It all started Labor Day weekend as we were tracking the path of Irma and wondering how it was going to go. We were down at Marco Island at my brother and sister-in-laws condo, talking about what we would do in the event of it coming our way, never realizing that it would soon become a reality. Our intent was that although they were leaving on Monday, Labor Day, we would remain at the condo until the end of the week for a quiet week of pool and beach! We had even contemplated a trip to Key West for a day with a stop in Islamorada at the Florida Keys Brewing Co. But, our plans were soon to change when as the day went along and Irma inched closer and closer to Florida and in particular The Keys and Marco.
Tues. morning we received an e-mail from our landlord saying he wanted to storm shutters put up. At that point we decided the best thing to do was to close up the condo as best we could and head back home. By the time we finished up on Tuesday at Marco they had already put in a voluntary evacuation from the island. Here we go. We headed home and tried to decide what to do. On encouragement, and I mean ENCOURAGEMENT, from our sons and daughter-in-laws we decided that we would shutter up and head north to Ohio. But, we weren’t really sure when we would leave.
As Wednesday morning went on we decided it best to leave that evening. It was an incredibly stressful time trying to decide what to take, what to secure, where to put things, etc. Jon installed the shutters on the lower level and our maintenance was to return on Thursday morning to do the upper level. I removed all of our most important pictures from the walls and shelves, wrapped them and photo albums in bags, and placed them in inner closets. The patio stuff all came in the house or in the garage. So with some of our belongings, clothes for about a week, a cooler filled with food and 2 cases of water we headed out at 5:00 pm into the great beyond, never knowing what lie ahead! We thought we were getting a head start on the traffic, only to be fooled by an immediate back up as we got closer to Sarasota. After much searching on the Marriott website, Expedia and hotels.com, I finally found a Marriott property in Macon, GA for the night. It took us well over 5 hours to just get up close to the Brooksville exit. The Google map was nothing but a red line. I’m thankful that we had PB&J packed to make sandwiches as we found one of the rare parking places in a rest area around 9:00 and made a quick sandwich and back on the road. At one point around Bushnell we decided to get off the interstate and take a back road. We were starting to get down around 1/4 tank of gas and even the gas stations off the beaten path were empty. Needless to say we were getting just a tad bit panicky. It took us forever just to get to Gainesville. We finally found gas just north of Gainesville. Whew! We took the back road all the way up to Alachua where we picked up 75 again. At this point our GPS was telling us we would reach our hotel in Macon about 4:30 am. No way! At 2:30 am we gave up at the Georgia Welcome center, pulled in, found one of the last spaces and parked along the interstate to sleep. Believe it or not we actually slept until about 5:30 am and then we were back on the road. It took us well past noon to reach just north of Atlanta and 22 hours to get to TN. At that point we decided to not to try to head all the way to OH that day and stayed in Berea, KY. A shower, hot dinner and bed sure felt good. What was to happen with Irma was still to be determined. The next two days were days of anxiety, anticipation, glued to TWC and CNN, panic, questions, and emotional roller coaster. Not only we were concerned about what we were going to get in Florida and how the rest of our family and friends were going to fare, but also all of our “families” in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Haiti and Cuba. More devastation they did not need.
Then it hit on Sunday. First the Keys, then Miami, then Marco, then Naples, then on up the coast into Lee County, Charlotte County and into the rest of the state. It encompassed all of Florida. We watched on pins and needles, watching the weather men get hammered by 142 mile an hour winds as it came into Naples and then the CNN reporter on the harbor in Punta Gorda. Will it be another Charley? Key West is basically non existent, Cudjoe Key was killed as was Big Pine Key. We didn’t know yet the status of Marco or our house. We stayed in for dinner, opened a bottle of wine and then absorb ourselves in Claire and Jamie in the season premier of Outlander. Not much else we could do but to wait. About 11 our neighbor texted and it appeared we had minimal damage. We were blessed by the fact the the storm started to lose it’s outer edge after it hit Marco. We were still to learn about Marco and the damage there.
Monday was a day of waiting to see what has happened and where will it go next. Reports of the damage on Marco started to come in. Will there be a storm surge or not. A 10-14 ft surge as anticipated would be devastating to the condo. As the day went on we discovered there was basically a 4 ft. surge, which spared the condo from any major damage. But reports started to come in about the rest of the condos. A/C units not working and fallen over, the island is a mess, Lee county is a mess. Millions of folks without power. We were blessed, never lost power and no structural damage to the house. Just lots of debris to clean up.
Tuesday was a day of preparing and deciding. We needed to decide where we were going to go next and prepare to go home. We knew that it was too early to head home. There are no supplies, gas is still limited, people still don’t have power, and the traffic is still horrendous on the route home. We decided to head East to our son and daughter-in-laws. What a great way to see our new granddaughter. So we headed to Lowe’s, bought two 5 gal. gas cans, cleaning supplies and a container just in case.
It felt wonderful to have a few days with our kids and granddaughter where we weren’t focused on the storm and the destruction left behind in our home state. But it was time to face reality and so on Saturday we headed home. We decided to head straight down I-95 hoping it wouldn’t be too bad as we got closer to Jacksonville. Traffic was steady, heavy in some spots, lots of cars that seem to be headed south. As we got out of NY and into NC and SC we did see more and more NY tags and FL tags. People obviously headed back home or early snowbirds headed south to check on their places.
Our trip home took two days. and on Sunday we were back on the road for our last leg of the journey. Traffic wasn’t bad, at times a little congested, but overall pretty steady. We stopped at the FL welcome center for a glass of FL OJ, which we thought we would never see again. It was packed and it was only their 2nd day back operational.
The further south and then west towards 75 we went we noticed more and more damage as we moved along. We are so thankful we waited the extra days before coming home. We stopped in Ocala for lunch at a McD’s and they only had 4 things to serve and paper bags to put stuff in. As we got onto 75 traffic became heavier to the point there were jam ups to the Turnpike split and then again to I-4 split. Gas was available but there were stations without some fuel in some of the pumps. South of Tampa traffic was a normal Sunday congestion. This time we were surprised to actually see less damage as we came south. Evidence of the path that lady took as most of the damage we saw seemed to be in the Ocala area. Our stop at Publix showed us shelves that were lean, no eggs, very little dairy.
We were thankful as we pulled in the drive around 5 and grateful to see everything still standing with very little to even clean up. By 9:00 we had the house back in order, patio’s hosed off and everything back on them. Thank you Jesus for your safety you provided us on this adventure, one I hope never to have to experience it again. It was something we’ve never seen in our entire lives. Thank you to everyone that prayed for us and for this wild ride that we were on.