I know about hurricanes. In 2004 I moved to the U.S. and landed in Miami one day ahead of Hurricane Jeanne. The same summer, my now ex-husband had relocated before the rest of the family, one day ahead of Hurricane Ivan. That was shortly after Hurricane Charley swept the Florida West Coast and then Frances slammed the East Coast in August. It was the most active hurricane season in decades, and as I stepped off the plane holding my 3-year-old’s hand and carrying my 4-month-old in my arms, I was scared.
After having been a nomad with my two young kids for a couple of months while their father prepared for our arrival in the U.S., it was nothing short of unsettling to find out we had to evacuate to the Gulf Coast as the hurricane was going to hit our new town even before we got to see it for the first time.
Until I moved to Florida, tropical storms and hurricanes were something I watched on the news, one of those things that happen elsewhere, to others, but never where we lived. Well, we survived Jeanne huddled in my sister’s small home in Miami. We were hosted by different families for a week, until we were able to go to our new home, which was without electrical power or a water supply. As we drove across Florida, blue tarps covered many houses, and we saw destruction everywhere. I wondered whether that was a sign that we should not have moved here.
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A year later, in 2005, when my family was settled down in Naples, Florida, Hurricane Wilma was slated to hit Florida through Marco Island on October 23. Then, we were living in a house made of poured concrete, that was built to sustain up to a category 4 storm. So we decided to stay home, although we were less than a mile away from the mandatory evacuation areas.
As most of the town prepared to leave, friends came over from the East Coast to spend the hurricane with us. My ex-husband put up the hurricane shutters and I stocked up with batteries, flashlights, non-perishable foods and even a small portable TV and radio to listen to updates when we lost power. Friends and family in Miami and West Palm urged us to come stay with them, but we didn’t. The evening before Wilma hit us, I went out with my kids to take pictures of all the beautiful places nearby…so I could remember what they looked like before the storm.
That night, we had what I now know is a typical hurricane party in Florida, drinks and all, and we sent the kids to bed. The adults stayed up watching the news, and as the excitement wore off and the winds picked up and power outages began, I wondered whether we had made the right decision. We were surrounded by lakes, and I envisioned our home flooding and not being able to leave. I was afraid. I remembered the destruction caused by the four hurricanes of the previous year, and thought we may well be in more trouble than I had wanted to admit.
I went to bed and hugged my kids, who were fast asleep. I could not see what was happening outside but I could hear the wind and the rain…an eerie wild sound that at a certain point was followed by the eye of the storm, a complete and utter silence….
Fortunately we woke up to no personal damage, but when I drove to the same spots two days later to take pictures again, the before and after was really clear. We didn’t have electricity for several days, but as hurricanes are whimsical, Miami had it worse. We could not talk with our friends and family on that coast, as Wilma hit them harder than us. In the end, I was grateful we had stayed home.
As I write this, friends and Mamiverse contributors, including our CEO, are in the path of Hurricane Sandy, which has been dubbed “Frankenstorm.” Some are in mandatory evacuation areas and won’t leave. Others have had to carry their children out of their already flooded homes.
We don’t know what will happen. But today, I can’t stop reading the Twitter feeds and the Facebook timelines to see how my friends are doing. I understand the fear, especially after storms like Katrina, which caused grief and tragedy. I get the uncertainty, the wanting to appear strong to your kids while feeling vulnerable and small in the wake of an out of control storm of epic proportions.
In the face of natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy, I would say: if you are in a mandatory evacuation area, don’t try to be brave, pack up your stuff and leave. Take your kids and your pets to a safe place. You may have to rebuild your home when you come back, but you can’t rebuild a life when you’ve lost it.