Sorry that we have been off the grid for a little over two weeks, but where we are located got pretty demolished by Hurricane Irma. The eye of the storm hit just north of Key West near Cudjoe Key, and then traveled to Marco Island and all the way up Florida. There is not a single portion of Florida that did not feel the wrath of Irma. Thankfully, the members of Tranquil Trekking had little damage to all of our properties. Most of the damage was in the form of trees down, and water damage. Many of our families and friends lost everything due to flooding, and wind damage.
As for how it is to travel for a hurricane, let me tell you that it was not a very happy occasion. When I packed up my truck, I had to think about what we would want if for some reason there was no house when we returned, and for a while that was a real worry that I had. I live in a frame house, and with winds as powerful as they were calling for, I wasn’t sure if the house would still be standing or not. I made sure that I had food and water for me, the dog, the cat and my two year old. My husband was going to be away from us, but I made sure that I had extra food for when we met back up.
In the bed of my truck I had the following
30 gallons of extra fuel
A footlocker with extra food
Kitty Litter box
New bag of dog/cat food/kitty litter (don’t forget about your furry friends)
7 cases of water (1 gal a day per person/pet for at least three days)
1 Suitcase with clothes for me and my husband
1 Suitcase with clothes for my daughter
1 Bag with my rain boots and rain jackets
2 Coolers with ice (1 containing lunch meat for a day or two of sandwiches)
Inside the truck I had
A bag with snacks for me and the kid
The dog leash
A book bag with laptops in it and important documents/files
Carry bag with keepsakes (quilts made by my grandmother for my daughter, books, toys)
And a third rolling bag with enough clothes for me and the baby for three days without having to dig into the bigger bags.
A case and a half of diapers
A box of wipes (12 refills)
DVD’s in a CD Case to keep the baby occupied
In the backseat I had the kid in her car seat, the cat in a carrier and the dog between them.
The Florida Keys starts at homestead at the 18 mile stretch, and then continues until you reach Key West. There is really only two ways into Key Largo and you have to reach them from Homestead. We knew that to get back into the Keys could take a few days, if the storm wasn’t too bad, or a few weeks, if the storm was bad. We made sure that we had a place to stay in a few different places, and also that we had cash in case the power was out.
I went North of Orlando to a place called Mount Dora to stay with my in-laws. All I have to say is that the traffic was HORRIBLE! It normally takes around five hours to get there, and with the traffic jam due to everyone evacuating, and the lack of fuel, it made the lines at the service centers ridiculously long. So, our normal five hour drive ended up taking over eight and a half hours from door to door, and that was with absolutely NO stops except for sitting in traffic.
We had made plans to stay with our in-laws for a day or so, and then see what the storm was going to do and then move either to Louisiana to meet up with my husband, or to Columbia, South Carolina to stay with friends. We had options, and we were waiting for Irma to show us where she was heading.
There were a lot of other people who didn’t have somewhere to go. My mother for example headed to a friend’s place in Marco Island with her husband and their two dogs. When the storm shifted to the West they had nowhere to go with the dogs, and ended up staying where the eye hit the mainland. Thankfully, the house they were staying at didn’t have to deal with the storm surge, but wind and rain damage collapsed the roof in the bedroom they were staying in. Others, just didn’t have the money to try and pay for a hotel for a week, or had no one that lived close enough that would take them in. I was lucky that my in-laws were willing to deal with not only me, and a toddler, but the animals as well. (They weren’t thrilled about it, but they didn’t turn them away.)
As the days went on, I realized that there was no way of getting away from Irma in the state of Florida, she was just too big. So, we hunkered down in Central Florida and waited it out. We had no power and no cell service for three days. I was able to get service in the middle of the road, so I would walk out and try and make important calls, and to get updates from people who had access to TV and information about the state of my hometown as well as when we might be able to go home. I was also trying to check on my brother who is a firefighter in the Florida Keys, and my father who works for the county. They were both there as soon as the storm passed, and were both helping ready the community for the public's return, as well as trying to reach my husband, which was almost impossible due to the lack of cell service in the state.
On Tuesday morning at 3 in the morning, my husband and a friend he met up with made it to us from Louisiana. On the top of their rental car they had a generator strapped down to take to someone who lived in the keys that needed it. They also had a grill for my in-laws who had no way to heat anything up, as well as various other items that would be needed. It took them over 14 hours to drive from where they docked the boats in Louisiana due to the traffic that was still plaguing the highways.
Once we were fed at breakfast, James (our friend) went and found fuel (a three hour trip) for the rental car. When he came back, we reorganized the vehicles, and then started on our way back to the keys. We couldn’t make it by the time they closed the road again (they had a 7pm-7am curfew), so we stayed in Miami and then woke up in morning and waited in the check point line to be waved thru so we could return to our home. Monroe County issues re-entry stickers based on your address. Section 1 is the Lower Keys, Section 2 is the Middle Keys, and Section 3 is the Upper Keys. Section 3 was the only area cleared to re-enter, so we were waved thru and were able to start down the 18-mile stretch toward Key Largo.
The drive down was a different sight. As you entered Key Largo, trees in the median were pushed to the side and there were no leaves left on most of the trees that lined the highway. My house, had so many trees around it, and I was scared that one might be thru my roof. Especially since so many trees seemed to be down. I drove by my work first, and then I drove by my friend’s house (I knew they wouldn’t be back until the day after, and wanted to make sure it was still standing), and then we made it to our place. The house although still standing looked very different. A few of our larger trees had lost some large limbs, and it actually looked like fall in Key Largo. The trees were almost bare, and the ground was covered in them.
Before we took the baby out of the car we did a careful walk around the house to make sure that all the power lines were still intact and then made our way upstairs to check on our house. We would check the roof later, but a dry floor is a good sign. We kept the truck loaded with most of the stuff, and brought the baby upstairs before getting to work on clearing out at least the front yard.
As we made our way thru the downstairs we realized that we had a small amount of water damage that ruined the ceiling and the dry wall as well as our couch (mold! Yuck) and then the water main was snapped off where it comes into the house. My husband used his Army ingenuity to temporarily fix it (using a hose and a faucet) until a store opened that would have the stuff to fix it properly. There are a lot of houses that are gone, or are too destroyed to rebuild.
Now we have been here for a week or so. We have water (fixed correctly) and electric, and what do you know, Wi-Fi. So here I am again.
I know that this is supposed to be a travel blog, and this doesn’t have to do with a trip, but it is more or less a guide/true account of what it is like to live in an area that has a chance to be hit by a hurricane.
You may be reading this and thinking, “….why do they live there, if they have to evacuate all the time?” Truth is, I haven’t evacuated in years. Not since I was in high school. But, the storms this year are stronger and bigger than so many that I have seen in recent years, and with my daughter I don’t want to take any chances. A house is replaceable (as long as the insurance covers it), but my daughter is not.
All in all, the Florida Keys will survive #KEYSSTRONG, and we will have weddings, and parties down here again, and hopefully soon. If you are planning on visiting during our hurricane season (June 1- Nov 30) then please, please, please make sure that you buy travel insurance, and that you have a way to get out if a mandatory evacuation does occur. It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, I ask that everyone please do not brush it off. Listen to the officials and make a call to get out as soon as possible.