their hearts and homes to help others survive this storm.
When I got to work, we began to share our stories. Some stayed to ride out the storm, some thought they would stay but in the wee hours of the morning hit the road to evacuate and others evacuated as soon as Irma was announced. Not one person had an easy time of it. Everyone looked exhausted. Everyone was exhausted. Later when Bobby and I ventured to Sam’s Club later for a couple necessities and I got in line to get a Family Pack Pizza deal, only they were out of pizza. I stepped out of line, put my phone away and simply took a moment to look at the faces of those around me. What I saw was that we were a store of exhausted people. We are an entire state of exhausted people. Whether in homes, shelters, hotels, with friends or families near or far away, all of us anxiously watched the news stations tell the developing story of a storm that did not behave. Irma did not do what they expected and danced around predictions as she roared over the islands. She surprised and terrified the experts and held us all enraptured at satellite images of the biggest hurricane ever recorded. I heard one expert say that Irma was acting like a teenager.
We were at a friends home in Tennessee as we watched Anderson Cooper report from Fort Meyers on Sunday. My son walked in and said, “Hey, I know where he is at – I think we filmed announcements there”. I looked over at my husband and said,” You know it is bad when Anderson Cooper is in your neighborhood.” I was captivated by the crazy reporter who stood in the hurricane force winds and horizontal rain in Naples. He was a visual representation of our homes, churches, businesses, trees. But when the eye came over Naples and he went down to the street, that was truly remarkable. The sky cleared, the colors heightened, the wind rested and it was quiet for a few minutes. And then Irma continued up the state.
We are in recovery mode now and all working to get life back to normal. Compassion is tactile and everyone I meet is working hard to help those whose recovery is slow going. I am relieved that the storm surge did not overtake 3/4 of Cape Coral’s homes and businesses. I am heartbroken for those whose communities were flooded and ravaged by this massive storm. I am amazed at the power and awe of nature.
I am blessed to live in such a beautiful place, not just because of the gorgeous beaches but because of the generous hearts of the people that live here.
And I am glad to be home after Irma.