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Lessons Learned from Hurricane Irma

By Mike

Background

My name is Mike. I live in southwest Florida on the Everglades just a few miles from
Everglades City. I am a Florida native so hurricanes are not new to me, we just learn to live with them. We don’t have hurricane parties or things like that, we take the storms very seriously. But hurricanes are just a price we must pay for the privilege to live in a tropical paradise.

Prepping

I have been a prepper long before it was fashionable. I know how to prepare for the worst be it a major storm or an economic collapse. Long go my wife and I stocked up on freeze-dried MREs, dried fruits, vegetables, coffee, olive oil and other staple items. We were never going to be hungry.  

Nomad Lifestyle

My wife and I are somewhat nomadic in that we live aboard our 44 foot trawler yacht, the
Patricia Ann. We are water people by nature and living aboard a boat fits us perfectly. If you don’t like the neighborhood, you just untie the lines and move…..simple as that. We do a lot of exploring by water and have cruised from Baltimore to the Florida Keys.

Our current marina home port is about 8 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico. This was our designated hurricane hole when we arrived in southwest Florida years ago. The location offers 8 miles of mangroves to shield us against tidal surges.

Storm on the Horizon

About 4 weeks ago Irma made her debut. We saw her far out in the Atlantic near Africa….she was about 10-12 days away. But as us folks in hurricane country do, you make note of it and follow the NOAA tracks daily. She slowly began to strengthen and before long she was a category 5 with 175 mph winds…..now that will get your attention very quickly. So we began to make some plans on what to do if she came our way.

I had made a hurricane plan and referred to it. With a category storm 3 or higher I will evacuate.

A floating boat is no place to be in 130+ mph winds. There is just no way a fiberglass boat can survive that kind of pounding and wind.

Irma Threatens Florida

On or about September 6, 2017 we got word from NOAA that Irma would skirt Cuba and then turn northward crossing the Florida Keys near Key West. She was then forecast to travel northward and make a second landfall in southwest Florida.

She was then a category 4 storm with winds forecast for 130-156 mph. With a category 4 storm catastrophic damage is expected. Well-built framed homes can sustain severe damage with loss of most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted and power poles downed. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months A storm surge of about 9 feet was forecast for our area. . This was not a storm to play games with.

Evacuation

Responding to a category 4 storm is not an easy feat. We knew that our home (boat) was going to be in jeopardy. We knew that we would probably lose her. We spent time preparing Patricia Ann and the dingy, Miss Pat, to ride out the storm the best they could. We spent time gathering some clothes, important papers, firearms, food, and a few cherished keepsakes. On Friday September 8th we loaded the cars and said good bye to our baby (boat). We set out to go north of Naples inland a few miles out of the storm surge range. Needless to say, stress was at the maximum .

We watched the news around the clock to keep track of where the hurricane was. On Saturday September 9th, NOAA said that the storm was going to make landfall on Sunday as a cat 4 storm near Marco Island FL. God almighty, that was only a few miles from our home port.

President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Rick Scott were both on TV telling us that they were here for us Floridians and that they would be here to lend a hand.

Landfall

The storm was upon us as we could hear it howling in the trees. We never felt in danger however. The storm was ferocious and we prayed that our baby was safe at home port. The screaming winds lasted for hours and hours. I prayed that it would end soon. We broke open the MREs and got a bite to eat. They were actually pretty good. Sometime early Sunday morning we lost power and the TV signal. We finally dozed off to sleep late Sunday night.

After the Storm

Early Monday morning about dawn we awoke to quite outside. There was no wind to hear. A look outside presented clear skies. There was a lot of damage in the area with trees down and a few roofs missing. We decided that we must get back home immediately to survey the damage.

We left our storm location and hit the road. It should be only about a 30-45 minute ride if the roads were passable.

We hit the highway and there was debris all over. We were one of just a few vehicles on the
road at that early hour so we were forging a new path. You had to drive defensively as trees and debris were scattered all over the place.

As we got closer to the coast and near our home, there were light poles down, wires hanging across the road, trees across the road and water several feet pouring over the roadway from the Everglades. It was a mess to say the least. There was even two electrical transformers in the middle of the road that had been blown over by the winds. We had to do a lot of creative driving to negotiate the devastation. My heart just sank as I witnessed the destruction we passed knowing that our baby could not have survived such a storm. The stress level was huge!

Finally I could see our marina just up ahead. The marina motel had survived and that was a good sign. I pulled into the drive, stopped my car and got out. I walked back to my wife in her car behind me and asked her not to follow me but let me check out the boat first. I did not want her to be shocked.

I walked around the corner of the hotel building and looked towards the marina. I could not believe it! The Patricia Ann was just as we left her….she looked to be fine. I summoned my wife to come on and we drove to the parking lot.

We inspected the Patricia Ann and found some damage but nothing serious. I inspected Miss Pat and she was in bad shape; the storm had taken a toll on her.

The Recovery Begins

So the rebuilding began.

We had no utilities at all. There was no power, no water, no open restaurants, no internet, no radio, no TV….nothing. We were truly off the grid. We were now in full time survival mode.

We spoke with some dock mates and they were all in the same situation. But my prepping skills had us covered somewhat. I had taken time to fill the Patricia Ann’s water tank before the storm so we did have running water and the boats generator had about 400 gallons of diesel available. So in just a bit we had fresh water to drink and electrical power. The Patricia Ann’s air conditioning made life a bit more bearable.

Our boat’s refrigeration had been knocked out so there was no fresh vegetables or meats to eat. But we had the MREs and the dried fruits and vegetables. We ate them and shared some with our neighbors, some of whom had no food at all.

The cleaning up and damage assessment began. My to-do list was at 2 pages. There was debris everywhere and the docks had suffered some damage. All of the residents teamed together and helped each other knowing that help was on the way.

At about day 3 after landfall no agency had even been to check on us. We were alone. A Navy helicopter did fly over a few times and we tried to wave him down to no avail. So we continued to persevere and do the best we could with what we had.

So week one passed with no outside help. Week two passed…..no outside help. All of us dock people just helped each other and shared resources. Week three came and went….where is FEMA or the State of Florida? All said and done, we finally got power back after 20 days, telephone service back after about 21 days and finally the Internet service came back. Where was the help President Trump said would be there?

Me, I personally never had faith that any government help would ever be there to offer a hot cup of coffee, a hot meal or a bottle of water. You can’t count on government help…..you can only count on yourself and close friends to help in a crisis.

So as I pen this article it’s been 27 days since Irma made landfall. The storm made landfall near Everglades City, just a few miles south of us. I have made a lot of repairs to the Patricia Ann and yesterday I rebuilt Miss Pat. We obtained new refrigeration and yesterday I restocked our boat with fresh produce and meats. Life is slowly getting back to normal and the stress has diminished significantly.

Lessons Learned

1. Always be prepared with food, water, and essential items on hand for survival.
2. Make a plan for emergencies be it a hurricane, earthquake, ice storm or whatever your area might bring. Put your plan in writing so you can refer to it.
3. Plan for emergencies and know what to do if the unthinkable happens.
4. Do not assume you will get outside help. You will probably be on your own.

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2 Responses to Lessons Learned from Hurricane Irma

  1. Darzak says:

    ” Me, I personally never had faith that any government help would ever be there to offer a hot cup of coffee, a hot meal or a bottle of water. You can’t count on government help…..you can only count on yourself and close friends to help in a crisis. ”

    Probably the most important sentence in the article. It would behoove us to not only keep it in mind, but pass it on to those sheep in our circle of acquaintances.

    Of course, I and many here understand we have the greatest Resource of all: Our relationship with Jesus Christ, our Saviour. He is available at all times, not just during a crisis.

  2. # 1 NWO Hatr says:

    State of emergency already declared in 4 states for Nate.

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