(Sarasota, FL, Sept. 9) – Just 48 hours ago, those of us stuck on the gulf coast of Florida – unable to leave due to the cancellation of planes, clogged roads and unreliable supplies of gas and hotel rooms – believed Hurricane Irma would affect us, but not directly.
That has now changed completely. Unlike much of Florida, Sarasota has not been in the path of a hurricane in many decades. But this monster storm which has led to hurricane warnings for most of the entire state is now headed straight towards us. The eye of the storm will hit sometime Sunday. So while the Atlantic coast might be spared the worst of this, the same cannot be said of this gulf coast.
Naples, 125 miles south of us, is almost certain to be hit by category four winds and several inches of rain. And Irma will almost certainly head north towards Fort Myers to here in Sarasota and north to Tampa, likely weakened upon hitting land, but still deadly. Rolling evacuations are the order of the day. Winds are expected to reach or exceed 100 mph. Barrier islands near us could be devastated, as happened in the Caribbean. Storm surges could reach ten feet and cause irreparable damage to coastal areas.
RIDING OUT THE STORM
There is palpable fear, especially given that most people here, myself included, have never witnessed anything like this approaching hurricane. Here in the condominium where we will ride out the storm – we have no other choice – we are taping windows, filling bathtubs, loading up on non-perishable food and powering up everything with batteries in preparation for power outages that could last days or weeks.
I will provide an update once the storm hits. But right now, we prepare and we pray.
(Sarasota, FL, September 6) – So here we sit on the west-central coast of Florida awaiting a hurricane the media is calling the biggest ever in the Atlantic. It’s a category five – the most powerful on the one to five scale – as it wends its way through the Caribbean, but has yet to touch the panicking residents of south Florida – the Miami area in particular.
It’s been said that these natural disasters bring out both the best and worst in people. Hurricane Katrina certainly revealed the worst in both the residents and politicians of New Orleans, as rampant vandalism and looting became the order of the day, and politicians proved unequal to the task of preparing effective contingencies or containing the catastrophic damage. The result was both a human and political disaster of epic proportions.
On the other hand, we recently heard the stories of heroism and effective storm management emanating from Houston as Hurricane Harvey dumped the most rain ever recorded from a single storm on the nation’s fourth largest city. As floodwaters drove thousands from their homes, we were bolstered by reports of citizens – many of them forced out of their own homes – rescuing fellow victims, and of efficient coordination between local, state and federal authorities. The result was a death toll that is currently reported as 60, when it could easily have climbed into the hundreds.
But sometimes the worst – and best – in people is revealed through smaller, relatively inconsequential transactions. Today, as people moved into the serious stage of planning for the worst, the top priorities are water for the home and gas for the car. I went to two gas stations in the immediate area. Both were dry – drained by anxious drivers once reports of the impending storm began to look ominous. At a third station, long lines had developed somewhat haphazardly, reminiscent of the energy crises of the 1970’s. Positioning myself in the queue and finally reaching the head of one of the hastily formed lines, I allowed another car past once he signaled he was just exiting the station. He then maneuvered in front of me, stole my place and rushed to the first vacated pump. When gas is scarce, losing one spot in line could mean getting no gas. Suppose I was a disabled person who really needed that gas for survival? These kind of selfish maneuvers – for which I forcefully called out the driver – reveal the parts of the human character that make us recoil. (Fortunately, I got my gas anyway).
FIGHT OR FLIGHT
The fight or flight dilemma faces all who are forced to brace for an impending weather event. Do you ride out the storm, or try to flee before it hits and find a relative or friend willing to take in unexpected visitors? Everyone has a different take – levels of fear and deference to forecasts vary from person to person. But the options are narrowing for those choosing flight. The highways are starting to clog, hotels are filling up and airlines quickly sold virtually every seat out of Sarasota and nearby Tampa by Tuesday – and the few single seats available were offered at astronomical prices which cry of profiteering. But even in Key West, currently a bullseye for the eye of Irma, some brave (or misguided) souls have vowed to hunker down and see the storm through, while thousands retreat in panic.
Most people live lives of quiet desperation, but when crisis hits, opportunities abound to do something truly important – to actually make a difference. But while crises will build character in some, it will simply reveal it in others.