Hunkered Down for Irma

Hannah Fraher '19
Guest Columnist

Tampa, Florida is my hometown. My family still lives there, so when I saw the sudden westward shift of Hurricane Irma on the Friday before it made landfall in the U.S., I was afraid. Afraid for my family, afraid for my childhood home, and afraid for the city I love most. Late that night, I purchased a one-way ticket home for Saturday morning, to be with my family, help them prepare, and assist with the impending aftermath. I then ran down to the Wal-Mart in Charlottesville and bought supplies, as Tampa had effectively been cleared out since the Wednesday prior, including duct tape, walkie-talkies, a weather radio, and landline phones. 

 Photo courtesy of Hannah Fraher. 

Photo courtesy of Hannah Fraher. 

Upon flying in Saturday, I was immediately put to work covering all the windows of our home and moving valuables and breakables to inner hallways in case the windows didn’t hold and wind tore through the house. We cleared out the closet under our stairs and set it up to be as comfortable as possible in case we didn’t feel safe sleeping upstairs. We stocked the pantry with canned and boxed foods that didn’t need to be cooked before eating, and froze water-filled baggies in order to have as much ice as possible – fully expecting that we would lose power, and possibly for many days. I filled every jar and jug I could find with water, having been warned of the likelihood that we could lose sewer service and be put under a boil-water ban. 

After all of our preparing we sat back and watched and waited for Irma to arrive. By Saturday night the eye of the hurricane was projected to pass right over our house as a Category Three the following evening, which means sustained winds of up to 130 miles per hour. Reports also came flooding in around that time of the devastation in the eastern Caribbean, and we began to lose communication with the Florida Keys, as the hurricane was beginning its landfall in the US. We didn’t get much sleep that night.

The next day, we were glued to the television, watching the bi-hourly updates from the hurricane center on the latest projected path. As the day progressed, the hurricane swerved a bit east and began to unravel. By the time the hurricane got to Tampa, it was a Category One. We slept soundly through the night and awoke to mostly superficial damage in our neighborhood. Some large limbs fell from the tree next to my house and scraped the façade on the way down, but there was no major damage done. Within a day, landscapers had cleaned up all of the branches and leaves strewn about, and our neighborhood appeared to be back to normal. 

 Photo courtesy of Hannah Fraher. 

Photo courtesy of Hannah Fraher. 

We were lucky. Many people throughout Florida are still without power and water. Some of them live just a few minutes down the road from my family. Our house had never lived through a hurricane before, and stood up well on this occasion. Even though my family has lived in Florida for more than thirty years, none of them had ever lived through a hurricane before, and they also stood up well. 

People will complain that Hurricane Irma was over-hyped, since the actual outcome wasn’t nearly as bad as projected for Florida, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. This hurricane broke several records, and there are still several weeks left in hurricane season this year. The worst may still be yet to come.

 

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hef8ep@virginia.edu