Southwest Florida is my home. It has been since I was a young girl. We have weathered countless hurricanes, but none have ever been like Hurricane Irma. None have ever scared hundreds of thousands of Floridians enough to make them flee their homes. None have ever caused almost an entire state to run out of gasoline and drinking water.
Before Irma even made landfall, millions were without power across the state, and still are without power. The city of Jacksonville, hundreds of miles away from the center of the storm, was inundated by severe storm surge flooding. In other parts of the state, the Gulf seemed to disappear completely from our shores. You could have walked across the Tampa Bay. Officials estimate that at least 42 people have died as a result of Hurricane Irma in Florida alone and the recovery cost is expected to exceed $100 billion. The unprecedented storm has set and beaten records, and will likely go down in history as one of the most devastating storms in Florida’s history.
Before any of the destruction even began, the world seemed to move in slow motion. The anticipation was the hardest part while watching the storm on television as it barreled toward the state. Watching The Weather Channel constantly, waiting around the clock for new advisories from the National Hurricane Center – 8am, 11am, 2pm, 8pm, 11pm, repeat. Every new update showed conditions deteriorating. When the storm was named a category 5, all I could do was break down in tears. My family was going to stay and ride out the hurricane no matter how much I begged them to leave.
Then, the storm originally predicted to travel up the east coast along the Atlantic turned toward the Gulf – to my home. There is no way to describe the feeling. We all had seen the devastation left in Texas after Hurricane Harvey, and now a storm even bigger and stronger was coming for us. The Governor ordered mandatory evacuations, the National Guard was activated. The highways became parking lots as an estimated 6.5 million residents were placed under mandatory evacuation.
Seeing Floridians come together in preparation for Hurricane Irma was one of the most incredible things I have ever experienced. From the small contribution of creating some encouraging memes for a much-needed laugh, to giving someone the last generator in store so she could care for her sick father. My community powered through the storm with their heads held high, and they made it. It will without a doubt be a long recovery, but Floridians are some of the strongest and most stubborn people out there. We will rebuild, and we will not be defeated.