The Irma Saga, Part II: The Waiting is the Hardest Part

After this particular part of the story, I could not get that Tom Petty song out of my head.  Which is why I referenced it in the title.

At this point, I should warn you that I don’t have a very linear narrative here…I will jump back and forth in time at points…just bear with me.

One of the biggest things we went through in the aftermath of Irma was one that a good portion of the state of Florida went through: being without power.  After going almost the entire storm without losing power (save for a few flickers throughout the day and evening), Irma finally knocked out our power on her way out of my hometown, at about 6:00 Monday morning, on September 11.  Yes, this is obviously a date of significance here, and because of Irma, this was actually the first time since that tragic morning in 2001 that the memory of those events didn’t really cross my mind (and having watched those attacks play out on live TV, the memories of those images are still ingrained in my mind all these years later…I can still replay those moments and memories in my head, which is why I haven’t felt much of a need to rewatch footage of those attacks).  We were just focused on trying to clean up and get our post-hurricane plans in motion.

Dad set up our generator on our back porch area, and it was this generator that would become our sole power source for the next 5 days.  We got this generator more than a decade ago after the nightmare that was the Triumvirate of Hurricanes in 2004, an experience which I discussed in detail in my last entry, The Irma Saga, Part I: Possibly the Longest Weekend of My Life So Far. Since we’ve gotten this generator, Irma has marked only the second time we have had to use it (the first time was after Hurricane Matthew, which knocked out our power for about 36 hours last year).  Out came the extension cords and power strips, and with a few configurations, we were able to use it to power the following: our refrigerator, the window unit air conditioner in the master bedroom (which my dad normally uses to keep himself from sweating profusely when he sleeps, a condition I myself seem to have inherited), a shop fan (which produces a fantastic cooling current, I must say), a pedestal fan, the living room TV and its associated devices, and an auto shop light that would serve as both a bathroom and kitchen light and a spare outlet for our coffee brewer or our microwave.

Now, about 6 million customers lost power because of Irma, and with household estimates taken into account, somewhere around 15 million people were without power.  That amounts to about three-quarters of the entire state that lost power during Irma.  Crews from all over the country came in to give our own linemen extra sets of hands to try and get the state back online as soon as possible.  We knew we were gonna have to be patient.  Sometimes our patience was tested, and that’s partly due to how my neighborhood was built.

My neighborhood is unusual in that not all of the houses on my street are on the same power grid.  The houses on my street were not all built at the same time.  My street is a short little street that runs from north to south in a straight line, with about 10 houses lining the western side of the street, and my house is the only one on the eastern side, just a little over halfway down if you go from north to south.  The north and south ends intersect with one street each, with the street on the northern end taking a path straight to the local US highway, and the one on the southern end connects with another street that also takes a path straight to the same highway.  Right next to my house is another intersection with another small street that ends in a cul-de-sac next to some woods, through which a trail runs that connects the end of that street with the corner of another nearby one.  Now, the houses on the southern end of the street, all the way up to my house, were built first, and they share a power grid with the houses that are on the street that intersect with the southern end of my street.  Our neighbor’s house, just across the street and one house to the right from my house’s vantage point, is one of the first houses on a separate power grid, which includes the little side street that intersects near my house and the street that intersects with the northern end of my street.

What all this means is that we didn’t all lose our power the same way.  My neighbor that I mentioned?  His loss of power was likely caused by either a blown transformer or a downed tree at the northern end of our street.  Since we’re on a different grid, that had no effect on our power.  However…the street that the wooded trail connects to?  A large oak tree managed to fall on that street, which is what knocked out our power.  This was gonna take much more than 36 hours to fix.

During this whole thing, I did not leave my street, so my dad’s updates from his drive home from work were my updates to the outside when it came to what was happening in my hometown.  He had Sunday off because of the storm, but was due to return Monday night.  However, I was so uneasy about how to run things that my dad decided to take Monday night off and return Tuesday.  Monday night I slept in my bed, while parents and the dog all slept in the master bedroom.  They got the air conditioner, set to a very cool 60 degrees, and I got the shop fan set up on my floor, all with the generator refueled and running through the night to power them.  The shop fan actually did help to relieve some of my sweating…much better than the very sweaty nights I would experience during a typical powerless night.  Tuesday, we were able to come up with a routine where my dad would refuel the generator before going to work, which would allow us to run the window unit while he was gone until about 7 or 8 in the morning, when it would run out of fuel.  (Not a long wait, as he typically gets home around 9:00 am.).  Tuesday  and Wednesday nights, I slept in the master bedroom and was able to keep my mom company, as she typically has night panics these days and doesn’t like to sleep alone.  (These nights, though, I wouldn’t go to bed until at least 11:00 pm so I could make sure our DVR programming recorded on time.)  The cool air helped me sleep with minimal to no sweating.  Thursday was my dad’s first night off from in his regular schedule, but I ended up sitting out in the living room to keep an eye on our back door, which had to be cracked open to allow the extension cords to run in from outside.  I tend to get very cautious when this happens, because I prefer all the doors to be locked at night.  I ended up trying to watch Frasier reruns until my dad woke me up at 4:00 am (he typically doesn’t sleep as much on his off nights because his internal clock is so used to him being active at night), so I got a few extra hours of sleep in the cold master bedroom.

How did we eat that week?  Well, with the power out, we had no use of our stove, which meant we couldn’t cook anything or even brew iced/sweet tea (which is my dad’s favorite thing to drink: he takes it barely sweetened, only about 1/3 cup of sugar per gallon, and with 5 tea bags steeping in the water, as he likes his tea strong).  We ended up eating mostly sandwiches, fast food burgers, and pizza that week.  When our power came back on, I was so glad to finally be able to use the stove again after a week!

On Wednesday, our neighbor knocked on our door that afternoon to inform us that his power was back on and that the crews had finally begun the process of clearing out the tree that had knocked out our own power.  Unfortunately, our power did not come back on that night.  The following day, my dad had not noticed any crews working in that area that morning, but were in another part of the neighborhood.  That afternoon, after a drive around the neighborhood, he did notice something in that area, though: a power pole had been installed, but had no line hung up (though the supplies were at the site).  I immediately perked up, because I knew it was only a matter of time before our power would be back on.  Sure enough, the new transformer and power line were installed the next day, and our power finally came back on at about 10:45 Friday morning…we were into our fifth day without power.  After turning off our generator, winding up the extension cords, putting the power strips back into their proper places, and all three of us each getting a good shower 🚿, we were finally able to go back to our normal routines and put the memories of Irma behind us.

Tomorrow will mark just three weeks since Irma, and it’s already feeling like a distant memory.  But as Floridians like myself have been reminded time and time again, just because the memories are distant doesn’t give us permission to become complacent about just of what Mother Nature is capable.  We Floridians have learned this in the wake of Andrew; of Charley, Frances, and Jeanne; of Wilma; of Matthew; and of Irma.  Outside of Florida, we humans have learned this lesson through Katrina and Sandy and Mitch…and even most recently through Hurricanes Harvey and Maria.  I hope those of you who live in hurricane-prone regions take this to heart.  Heed any warnings that are given, and take them seriously.  Don’t think that you can outsmart a hurricane…because you can’t.  You will save yourself a world of trouble, or even your life.

Now, I shall close this post with a clip of the song I referenced in the title, “The Waiting” by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, probably the most famous rock band to ever come out of the state of Florida (although Lynyrd Skynyrd is a close second).

Until next time…