Friday, September 15

A Newbie Experiences a Hurricane: Irma 2017

I remember when we were looking for possible locations to live, I had a list of worst-case scenarios. One was lack of water, having grown up in the Midwest right next to Lake Michigan. Florida has plenty of water, so no problem there. Lots and lots of water, in fact. I also didn't want earthquakes. That's not a problem. Hurricanes were on the list, too, but everyone kept saying Jacksonville almost always missed the big storm. The 100-year stats seemed to back that up.


Then Irma started heading our way. Then I learned more about Matthew, as well as two other hurricanes that made 2016 the most active hurricane year in JAX since 1898. Therefore, even before we thought Irma might make it to our new city, I was having doubts about our choice in a town. On top of that, our last-second, last-ditch house purchase was in Evacuation Zone A. Not that we were on the beach or anything. Not even on the intercoastal, but storm surges would be part of our cost of living in the sunshine.

So Irma was supposed to come up the East Coast and skirt Jacksonville in a similar manner to what Matthew had done. And I knew we were going to be evacuated because of this potential, so we decided to leave for shelter in The Villages, leaving our house to the storm surge and potential looters. That's totally new to me, and I began to understand why people stick around to protect their homes.

After leaving early, I also now understand why people try to stick around until the last minute. The disruption to life and work are a real consideration, and someone has to stick around to sell all the gas and water people are encouraged to hoard. After showing up at my first emptied gas station, I also understand the hoarding. If I'd filled a few five-gallon gas cans, there would have been less concern later on.

Food was easy to get, for us. There was plenty of canned food left when I went to the store, but it was the bottled water that was less available. So we just filled and brought a lot of reusable water bottles, which we can continue to keep filled. I know most people want to use store-purchased water, but why not fill all those sports bottles, too? Our son said filling the tub with water was also something to do during a hurricane. I guess it's so you can take sponge baths and whatnot. I suppose you could boil it if you needed more drinking water or to help with delivering a baby using a gas stove or a grill (just not inside).

Actually, that's one of the biggest surprises: the reminders from news channels to not run generators or use grills indoors. Maybe if the power was out for a week of intense rain, I could see it as an issue. Or if it was really cold outside. It just seems weird that people would want a power generator making all kinds of noise in the house, and I guess I would be prepared to at least not have power until after the rain.

The storm itself was scary. We knew of tornadoes near us, and the worst would be overnight, so we camped out in interior rooms with no windows. That meant the kids and wife in a walk-in closet and me in a laundry room. I guess boarding up at least one window in a small bedroom might have been a better idea. Better yet would be if all Florida houses were built with real storm shutters. I was amazed when I visited France at how many homes, even brand new ones, have storm shutters. These have the added bonus of locking from the inside, so I think it's as much to prevent break-ins as to prevent winds and rain from reaching the windows. But I guess we never have any break-ins in Florida, either.

When we returned home, we had a house with power. We were lucky, since many folks in Jacksonville had water in their homes, and many more lost power. All we lost were some shingles, which I was able to repair. A mystery water leak has also appeared in the laundry room ceiling. With a $5000 hurricane deductible, a small hole in the roof and a small leak on the other side of the house seems kind of pointless to claim. It probably matters just how much water got into the laundry room and whether it's still getting in. I guess I'll do some more caulking, a practice that seems to have helped the cheap builder-grade windows on the other side of the house.

All in all, we are not too shaken by our first hurricane. However, it seems Jacksonville as a whole needs to rebuild and possibly rethink. Maybe federal aid can help with some of the storm drainage. Maybe there are better ways to rebuild power line infrastructure. If sea levels are rising and more storms will get closer to JAX in the future (global warming or just luck), then it has to be part of the plan. We're not ready to leave just yet, but disaster cannot happen yearly. People will leave for higher ground.


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