Tuesday, September 19, 2017
MY FRIEND IRMA – NOT
Those of you who remember Ye Olde days of television may recall the show 'My Friend, Irma” which starred the curvaceous Marie Wilson as a likable ditsy blonde, a media persona copied countless times since then.
The Irma of this time was no friend to anyone in the path of a most destructive hurricane that caused staggering damage and left us with loss of life and countless heartbroken, homeless families in the U. S. Virgin Islands, our own Florida Keys and elsewhere. For those of us who were touched by it, we were given a lesson never to be forgotten.
By now you have either read about it or viewed television coverage of the sights and sounds of Irma so I won't go over it again, except to say there is unparalleled broadcast documentation and print coverage to satisfy the most demanding of crises historians. My intention here is to pass on just one small slice of the mess by recounting some of the personal experiences of two people on the ground who “dodged the bullet.” (This phrase by the way is used time and again by we lucky ones, although one commentator upgraded it to a “cannon shot.”)
We believe in prayer, and luck. Irma could have roared along the east coast of Florida. Or it could have gone straight up through the middle. She did neither, deciding to go north via our west coast. Waiting for a coming storm to make up its mind is stressful, just short of being hit directly. Ours is a very long but narrow peninsula, so the whole state was declared an emergency zone. Mandatory evacuation was ordered for our area and we had to retreat to the mainland to find shelter. Lucky again. We found a hotel with lights and water, and yes, even television. We considered ourselves blessed then, and looking back, still do. A few people decided to stay put in spite of the mandatory evacuation, although they were told directly and repeatedly that no first responders would be able to come back and help them if things got worse. The governor stated: “We can rebuild your house, but we cannot rebuild your life.” Some folks had no place to go, and no money on top of that. In heavily populated areas (ours was not one) shelters were set up where evacuees could find food and a place to sleep. Pictures of hundreds of cots holding exhausted survivors showed both safety and discomfort.
The hotel, our port in this storm, sheltered an array of personalities from all walks of life. The senior-seniors were true to the description “the Greatest Generation”, uniformly helping one another. We had dogs and cats among us (hearing barking dogs a few rooms down the corridor was a new nighttime experience.) There was a handful of youngsters with their mothers, a few of whom would have tested the patience of a saint by running here and there, falling down in public areas and generally meeting all qualifications for brathood. Some mothers with their “isn't he cute?” smugness did nothing to restore order. Otherwise during this 5 day trial there was a “we're all in this together” feeling about the experience. My wife and I reminded ourselves again of our good fortune for television coverage showed disaster and deprivation just ten miles away.
State and local authorities demonstrated in full measure how planning and coordinating efforts pay big dividends in terms of public safety. Performance by police and first responders was uniformly excellent.
Even if you were one of the more fortunate, Hurricane Irma reminded us not to take Florida's Endless Summer as a given. Be prepared and as in life, expect the unexpected.