ST. PETERSBURG — Anxiety. Fear. Relief. Gratitude. That’s Irma in retrospect. And it wasn’t just my anxiety and fear. It was that of my daughter and son-in-law in New York, their calls, nagging and pleading that we please escape Armageddon!
And there were the anxious texts from a sister and brother in Guyana.
"Safety is more important than material things," my brother advised as I heaved what felt like dozens of potted plants into the garage.
"We’re going to be fine," I said.
But, I must admit that as the winds picked up that Sunday evening, the newly hurricane-reinforced garage door started to rattle and a section of a neighbor’s fence came apart, I started to second-guess the decision to stay put.
My mother, who is in her 80s, is healthy, except for at times painful arthritis in her knees and the need for medication for a few problems. My husband had to work during the storm, so it was just the two of us.
We had gone back and forth about whether we should go to a shelter. I’d made preparations to do so. Two folding lounge chairs and blankets for sleeping. Medications. Change of clothing. Food. Water. Books. Important papers. My mother’s walking stick.
The car was packed, but so was the walk-in closet in my mother’s room. It was where we would take shelter, if things got really bad. My mother seemed bemused. There are no hurricanes in Guyana.
If I had to do it again, I would leave. We lost power early that Sunday night and it wasn’t restored until near noon on Friday. The house got hot, even with the patio doors open. I returned to work and air conditioning and felt guilty for leaving my mother in the hot house.
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Better safe than sorry, right? Shelters, in fact, should be a last resort, said Mary Burrell, the outreach and education coordinator at the Pinellas County Emergency Operations Center.
We had plenty of plastic bowls of ice that I’d frozen beforehand, along with several bags of ice. And there was plenty to drink. My stoic mother insisted that she was fine and sat on the patio, as usual, reading one of her large print mysteries from the St. Petersburg Library. And she had her flip phone.
With no electricity and no reliable grill — I don’t count the small, tabletop one that could barely heat water — I would get hot, fragrant coffee for us from a nearby Subway each morning. My mother likes a hot midday meal, so every day I went home to take her something to eat, wherever I could find it. It was a challenge every single one of those five days. I worried about how long the food I was buying might have been unrefrigerated.
One day, I decided I’d simply stop at my Publix and pick up a frozen vegetarian dinner. How to heat it, though? Timidly, I explained the situation to a young woman at customer service and she led me to the employee breakroom, where I was able to use the microwave. Another hot meal down.
We should have left.
• • •
Here’s my advice, aside from the usual, such as stocking up on batteries, water and food.
• Do that, yes, but start deciding now whether to go to a shelter. Don’t dither until it’s too dangerous to leave.
• Remember, a shelter is not a hotel, so take blankets, a blow-up mattress, or sturdy folding lounge chairs that can function as a bed at night and a comfortable seat to keep feet propped up during the day.
• Always have enough medications, of course, those prescribed and over-the-counter necessities like arthritis rub, if you need it.
• Use rolling suitcases. If your mom or dad or neighbor is elderly, but not too frail, they can pull a small, light carry-on. It will also come in handy as a foot stool.
• If you decide to remain at home, make sure you have a good barbecue grill that will not take hours to boil hot water for a cup of tea or coffee, much less cook a meal.
• Get portable chargers for your cell phones. Buy battery-operated fans. And batteries, of all kinds. They go fast when a hurricane is approaching.
• Stock up on reading material. Get a portable radio.
• If you decide to go to a hotel, start making inquiries now. It doesn’t do any good if the only hotels available are in an evacuation zone.
• Talk to your neighbors. Let them know your plans. After Irma passed, everyone on my street came out to check on each other. To help.
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Politicians kept repeating some version of, "We’re all in this together." But everyday people — like the neighbor who brought me sand bags pre-Irma, and the supermarket clerk who let me use the breakroom microwave — are living it all the time.
Contact Waveney Ann Moore at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.