By Leesa K. Donner and Tim Donner
By happenstance or Divine intervention, we were stuck in Florida, specifically Sarasota, during the panic leading up to Hurricane Irma. Having weathered the storm, we have a few reflections we’d like to share with Liberty Nation readers.
Tim: It’s over. The fear and trembling. The anxiety that allowed us to think of nothing else for several days. The preparations and contingencies for the worst.
Yes, it’s finally over and our power is back on, and Florida is back to being the place of R&R (and for us, uninterrupted creative work) it is supposed to be. Of course, there’s clean up and all the rest that goes with it. And many are still without power and some even have lost homes. But for most Floridians – it is finished. But we shall never forget these last days leading up to the arrival of Hurricane Irma.
As we landed here on Labor Day, Irma was in the distant Caribbean. Its path to the U.S. was uncertain. We didn’t even know if it would hit the mainland at all. No reason to cancel a long-planned trip with two matters of business on the docket down here.
Had our trip been scheduled for one or two days later, we would have cancelled it. But we came. And Tuesday arrived with word that Irma was indeed headed for Florida. But most all the projections had it headed for the east coast, with only a few outlying predictions calling for it to hit the gulf coast where we are situated.
We said to ourselves it couldn’t…it wouldn’t…no way it would hit us with full force. Heck, we can withstand 40 or 50 mph winds on the periphery of the storm. No problem.Until it veered off just before hitting Florida, Sarasota looked to be ground zero for Hurricane Irma.
Then, day by day, hour by hour, the storm track kept heading further and further to the west. We thought of escape. But all the planes were filled up or cancelled. (Well, there was one ticket available for $1,600. Thank you, American Airlines for price gouging.) Gas was in ever-shorter supply and every hotel room was filled all the way north to Atlanta. No escape.
We were shocked that Leesa’s two day speaking engagement one hour north of here was going to take place as scheduled. But as we drove north to drop her there, things started to look ominous. When I returned to collect her on Saturday, the worst of all possibilities, a direct category four hit on Sarasota, was now being predicted. We girded our loins.
Leesa: Speaking for two days on the topic of JOY! to the women at Faith Community church in Spring Hill, Florida was sheer delight. Almost all who signed up for the women’s retreat came and we stormed the gates of heaven with our fearless attitude about Irma. So, when I got in the car and saw Tim’s face was a bit ashen I wasn’t truly prepared for what was going on in the real world. As he outlined his assessment of the situation and preparation my heart and joy began to sink with each passing mile as we headed back to Sarasota. Heading north on I-75 the traffic was dense, but driving south, as we were, was like an airplane runway.
As we turned off the highway I could understand my logical husband’s demeanor. It was a ghost town. Everything was closed. Very few cars were on the road. And I thought to myself, “I just hate it when God challenges me to practice what I teach.”
Tim: It did not feel good to rain on Leesa’s good mood and optimism, but when the worst possible prediction – winds of well over 100 mph, drenching rain and untamed storm surges – was now on the table, a pretense of Alfred E. Neumann’s “what me, worry” became impossible.
Our HVAC unit had already stopped working two nights earlier in 90-degree heat – of course – so I was already weary, and sound sleep Saturday was impossible. When we awoke on Sunday, we saw the predictions confirmed – a category four hurricane brushing along the gulf coast, heading north – and hitting land at or very near to Sarasota.
We watched and waited, waited and watched – observing the track of the storm unceasingly on the local TV station ABC7 with their first class meteorologists, foremost among them John Scalzi, who did a magnificent job under high stress for hours on end. He conveyed every bit of information, every possible possible angle, and balanced fear and reason. He was a lifeline, and now feels like a member of my family. If he shows up at any bar or restaurant I’m visiting, Mr. Scalzi’s tab is on me.
We had completed all preparations – filling the bathtubs, taping the windows, practicing escape routes, firing up every battery we had for the certainty our power would be lost, etc. – and now it was just a matter of time. With a final hope and prayer that the devastating hurricane would take one last turn away from us, we awaited its arrival.
It still looked ominous until about 3:00. And then came the break we were praying for.
Leesa: Despite the fact that pandemonium had set in all around me, I felt a true sense of peace. There are many Biblical assertions for this but the world knows this attitude as “It is what it is.” Having never been in Florida in the month of September, we had never really seen our little haven away from the hustle and bustle of The DC Swamp turned on its head like this.
Watching TV didn’t help much but there was little else to do once our hurricane plans were in place. And it took my mind off spending the night in our “safe space” which was the bathroom floor. Then just as things were looking hopeless for the part of the Sun Coast of Florida where we were situated, news of Irma hitting land well south of us and weakening began to hit the flat screen. What had been winds of up to 140 mph now looked to be in the range of 70-90mph. Big difference.
At 7:17pm everything went black. No more weatherman. No more music. No air conditioning. Nothing but approaching darkness, wind and rain.
Around 9 pm the sheets of rain began to pound our little condo, and the pots and trashcans we had lined up on our leaking Lanai were filling faster than Tim could empty them. Was it time to hit the safe space and hunker down on the mattress laid out on our bathroom floor?
Tim: With the encouraging reports we got before the power went out, we decided to sleep in our own bed and cut down the noise of howling winds by watching a movie on our battery-powered laptop with headsets. If windows broke in our bedroom, so be it.Wreckage less than a mile from our location.
By about 3:00 am, everything had reduced to a dull roar. The worst was past and no serious damage to person or property had occurred.
We awoke from one more fitful sleep absent power, but finally able to exhale. We had dodged a bullet. Post-traumatic stress aside, we felt so blessed.
Through this trial, we had come to understand the threat so often faced by folks in Florida. We had developed a sense of community with our neighbors. And we felt like true Floridians for the first time. But just to complete the whole experience, when we finally ventured out in our car on Monday afternoon amidst downed trees and blown debris, we got a flat tire. Of course.
We know we were somehow meant to be here. Perhaps because our leaking lanai would have taken severe water damage if we were not here. Perhaps because Leesa’s teaching would affect one or more women in profound ways. Perhaps because our elderly neighbor was alone, asthmatic and fearful and needed us to hold her hand. Who knows, really. But through it all, we knew one thing – this would be an experience of a lifetime. And it was exactly that.