Hurricane Irma...Blessed and Guilty...


A Personal Note from Elizabeth…

Tuesday morning Richard and I were at Publix at 7AM when they opened…We got our food, water, batteries and other items needed to weather out Hurricane Irma. We filled both cars up with gas. We both have been through plenty of these drills. Be prepared for the worst and hope for the best. We booked our room in Orlando for our evacuation plan should we need it. We were confident at that point that we wouldn’t need it.
Irma was coming for Florida and based on Tuesday’s weather trajectories the storm was more toward the east coast and heading up the middle of the state.
We were good to ‘hunker down’ and ride out the storm in our high rise in downtown Tampa. We’re in a hurricane rated building. Our windows can take up to 150 mph winds. We felt somewhat safe. We still worried about flooding, but we were on the good side of the storm, and all reports showed the storm hitting us as a low category 3 – high category 2.
And then the models started showing the storm moving more toward the west…each update a little further west…each time getting closer and closer to the west coast and closer to Tampa.
It’s a funny thing during a hurricane…no one wants it to hit them and hopes and prays that it moves to other areas…but still not wanting anyone else to be in danger. The blessings and guilt all come over you all at the same time. Anyone who has ever been in the path of a hurricane knows exactly what I mean.
First let me qualify that if it weren’t for our three adult children and their families staying in the area for the storm, my butt would have been on a plane to Chicago…nothing I have is worth putting myself in danger for…except for my kids.
So, Saturday afternoon when hope for Tampa was fading with each passing report I started to feel more and more anxious about staying.
Richard said to me… “Do we need to go?” I said yes…and he said okay let’s finish packing. (We were partially packed in case of a last-minute evacuation.) 
I got on the phone with the kids and said…we’re moving to Plan B…we’re heading to Orlando. With projected 15-foot storm surges hitting downtown, the decision became much easier for Richard and me.
“Run from water…Hide from wind…”
All the kids stuck by their original decisions to stay put. With one daughter in a no flood zone in Spring Hill…I knew she was the safest, but I still worried. With a son and daughter in Palm Harbor…I knew they needed to leave, but they decided to stay.
We loaded the car Saturday evening and went to bed around 7:30, so we could wake early on Sunday morning and head to Orlando. Around 3AM Richard’s phone rang and we could now hear the panic from our Palm Harbor kids…they were heading out as well. The storm had moved yet again and was now supposed to directly hit Tampa. They headed to South Carolina to stay with family, and we headed to Orlando.
The roads were empty, and for anyone who drives I4 regularly, you can imagine how eerie that was all in itself. We got to our hotel, and our room was waiting for us…we checked in and settled into our room. Immediately I felt more at ease and could breathe. We were safe, and our kids were safe.
Sunday night as we sat on the couch watching the news…the reports were now showing the storm moving east again…as a matter of fact the core of the storm was now directly over Orlando. We had evacuated into the storm…that knot in my stomach started to form. I knew we were safer here than in Tampa, but your body reacts with fear. The thought of 100-125 mph winds hitting the hotel…it’s scary!
Richard reminded me… “Run from water, hide from wind.” That’s what we did. We would be fine. He turned the TV off and pulled the curtains shut (thank goodness for those heavy plastic linings that hotel curtains have), and we went to bed!
We had followed our plan, and while it hadn’t gone as expected, we were as safe as we could be under the circumstances. I’m not sure what time I dozed off. I awoke to a ringing phone around 1:30AM…the wind was blowing so hard, but the curtains dulled the sound. Maybe a false sense of security, but it worked.
Our building in Tampa was on the other end of the phone. Someone has reported a loud howling wind coming from under the door of someone on our floor, and they were concerned that either a window might have been compromised or that our sliding door hadn’t been locked and the wind had pushed it open. They wanted permission to enter our home.
We both were up now and waiting for a return call to inform us of the status of our home. About an hour later they called to assure us that our home was safe and that the wind was not coming from our unit. We took some time to respond to some texts that had come in while we were sleeping. By 3AM we decided to try to go back to bed. The next thing I knew it was 6AM…we had made it through the worst of the storm.
The hotel had an amazing warm breakfast and hot coffee ready for everyone by 6:30. The food area was filled with FEMA, Police and first responders…they were getting their breakfast and then heading out. The guests started roaming in around 7AM…we all looked a mess, but no one cared. We had survived, and now the look of fear had been replaced by worry. Had others survived…what do our homes look like? Many of the guests were from the Miami & Keys area, so you can only imagine their fear.
We all ate breakfast in silence watching the news…looking at the devastation and fearing the worse but hoping for the best…
Mayor Buckhorn of Tampa lifted the curfew on Downtown Tampa at8AM Monday morning. We called our building to confirm power. It was on and had not gone off…we were packing up our car by 8:15AM!
We arrived in Tampa around 9:30. Most of the traffic were first responders in the west bound lanes of I4…on the east side…caravans of electrical contractors, military vehicles…all heading to Miami and the Keys from other states…coming to help. I sat in the car with tears streaming down my face. At that moment, something shifted inside of me.
All the people that called to check on us…strangers in person but friends on Facebook offering us their homes to evacuate to…offers to do whatever they could to help us survive this storm and then seeing all the strangers leaving their families to come to Florida to help our friends and neighbors. Just like we saw in Houston.
And then when I finally realized that Monday was September 11th…another wave of emotions came…we were in such survival mode that we didn’t even know what the day was, let alone the date. 

I am feeling so blessed that I can sit at my home office desk this morning and share this story with you today…Tuesday, September 12th. But so many people here in Florida are without power…many without homes…
Blessed and guilty all at the same time…

Elizabeth Fanslow