Before I really tell the story of the last week here in Orlando, a couple of caveats are in order. First, I’m writing this from my intact house that has power, water, and wifi. Second, what we lived through was not on the same level as say my friend Steven in the Bahamas during Hurricane Andrew (i.e. in a bathtub under a mattress watching the roof separate from the walls). Nor is like what those in Houston and the rest of Texas endured with Harvey. Rather, I’ve just been reflecting on what it’s like to live in the shadow of impending doom for the better part of a week.
About this time last week (Tuesday), I was at school and began to realize that the strongest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic was headed our way. This was helpful in order to prepare, but also meant anxious limbo for at least another 5 days.
Actually, it was almost too late to prepare. Apparently I was late to the party and everyone else realized on Monday that we might be screwed in a week’s time. Wal-Marts and Publixes gradually ran out of canned goods, bread, and bottled water. It was however a great time to buy perishables.
By Wednesday, we were looking at a landfall from a Category 4 storm somewhere a bit south, or worst case scenario, an extended coastal brush that would mean Cat 2 or 3 winds here in Orlando for 10-12 hours. At one point, we were projected to have sustained winds of 80-90 mph all night on Sunday in the best version the models had to offer.
Now, people outside the state need to realize that because of the aforementioned Hurricane Andrew, houses built when ours was (2005) had to be built to code that meant that could withstand winds in the 110-120 mph range. So, there is no need to evacuate for fear that the big bad hurricane is going to blow our house down. Shingles gone and roof leaks are on the table, but structural integrity is more or less assured in our case at least (if it wasn’t, we would have evacuated even though Orlando is one of the last places that would have a mandatory order like that).
But, while the house might stand, that doesn’t eliminate the possibility that the storm whips up winds strong enough to throw a projectile through one or more of our windows. They may be double-paned and rated for winds up to 120 mph, but that doesn’t help if the wind throws someone’s garden gnome through a bedroom window at 3am.
Of course, this is why some people board up their windows. I inquired earlier in the week if our landlord wanted this done, and the answer was no. This was helpful, in that it meant he was willing to take financial responsibility for any damage. Also, I was off the hook for doing something I was ill-equipped and under-resourced to perform (plywood was basically gone by mid-week).
However, that meant living the rest of the week with the uneasy “what am I going to do at 3am if a window is busted in by a garden gnome or a random coconut and it rains into whatever room that is for the next 6 hours” feeling. We have a rather large house with some rather large windows that actually couldn’t be boarded up even if I had been able to do so.
There was also the vague anxiety that comes from seeing the recommended hurricane prep lists and knowing that even 4 days out, you can’t get everything on the list before the storm comes because everyone freaked out after Harvey and got to the resources first. Once I came to terms with the fact that we would have flashlights, food and water for 3 days, contractor grade trash bags to throw stuff into if a window broke and that was it, the anxiety subsided a bit.
But, that meant we were still 72 hours out or so, and there was nothing to do but wait. I spoke in chapel on Thursday for a bit about the fact that the most frequent command in Scripture is “do not fear,” and we worship a God who calms storms and walks on water. At the end of the day, I encouraged the students to avoid pics of destruction on social media and size comparisons to Andrew since neither of those things were likely to make anyone feel better. And we talked about God’s omnipresence and the fact that he already sees the bright sunny day on Tuesday and knows the outcome of the storm better than we even know ourselves. Whoever said theology wasn’t practical has never really studied it.
By Friday afternoon, we were in the 48 hour window where everything was starting to shut down. By Saturday afternoon, pretty much everything was closed and you either had the resources you needed or you didn’t. The course of the storm kept changing, but as you’ll notice in the picture, being on the edge still meant a Category 4 Hurricane could come straight through Orlando. When Hurricane Charley in 2004 came through our part of town (as a Cat 3), it looked like a bomb was dropped, because as you may or may not know, if you live in inland, you get the hurricane and any tornadoes it decides to spawn. So there was that reality to live with.
Sunday was the day the storm was coming, it was just a question of when and how strong. To cut to the chase, it ended up being something less than a Category 1 in our part of Orlando. We had a ton of tree debris in our backyard and we lost power for about 36 hours, but thankfully that was it. The rest of our city, and the state as a whole didn’t necessarily fare as well. For many, normal life won’t resume until next week. For some, it won’t really resume at all in a form similar to what was lost over the weekend.
Even worse is some of the devastation in the Caribbean. While I can’t fully imagine what that’s like, a lesser version of it was something I had to come to terms with earlier in the week because it was a live option. At the end of the day, Floridians often scoff at hurricanes and host parties when they’re supposed to come because they almost always fail to deliver a direct hit (especially here inland). This time around everyone seemed to be taking things seriously. And while we dodged the proverbial bullet in our part of town, not everyone had that same outcome. Once you’re on this side of the storm, it’s time to figure out who needs help and spread the resources around to help rebuild. I’m not sure what that looks like for the rest of our week, but I’m hopeful that this will be a time we can come together and extend the helping hand when it’s needed most. At the very least, I’ve got a trunk full of junk food to return to Wal-Mart tomorrow, and an entry to put in my gratitude journal about missing the brunt of a hurricane two years in row now.