Before I get into my Hurricane Ian story, I’d like to go ahead and say this right off the bat: I’m okay and my family and I are all in one piece. This delay in posting has been more due to just wanting a few days to decompress from my experiences of the last week or so. But now I think I feel ready to write about it. I warn you…this is going to be a long post, so bear with me!
So, I think I’m going to format this by talking about each day, from when the storm started approaching on Wednesday evening to when our power finally came back on Sunday evening.
Wednesday, 28 September
As Hurricane Ian made his approach towards the southwest coast of Florida, we were in the midst of trying to make sure that we were prepared as much as possible before sunset. As our house faces west rather than north (the direction from where hurricane winds typically make their approach), we didn’t board up our windows (since the winds coming in from the north and east would typically hit the north and south ends of our house, which do not have windows), but we did have to make sure that any objects that could potentially be blown around (including our trash can) were placed next to the south end of the house. (Basically, since a hurricane rotates counterclockwise, the winds in a hurricane rotate from east to west and from north to south around the eye. Placing those objects at the south end of the house makes that end of the house a wind buffer.) I spent most of that evening watching local news coverage, which preempted all of the shows I’d normally watch anyway.
At this point, even though I’ve experienced hurricanes before, I am almost always a bundle of nerves. For me, knowing what to expect during a storm helps relieve some of that nervousness. One of the local news stations (specifically Orlando’s CBS affiliate, WKMG) has a segment called “Talk to Tom” during hurricane coverage where viewers can call into the station and ask the chief meteorologist, Tom Sorrells, their hurricane questions and how it might affect their area (or their loved ones; one caller actually called in from South Dakota, and he was concerned about his brother who lived in Lakeland, which is the southern part of Central Florida, in Polk County which is more rural compared to some other parts of the region). So I ended up watching this for a couple of hours until I went to bed that night. At that point we still had power, until…
Thursday, 29 September
5:00 am: I wake up in the middle of the night and I realize that our power has been knocked out. I get my phone (whose camera flash doubles as a flashlight) and make my way to the living room so I can grab my dad’s phone and bring it to him in case he needs a flashlight.
A few hours later, day breaks and it’s still raining and windy, with some pretty nasty gusts. Fast forward to early that afternoon, the rain has largely moved out, but it’s still windy. My dad decides to try and get his generator going. He realizes the battery on it needs to be jumped. So we find the jumper cables and he has to pull his Jeep out to turn it around and use its battery to help jumpstart the battery on the generator. He connects the jumper cables and successfully jumps the generator’s battery. But when he goes to start it…first the engine backfires. He figures the spark plugs may need to be pulled and cleaned. He does that, and reinstalls the spark plugs. Tries to start it again. The engine is no longer backfiring, but he also can’t get it to run for more than a few seconds. He decides to try and clean the engine’s air filter. Cleans it, and reinstalls it, and tries starting the generator again. Same result. He thinks about asking to borrow our neighbor’s generator (our neighbor is on a different power grid from us and didn’t lose power this time), but decides against it. Around this time, we notice that as the storm has started moving away from Florida’s Atlantic coast (for reference, we actually live inland, but we live closer to the Atlantic coast of Florida than to the Gulf coast), a chill has also settled into the air, one that I’ve only felt after one other hurricane: Hurricane Wilma.
As my dad continues to try and figure out why his generator won’t start, he enlists me to hold his Jeep’s hood up to keep the wind gusts from blowing it down. There were a couple of instances where I had to hold on with both hands to keep it from moving around too much. My brother, who lives on the other end of town, has at this point been out with his kids in a nearby town (I can’t remember the exact reason why), but my dad invites him to come over for a little bit so that he can at least see his grandbabies. My brother obliges, and they end up spending an hour or so with us. My nieces are quite active this whole time, and my brother is holding on to my nephew (to keep him from running around and tearing everything up). But it was really nice to see them. Our neighbor brings over some grilled ribs (it’s just him, his girlfriend, and his youngest daughter living there, so he sometimes will deliberately cook extra food and bring it over to us, even though we never ask him to), and even though they’re a little tough and we have almost no daylight left, we eat the freshly-cooked ribs.
Earlier in the afternoon, family friends of ours that we’d only recently got back into contact with (for reference, my dad’s first phone call with them took place the same day I’d completely lost my voice due to COVID-induced laryngitis, so this was early July) invited my dad and I over, initially to spend the night although my dad just wanted to sleep in his own bed, so it turned into just an evening visit for a few hours. They still had power because they live in a newer subdivision in a nearby town that has underground power lines (therefore not as likely to lose power due to falling trees in a storm like this). It was a nice distraction from the power outage, although I will admit that I did feel some anxiety every time they all started talking politics (my dad knows which way I lean, but we don’t really talk about it all that much; most of our family friends and extended family don’t know, though). Their wifi had went out, so the only real distraction there was their cat, a floofy black cat who had a name as spicy as his attitude. The TL;DR version of this: he loves feet and nips at people. His name was, fittingly, Pepper. It was the first time I’d really gotten to pet a cat since my mom’s cat passed away about 8 years ago. (Roxy tends to chase off any cats that come onto the property, although she didn’t mind my mom’s cat all that much. I guess she saw her as “her” cat. To be honest, my mom’s cat disliked the dog more than the dog disliked the cat.) We stayed for about 4 hours, just talking. We went back home around midnight, and went to sleep not long afterwards.
(On the way up to their house, we managed to see what the culprit behind our power going out was: a fallen oak tree a couple of streets away from us that had taken out at least a couple of power lines and a cable.)
Friday, 30 September
The next morning, my dad resumed trying to get his generator started, to no avail. At this point he ended up admitting defeat, and would end up asking his neighbor to lend him his generator later that day. I think I slept in until almost noon.
About an hour after I got up, my dad decided he wanted to go for a drive. Usually when he does this on one of his days off, I’m still asleep and he leaves while I sleep in, so I don’t usually join him on these drives. But I really needed to get out of the house, and he let me come along. Our first stop was to the local Dunkin to order some iced coffee (specifically their iced caramel macchiato) and some “Wake-up Wraps” (which are a fried egg, a couple slices of bacon, and some cheese inside a folded mini tortilla). Then we went to where my dad typically gets his car washed. After that we went over to I-4 eastbound and drove towards Daytona Beach. The eastern end of I-4 joins up with I-95 and you take that a few miles northbound to get to Daytona Beach proper (and yes, the city itself is named Daytona Beach). Just a little ways into town is a place called Buc-ee’s, which is sort of a convenience store/truck stop-style establishment on steroids, except they only allow passenger cars. It’s basically a tourist attraction in and of itself, and one of just two locations in Florida (the other is in St. Augustine, which is maybe an hour or two north of Daytona Beach). We actually only spent around 15 minutes or so in the store, and there were so many people there it felt a little overwhelming for me anyway. (My dad has been to this particular location before, which is open 24 hours a day, but he’s usually there at maybe 4 or 5 in the morning.) We mostly ended up getting food (a couple of barbecued sandwiches for each of us, one with pulled pork, the other with barbecued brisket; a chef’s salad for each of us, some pecan pralines, a box of fudge, and some yogurt-coated almonds) as well as some batteries to power a portable radio we had at the house.
We headed towards home on U.S. Highway 92. While we hadn’t seen as much in the way of flooding or downed trees along I-4, Highway 92 was a different story. The stretch of road leading to the on-ramp to I-4 was completely flooded, to the point where traffic had to be redirected and a portion of the eastbound stretch of road was turned into a two-lane road. I actually took some video of the flooding (my dad’s car has two USB ports to connect charging cables to, which is mostly how my dad and I recharged our phones during the power outage at home), but my current WordPress plan doesn’t allow me to directly upload video, so you’ll have to make do with a couple of screenshots I took.
Along this road and where it joins Highway 17 to become 17-92, there were a bunch of traffic lights that weren’t working. Once we got to our hometown, only one traffic light was not working, but most of the other ones through town seemed to be functioning. We got home, and then once our neighbor got home from work, he and my dad brought his generator over (just across the street from us), and set it up in our backyard. Out came the extension cords and power strips, and we managed to get our refrigerator, living room lights, and our TV connected to the generator (through the extension cords and power strips). There weren’t any issues with this generator…at first.
Refrigerator-wise, our frozen food stayed frozen (because we hardly opened either the fridge or freezer), and we only lost some dairy and leftovers when it came to the fridge. And that’s even with all the generator issues.
Saturday, 1 October
This was a recurring theme on Saturday and Sunday: The neighbor’s generator didn’t want to behave itself.
Saturday morning, my dad went to Dunkin and got us coffee and breakfast food (those Wake-up Wraps I mentioned, as well as their sourdough breakfast sandwich, which is bacon, eggs, and cheese in toasted sour bread). For lunch I had the salad I had gotten from Buc-ee’s the day before. (I had eaten my pulled pork sandwich the previous evening and would eat my brisket sandwich later on Saturday. Both were quite good, even though I had to eat the brisket sandwich cold.)
Let’s see…managing a period in a dark bathroom with no air conditioning is no fun at all. And I was cramping, too. I ended up having to take a nap while waiting for the ibuprofen I’d taken to kick in.
While all of this was going on, our neighbor’s generator also kept shutting off randomly. My dad couldn’t quite figure out the issue, and kept having to adjust the choke to even keep it running. (And this was even with it filled up with gas.)
After one such shutoff in the early evening, my dad decided to go for another drive. This time we went on I-4 westbound toward Orlando (where he also works). We managed to leave right as it was getting around sunset, and it was absolutely gorgeous.
(I should mention that all of this marked the first time I’d gone more than one town over from mine since before the pandemic began in early 2020. Remember that this was around the time that my mom had entered the final stages of her fight with Alzheimer’s disease and she was already bedridden by the time the pandemic was declared in early March. I wasn’t going much of anywhere, even without a pandemic in play.)
We ended up taking the path that my dad normally takes to work in the evenings (he works as a ride and show technician at one of the theme parks in the Orlando area). On the circuit back up I-4 eastbound to head toward home, we ended up taking the I-4 Expressway (which is normally a toll road running between the main lanes of I-4 open only to SunPass holders, but due to the hurricane all tolls were temporarily suspended statewide, so anyone could drive on the expressway at no charge). It was, maybe, 10:00 pm when we got home. We tried running the generator again, but it wasn’t cooperating with us, so we ended up turning on the portable radio I’d gotten a battery for the previous day, and we just chilled in the living room for a couple of hours with the radio playing. My dad played around with his phone, but I kept powering mine down to preserve the battery until I could charge it again. We both went to bed around midnight, although I did stay up about another half hour reading via the reading light my brother and sister-in-law had given me for Christmas last year.
Sunday, 2 October
When we headed out for our drive to Orlando the previous evening, we noticed that where the tree had fallen and taken out the power lines in our grid, workers had set up barricades and were directing traffic away from the work site. This meant that the fallen tree had been cleared out and they were getting ready to repair the power lines. However, this repair work wouldn’t actually start until Sunday morning.
We got some coffee and wraps from Dunkin that morning, and throughout much of the afternoon we were still dealing with generator issues, but my dad managed to get it restarted by adjusting the choke on the restart. He decided to try and get some more gas for his gas cans and I stayed home this time. Generator ended up shutting off again while he was gone, which was maybe for an hour.
When he got back, he came back with a little bit of good news: there were power company-branded pickup trucks at the repair site. Usually, when that happens, that means that the actual repair work is close to done and the supervisors are there to make sure everything they’ve needed to do is done and that everything is connected safely before they finally get that power grid back online.
Our power finally came back on around 5:45 pm on Sunday, in the middle of our fourth day without power. Not the longest power outage we’d experienced (that was after Hurricane Charley in 2004, during which we were without power for two weeks), but no walk in the park either. I could finally breathe a sigh of relief.
My dad actually ended up going to work that night, despite having been up since 9:00 or so that morning. We both ended up getting nice, hot showers that evening, and my hair was sorely in need of a good wash.
Now, while all of the above is my own story, not everyone was so lucky in other parts of the state.
The Ft. Myers area was hit especially hard and got the brunt of Hurricane Ian’s category 4 winds. My mom’s best friend from her high school years usually spends the winters in the area with her longtime partner (who was her high school boyfriend many years ago; they broke up, she married another man and had five children with him, and then after she and her husband divorced she reconnected with the old boyfriend and they’ve been together ever since). Luckily, they were not down here when the storm hit, they were in New Hampshire (where they live the rest of the year) and weren’t due to come down until later this month. Sadly, their Ft. Myers home was one of many in the area destroyed by the hurricane. Their future in Florida is uncertain, but at least they are okay.
An old friend of mine, who I’ve known since middle school, recently got married in August. Her husband, who is a volunteer firefighter and went down to South Florida to aid in the first response effort, proposed to her on the beach in Ft. Myers back in May. (She posted the video taken of the proposal, and it was during a beautiful sunset right around her birthday.) The beachside was so vibrant and full of life just a few months ago. That same beachside is now unrecognizable. It will likely take years to rebuild. It’s sad to see how hardly that city was hit.
Another old friend of mine, who I’ve known even longer, evacuated with her two kids from South Florida to her parents’ house in Central Florida while her husband and dog stayed behind. Thankfully their hometown is a bit north of Ft. Myers (kind of halfway in between Tampa and Ft. Myers) and their house didn’t experience the same kind of damage, but both her house and her parents’ house in Central Florida did end up dealing with some flooding in their neighborhoods.
Several other friends of mine dealt with this storm, too, and all of them got through it safely.
This all serves as a bittersweet reminder of just how powerful nature can be.
Thankfully, all the people close to me and important to me are okay. And I am doing okay. I hope you never have to go through a hurricane, but if you do, stay safe during and try to stay positive after. That’s one thing a lot of us have gotten good at over the years here in Florida.