Help for Puerto Rico and the Caribbean

I know first hand what it is like to live through the aftermath of a hurricane. But the devastation that was seen in the Caribbean last week from Hurricane Maria far surpasses anything I know. Our government is not moving fast enough to help the situation that is very quickly becoming cataclysmic.

If you want to help, I am posting a link that I donated to earlier today. Global Giving has a goal to raise $2 million dollars that will go directly to buying food, water, medicine and other emergency supplies for Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and other islands in the Caribbean that were toppled by the hurricane. They are vetted and legit.  As of this posting they have about $700,000 left to raise. Every little bit helps.

These people are hot, thirsty, hungry and afraid for their lives. Please consider donating.

Summer Swelter

Here is how we coped with the heat for the next few days:

  1. We moved as little as possible. (After taking down the storm shutters on the patio and office window we sat outside, trying to catch an elusive curl of breeze. There was none to be had–the world was still as death. )
  2. Drank as much water as possible. (We couldn’t get still water before the storm so we stocked up on bubbly water. Bubbly water is not fun to drink when it’s warm. But you do because it is 2 in the afternoon and you haven’t peed all day.)
  3. Went to bed when the sun set. (It got dark about 8:30 and the heat from even tealights was too great to stand. And that bed we were dying for when lying on the floor of the shelter? It was now akin to lying in an oven like a roast chicken.)

Then one night we were sleeping and I rolled over and opened my eyes a crack. I nearly shit myself when I saw the light coming from the living room. My first thought was, “There’s someone in the house.” But then it dawned on me that it was the little lamp we had purposely left on so we would know then the power was back on. It was about 10 pm and we both bolted from bed and ran for the air conditioner. Sweet relief!

We got our power back earlier than most, and we were really lucky we only had to live a few days in that exhausting heat. Some people today, eleven days after the storm, are still living in the stifling and oppressive darkness. The power company says they will have all power restored by the 22nd, which is still two days away and I feel for the folks who are last on the list.

But even though we had the power back on things were far from normal. There was a boil water notice in effect which meant you could take a shower, but good grief don’t open your mouth. No washing dishes, rinsing food, or disinfecting hands.

And then the sewers started to back up.

Florida is FLAT. And when water goes into the sewage system it is sent along to the treatment plants by a series of pump stations. But if the pump stations have no power then all the water (and the STUFF in the water) sits there and builds up until it’s exploding out of manhole covers and backing up into people’s drains.

Ew.

Gas was scarce. There were only a few stations with generators that had fuel and the lines were hours long. We waited in line for 2 hours one night to get filled up and missed curfew by 20 minutes. I have vague recollections of the gas shortages in the 70’s and the lines where people would shut off their engines to wait. This was no different.

The world, for a few days, was a scary place. But the thing is, this is how life is like for many people on this earth. I am thinking about the folks in Mexico City today digging out from a far worse disaster than we could imagine here. What’s a little heat compared to being trapped in the rubble of a collapsed building?

Things are getting back to normal. More than 80% of the power in my county has been restored. Gas and water are readily available again. The curfew and boil water notices have been lifted. But this whole experience shows me just how thin the veneer of civilization is. The power goes out and you’re left in miserable conditions. People get angry, hot, tired, and thirsty. Fist fights break out over gas. You can’t flush your toilet every time you use it.

A disaster like a hurricane puts things in perspective. I know exactly how lucky I am to have a roof over my head, food on my table, and running water and electricity. I hope I never take them for granted again.

The Day After the Storm

After our second night on the floor Irma had blown through Ocala as a Category 1 hurricane. It was very early when people started getting up and packing their things. Our classroom was interior with no windows and no power so it was very dark, but some came prepared with battery-powered lanterns and flashlights. Some used their cell phones to illuminate their way. In a matter of a couple of hours we were a few of the last people in the building. We couldn’t leave because we needed gas to go home.

We asked the police officer in the registration office and he told us gas was waiting on the Port of Tampa to open, they were bringing in fuel on tankers, but the winds had to fall below a certain level before they would open again. So we were pretty much stuck.

We had breakfast. We left our dungeon-like room for a exterior classroom with windows. Then we heard from the staff that they were consolidating everyone left in the cafeteria. We shuddered when we thought of the linoleum floor and our one blanket.

The power was still out but in the afternoon they got the generator working in the cafeteria and there was air conditioning once again. Both Kosta and I were beginning to crash hard–two nights on the unyielding floor with noisy neighbors left us sleep-deprived and longing for our bed. It was a long day of doing very little. I was too tired and distracted to read, and I ended up sitting and watching people while Kosta read my novel on his computer.

And then at dinner they made the announcement: due to the reopening of the high school on Wednesday, they were transferring all the remaining folks to a temporary shelter at Central Florida College.  Since we had a car and didn’t have to wait for the bus we jumped on it to get a choice spot of floor at the new place.

We were the second to arrive. We were shown to a large conference room that, mercifully, had air conditioning. There was a stage jutting out into the room and we found a tidy corner tucked behind it. We spread out our bedding and found that when we sat down we were quite hidden from the rest of the room. It was a nice as sleeping on a concrete floor in a roomful of strangers could be.

The Salvation Army gave us a hot meal and some reading material about Jesus. I was so grateful for the former I didn’t mind the latter at all. I looked around and saw a lot of people with nowhere to go. I knew that when we got gas again we would be on our way and how lucky we were to be in that position.

We settled down to sleep and groaned as our bruised tailbones hit the floor. It was a long night–well, not really–it just felt long. We were up before the dawn and out on our way to find gas before most of the rest had even rolled over in their sleep.

Post Hurricane Irma news: My agent and I have agreed the the book is ready to be submitted to publishers and he is shopping it around now! I am excited and terrified. It was so much work–a labor of love, to be sure–but it was a long time coming. I am ready for the next step up in the game.

Finger crossed for me, please!

 

Shelter Me

Kosta and our little patch of floor.

We got to “bed” on our patch of floor near to midnight. But in our haste to flee we had no pillows, no blankets, nothing but our suitcase, computer bags, and some food and water. We did have two bath towels from the car, and we rolled those up to use as pillows. The lights were on in our room as folks were still coming in. But we lay down and tried our best to be comfortable.

The floor was poured concrete with just the thinnest skimming of industrial carpet and before long our backs, hips and shoulders protested. Our necks twisted painfully under the towels. At 1:30 the lights went out. But some jackass was watching Pulp Fiction on an iPad without headphones and the sounds of gunshots thudded through me. I was already strung as tightly as possible and squeezed my eyes shut, waiting for it to end.

Finally, all was quiet, but getting cold. I had not packed wisely. I grabbed three t-shirts, but nothing with long sleeves. I at least had long pants but the air conditioning was over-efficient and we both were starting to shiver. But then a flashlight appeared out of the darkness and some angel came towards us with a blanket. “Here,” she said, “do you want this? I noticed when you came in you didn’t have any bedding.”

We gratefully pulled the blanket over us, snuggled together as best we could, and finally were able to sleep.

In the morning we got in line for breakfast. The cafeteria had scores more of folks sheltering on the floor, demarcated areas with painter’s tape marking their little rectangles of personal space. Everyone looked like something out of The Walking Dead–glassy eyes, shambling gaits as they waited in line for food.

Waiting for breakfast in the cafeteria.

The storm still hadn’t hit that far upstate so we ate outside on picnic tables. I think we had food they normally serve high school students. If that is the case, we need to do better as a country at feeding our kids. The food was edible, but highly processed and tasteless. Don’t get me wrong though, I was damn grateful that we didn’t have to feed ourselves solely from the snacks we brought with us. Popcorn doesn’t fill a belly like toast with sausage and cheese.

The day was long and uneventful. We watched as much storm coverage on my phone as we could. My breath hitched as I watched the eye of Irma move directly over Naples on the radar–my house right underneath it. We talked a lot about what we would do if our house was destroyed. Mostly, we were trying to mentally prepare for the idea that we would have nothing to come home to. But my parents, the cats, and Kosta and I all had our lives. The rest could all be rebuilt if need be.

I was able to talk to my parents and found they had fared somewhat better at the special needs shelter. They had both been given cots, Mom even had a mattress. They didn’t have blankets but they had brought their pillows so they were able to sleep in reasonable comfort.

The day was an interminable wait, our nerves stretched tight. I tried to read but our neighbors made it nearly impossible. The room was filled with screaming kids, people watching movies on their phones with the volume turned up, and lots of loud talking, one woman in particular shouting at her toddler every few minutes with a voice like a bullhorn. We sat quietly in our corner and tried to block it all out.

That night some jackass tried to invite the entire shelter to our classroom for a dance party. He went so far as to go to the office and ask if there was an intercom system that he could use to tell people about it. Then he put on some music and tried to coerce everyone into dancing. The only takers he had were the kids in our room, bursting with unspent energy.

Then Mr. Dance Party got sullen. He got on his phone and started talking to a friend loudly how we were all useless and just “waiting to die.” I ignored him and kept my nose stuck in my book. Finally he shut up.

The light were out by 11:30 and things quieted down for the night. But then at about midnight we all heard the power die as the air conditioning ground to a halt. The faint howl of the wind could be heard through the bunker-like walls and ceiling. Kosta and I held each other and tried to sleep.

 

The Calm Before the Storm

The house we left behind.

We just went through a hurricane. Irma barrelled through Naples just a week ago and heavens did we have an adventure. Things are still not back to normal but they are getting there.

But let me start at the beginning. Last Saturday we were all prepared for the hurricane. The storm shutters were up and my parents had moved in to weather the storm with us.  We had food and water and were as prepared as we could be.

Then we looked at the storm surge map on NOAA.gov.

They were predicting that we could have 6-11 feet of flooding. Six feet of water is taller than I am by a good stretch. After seeing the horror that happened in Houston we started calmly freaking out. Would our house be underwater?

We did what we had to do–less than 24 hours before the storm hit, we left. We packed up what we could take in an hour, bundled the cats into the car (and boy were they unhappy, I have the scratches to prove it), and we headed north out of Naples. Irma was coming and we weren’t going to wait around until the water reached our lower lip.

I never thought there would be a day when I would take what I could grab and flee my home. From time to time in our lives we look around and think about what we might take it we had to leave at a moment’s notice. For me, I had my computer with my novel, some of my good jewelry, my Grandpa Wally’s wedding ring, and the cats. Other than a few changes of clothes and some food and water, we left everything behind, not knowing if there was going to be anything to come back to.

It was surreal. How do you mentally prepare for something like that?

We left at about 7 pm and headed up I-75 towards Tampa. Both my parents and Kosta and I had full tanks of gas and that got us to Ocala. We were down to a quarter tank and there was no gas to be had anywhere. All the gas stations were EMPTY. Everyone evacuating in the days previous had sucked up every last drop of fuel that remained. There were no hotel rooms available anywhere. So we went to a hurricane shelter.

But my parents had to split up with Kosta and me. We had to stay at Vanguard High School in Ocala because it was the pet friendly shelter, and Mom and Dad had to go to the special needs shelter because she is oxygen dependent. It was hard to say goodbye to them for a few days, but we did what we had to do.

We were late–it was after 11 pm when we got to the shelter.  We were so late they didn’t have space to keep Shady and Fingers at the high school. They had to transport them to the local animal shelter for the duration of the storm. But they probably had better accommodations than we did. We registered, and were shown to a windowless classroom.

To be continued…