Standing at the front door, there was a churning in the pit of my stomach, a twisting resignation that I was saying goodbye to everything on the other side of that locked door. What was once a storm passing us far out in the Atlantic was now predicted to make landfall right on our coast, a coast one mile away from my front door.
Now, before you think me melodramatic, let me assure you I believed what they were saying on the news channels. It was a Category 4 Hurricane and it had already done tremendous damage in Haiti and the Bahamas. While I do realize that living conditions are vastly different in both places compared to ours, I’ve seen what lesser storms have done to our area. I lived through it in 2004 and I didn’t want to do it again. Did I think the media was being a little dramatic in their pushing people to leave the barrier islands? A little. But sometimes you have to be that way in order to get people to listen to you. I do think some of the nasty comments about body bags and newscasters telling citizens they’d be dead if they stayed was uncalled for and inappropriate, but the intensity of the storm alone made me feel that under their hysteria was truth.
Living in Satellite Beach, part of the barrier islands, we are one of the first to get the evacuation orders. We were already scheduled to be at Indie Bookfest in Orlando, so our evacuation plans were made for us. So, on top of hauling all the yard furniture and pool paraphernalia inside, we had to pack and prepare for a four day author event. We hauled pictures, paintings, and keepsakes over to our son’s house to store in case the house flooded, bought water and propane for the eventuality that we would be returning without power or water, and loaded the van with luggage, books, swag, and whatever else would fit to take with us and out of the storm’s path, including all of our twelve-year-old’s favorite stuffed animals. I felt sorry for the shocks on the van.
Up until Thursday morning, all of our neighbors were staying to weather it out. However, as the storm drew closer and threats of what we should expect grew grimmer, everyone else started boarding up and packing up. No one was going to risk it, not with the way it was being portrayed. No one seemed hopeful. At least they had been able to board up their windows. We had no plywood, no sandbags, no shutters. All we could do was hope for the best, even though we were being promised the worst. Once we were loaded up, I stood in front of the door, thinking of everything we were unable to take with us and what it would mean to start over if hurricane Matthew was as bad as they were predicting. With a deep breath, resigned to the inevitable, I put a confident smile on my face and slid into the driver’s seat, my focus turned towards the author’s event as the distraction needed for getting through the next three days.
We arrived early and as luck would have it, the floor we were staying on had a lounge with a television already tuned into the Weather Channel. We tossed our bags into the room, emptying the van of everything we had brought because Orlando was still expected to get some pretty heavy wind and rain and I wasn’t sure if the parking lot would flood or not, and parked our nervous bodies in front of the television. We’ve never felt so disorganized. The girls are used to unpacking everything, but half of what we brought, we never intended to load into the van. The room was a physical example of what was in our minds and hearts as we watched the news—chaos.
Several people gathered around the television, people we would get to know very well over the next few days, authors and readers alike, listening to the updates as we tried to take our minds off what we couldn’t control. We were also glued to Facebook and the City of Satellite Beach City Manager page as Courtney Barker kept us up-to-date on the happenings beach side, as well as the Brevard County Emergency Management page with the latest on local developments. We stayed that way until about one in the morning when our eyes could no longer focus. Yet, sleep didn’t last long.
Chad, our eldest who remained well inland during the storm, texted about three-thirty that morning to tell us the winds were gusting and he could hear the house making noises. The screen structure around the pool where he was staying was already gone and the cable was out, so he was only getting updates from his phone. I told the girls what was going on as I slipped back into some clothes and headed for the door. I wanted to see what the news was saying as Hurricane Matthew bore down on my home. Alone, I sat in front of the TV, texting the updates to Chad, a little relieved that the storm wobbled to the east, the eye staying off the Space Coast. I wasn’t alone long, however, as about thirty minutes later the girls sluggishly came around the corner, worried because I hadn’t returned. For another forty-five minutes we sat and watched the weather updates as I texted our boys who remained behind.
Finally, the worst had passed and both sons were all right. Fearing now for what damage had been caused, the four of us returned to bed, hopefully, for another couple of hours of sleep.
The next morning, amid writing workshops and pacing the hotel corridors, we heard from our neighbors. One even sent pictures. Our City Manager, Courtney Barker, even went out and videoed our city, going up and down streets so that those who had not made it back across the causeways could see the damage and even quite possibly their homes. We were without power, but the worst that happened to our home was some down fencing, some broken tree branches, and some damaged screen. The house was in perfect shape. No flooding, no broken windows, and no missing shingles. By the time the author event was over and we were able to return home, we even had our power restored. We dodged the devastating bullet of Hurricane Matthew.
Not everyone was so lucky as the storm followed a new path and ripped through Flagler Beach, St. Augustine and into the Carolinas. They bore the brunt of what was supposed to hit us and our thoughts go out to those who are still, over a week later, dealing with the aftermath.
The sad part of everything is that, even though we were spared, even though it could have quite possibly been us who took the hit, there will be people who will ignore the call to evacuate and prepare for the next storm, thinking the news mere theatrics. Even worse was the anger people expressed because they didn’t get hit by the hurricane, the complaints of preparing and evacuating when in some places it was unnecessary. Instead of being grateful that they were spared and the hurricane veered at the last minute, they were belligerent and obnoxious. They were lucky this time; they may not be so lucky the next. Just because they dodged this bullet doesn’t mean that the next won’t have their name on it. Stay vigilant. Stay prepared. It’s better to give in to the over-dramatics and live to complain about it, then to suffer the consequences of ignoring an evacuation command. We were lucky. This time.