| By Kathryn Deen |
How are you doing post-Irma? I’m still processing it. After 10 consecutive nights of hosting power-deprived guests, I hadn’t made time to reflect on the magnitude of it. And while I was blessed enough to keep my home and my power with no physical damage, I still consider Irma one of the most traumatic experiences of my life.
Initially, I feared for my parents’ lives in Davie (Ft. Lauderdale) and much of my family in South Florida, as the storm trajectory first dotted the east coast.
When the path shifted to the west coast, I feared for my sister and her fiancé in Tampa; and my husband’s family in New Port Richey.
Finally, as it veered straight up the middle of Florida, it was time to fear for my husband and myself in Clermont and my Central Florida family.
I considered myself one of the earlier preparers, but a full week before the storm, I couldn’t find bottled water anywhere. I ended up filling bathtubs and jars at home just in case. I stocked up on batteries and non-perishable food. I even bought those plastic gas containers for the first time and loaded up on extra gasoline. I had my “safe room” stocked with everything imaginable.
But nothing can fully prepare you for the moment you learn that the eye of the storm will be ripping through your city.
Shortly after 1 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 11, I awoke to calls and texts from concerned family urging me to evacuate, jolting me into panic. The eye was on its way to Clermont at 2:08 a.m., the news reported. Our designated storm shelter was walkable, less than a half mile away, but the winds whipped over 60 mph and the rain slammed the windows like I’d never quite heard before. I considered it unsafe to walk or drive at that point.
Should we have evacuated? Would our windows hold up? Why hadn’t the apartment complex boarded them? What if a tree bashed through a window and everything inside became a projectile? My mind raced with worst-case scenarios. God, help me.
I rolled out of bed onto the floor and tried to catch my breath. I crawled into the bathroom, body trembling, shut the door, flicked the light on and curled up in fear. My heart pounded at a frightening pace. My calve muscles spasmed. My stomach twisted. I thought I might get sick. Never had I felt so vulnerable, so powerless, so afraid for my life.
All I could do was talk myself through some deep yoga breathing. I calmed down enough to reach into the closet and unroll two sleeping bags to line the tile floor. I uncurled myself and clung to my phone like a lifeline, hands still shaking, as my friend who lives nearby and I texted to comfort each other. My husband and in-laws were sleeping, and I didn’t want them to have to be awake for the worst of it. I wished I were still asleep.
My cats, on the other hand, those nocturnal bundles of love, followed me into the bathroom and administered a strong dose of fur therapy as I stroked their backs.
The lights flickered at least a handful of times and I kept bracing and telling myself the power would be going out, but it never did.
I scrolled through Facebook and weather apps and sites on my iPhone and kept hitting “refresh” as I watched the path and read the wind speeds over and over and over, glued to the updates. Irma looked so massive on the map. The size comparisons to Hurricane Andrew didn’t help, either. I kept reminding myself that God’s bigger than any storm, any place.
As 2:08 a.m. approached, I practically held my breath. I listened intently, wondering, waiting, bracing for impact…
By 2:30, I decided we’d probably be OK if nothing awful had happened yet and the eye had passed – but I heard outer bands can be even worse. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and felt my body relax a bit by 3 a.m. My adrenaline began to wane, and eventually I fell asleep on that bathroom floor.
The rising sun signaled to me that the night of terror officially ended. My family awoke and we were too curious not to walk the neighborhood to survey the damage. It looked like a movie set after King Kong had ripped trees up out of the ground and threw them back down. Some towering oaks landed on cars; others, on a trailer hitch. Roof shingles peppered the grass. One tree just outside my bedroom window had snapped, thankfully in the opposite direction. I was relieved but shaken by the almosts, the could’ves, the close calls.
In the coming days, as we cautiously began to brave the roads, we saw downed powerlines and broken streetlights, blasted signs and collapsed fences. We saw giant branches and trees down all around.
Winn-Dixie on Highway 50 was eerily quiet as I walked around. Empty shelves abounded where dairy, eggs, frozen food usually went. The cashier explained that the store had lost power and had to throw it all away. As we drove out, we saw a dumpster overflowing with colorful boxes of once-frozen meals – and a person digging through for something to eat. My heart sank.
This storm has shaken our town, but we are rebuilding. I saw apartments open their clubhouses for folks to charge devices and cool off in some air conditioning. I saw churches and families gather to volunteer their time to help clean up and donate supplies. I saw people bringing cleaned laundry to powerline workers who came in from out of state. Where there was darkness, in came the light.
I’m proud of this city for how its people came together through the storm. No matter where the hurricane trajectories go, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than Clermont. Wishing you all continued healing. The storm may be over, but I think it’s OK if, like me, you’re not over it.
Kathryn Deen is the founder and editor of Clermont Magazine, a Clermont resident and an award-winning professional journalist.
A closer look at the damage around North Clermont: