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By Guest Editorial Leslie Geatches
President, Tartan Publications 

Watching for word on a creeping terror

 

September 13, 2017



I spent the weekend as a vegetable… sort of. Not quite a couch potato—that moniker is usually associated with a television, on which a human is fixated, blaring non-stop while their posterior is parked on some comfortable piece of furniture. I don’t have a TV, and I spent much of my vegetative state standing. I was, however, entranced enough to stare at my computer monitor almost all day Saturday and Sunday to watch streaming news—on Hurricane Irma.

It’s easy for us to dismiss natural disasters as being far away or having nothing to do with us. Until they do. And then the impact is quite different.

In this case it was my sister, her husband and son, and my 87-year-old mother (brought from her new assisted living residence) who were waiting out this monster tempest. They live in Lutz, Florida, just north of Tampa, which, until Sunday morning, was slated for a direct blow by Irma’s eye wall.

If you’ve lived in the Sunshine State, like me, visited any length of time, or read about its qualities, you know the sub-tropical climate that attracts so many residents and visitors to this sultry state often comes at a great cost during the late summer and early fall. Most of the area is just at or even below sea level. And for a territory that was mostly swampland until the boom of the last century, it doesn’t take much precipitation for some of it to end up under water. As such, hurricanes have always been deadly.

With advances in construction and drainage, storm shutters and other modern reinforcements, as well as constant meteorological updates, hurricane death tolls have drastically decreased since the 1920s. But the danger still exists.

So back to Saturday, a huge Category 4 hurricane was bearing down on my family with me across the country and able to do little except text.

As Irma was approaching the Caribbean, the text dialog was pretty benign:

“You staying put?”

“Yep.”

“Are your windows boarded up?”

“No, plywood’s all sold out. But our windows are good.”

“How ’bout your roof?”

“Replaced in January!”

And so it went for the next few hours. But after Irma decimated Cuba and then Key West, and turned northwest with predictions of her increasing to a full-strength Category 5, the tone changed.

“Maybe we should evacuate.”

“Where would you go?”

“If we go north, it’s bumper-to-bumper. And the stations are all out of gas.”

“You could go east.”

No reply.

So they did what they could—set up a first-story safe room under the stairs in case the wind blew in their windows. They set up a second-story safe room in the master bedroom in case of flooding. No one wanted to address the outcome if both happened.

As those who followed Irma’s track know, she changed direction yet again later on Saturday, to the east, and decreased to a Cat 2. So other than a few plants being whipped about, my family and the house were unscathed. They didn’t even lose power.

They could have had it far worse. According to some news reports, nine Floridians perished in Irma. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, are homeless.

What I learned from the experience—barreling back and forth as it did from danger to calm and back to peril—is: internet-viewing vegetables have it a lot tougher than I imagined. Maybe I’ll take up rugby instead.

 

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