Friday, September 22, 2017

One Family's Story of Hope and Prayer During Hurricane Irma

3 hours: 
What is the significance of 180 minutes? So many things happen every 3 hours that just seem part of your day. You could enjoy a round of golf, clean your house, or take in a baseball game with your family. After August 30th, 2017 the 10,800 seconds in a 3 hour period had new meaning to me. Every three hours, the National Hurricane Center (NHC), the division of the National Weather Service responsible for tracking and predicting weather systems in the South Atlantic, delivers an update on the storm systems that are active in the area. Prior to August 30th, I had never even heard of the NHC…now I am an expert on the proper procedure to refresh the page when the latest update isn’t pulling up (just so you know, you have to leave the previous page that you had been staring at for the last 179 minutes, wait 5 seconds, and then hit the refresh button…works every time).

What is the significance of August 30th, 2017? That is when disturbance 13 formed to develop Tropical Storm Irma, just off the small African Island of Cape Verde. The storm rapidly increased and was officially designated a hurricane on August 30th, exactly 45 days after I moved my family of four from the Rocky Mountains of Utah to the beaches of West Florida. Five days later, while enjoying a beautiful Labor Day at the Tampa Zoo, the Governor of Florida, Rick Scott, declared a State of Emergency after Irma strengthened to a category 4. I vividly remember looking at the alert on my phone and thinking for the first time that we could be in trouble. After the zoo we casually went to Sam’s Club to get some food while in the area. On the way in to the store we passed 4 generators leaving the store, countless cases of water and other supplies, and Melissa and I looked at each other with a higher level of fear in our eyes. A hurricane was coming our way and we needed to jump into another gear. We skipped our normal slow stroll through the store and went right to the back for the water. They had one pallet left. It’s probably the only time in my life I didn’t look for the price of the product. 


Six days later we were bunkered in our home as Irma was passing right above our head. They say that Hurricanes are better than say a tornado because you have advanced warning. At this point, I think I would have taken the twister…the anticipation and preparation was brutal. 

Do you know what ¼ 20 x 1 ½” threaded rod is? Me neither…up until Irma decided to grace us with her presence. This little piece of pipe, and its corresponding wing nut washer, led to the most stressful two days of my life. Shortly after helping my neighbor install his hurricane shutters, we went back to our house to do ours. According the Florida building code, each new home must come with hurricane shutters and the corresponding hardware…these little guys. 

Unfortunately, the previous owners of the home accidentally had the parts packed with them. In South Carolina. We were two days from the hurricane making landfall and I had no way to install our shutters. The good news is…there wasn’t any good news. Our home is rated to withstand 150 mph wind, contingent on the windows staying intact. While we were lucky enough to find the wing nuts, we had zero luck finding the threaded rod. It was now late on Friday afternoon, Irma was just 48 hours away and I was legitimately concerned for my family’s safety. As a father, you know one of your responsibilities is to provide and protect and I was drastically failing. I needed help. 

After calling the last Nut and Bolt store in a 75 mile radius with no luck, there was only one thing I could do. Looking back on it now, I feel a bit selfish for even saying the prayer in the first place. While we are good at praying as a family, I have really struggled making time for my personal prayers. I can only imagine my Father in Heaven looking down at me in the parking lot of Rent King with the same look that I have for Conner when he doesn’t pick up his toys. Like really…NOW you are going to listen to me…when you know you are in trouble. But he did have pity on me and after saying the prayer, I had the thought (guidance) to post something on our neighborhood Facebook page. I had tried this earlier in the week with no luck, so I was a bit skeptical of doing it again but did it anyway.

I stopped at Home Depot to get some more supplies and refreshed the post to see if anyone responded…nothing. Again, as I was leaving…nothing. Feeling frustrated and mad, I headed home to tell Melissa that I had failed and that our house was going to blow over. I stopped at a stoplight, had the thought (guidance) to check the post one more time and…something. Donna to the rescue!

We took cookies to Donna last night to thank her for saving our lives and she made the comment that she usually isn’t on Facebook and the thought (guidance) came to her to check on the neighborhood before we lost power. Inspiration and the Holy Ghost is real, and I will never doubt it. 

“Should I stay or should I go now?”
Speaking of guidance from our Heavenly Father, when a category 5 hurricane with 180 mph winds is looking you in the face, an obvious question is should we leave? Water cooler talk at the office changed from sports talk and office gossip to “so, where are you evacuating to?” Early on in the process, Melissa and I prayed to know what we should do. While I won’t go into details on that experience, I will tell you that our family was less than pleased when we told them that we felt prompted to stay home. 

While I can understand their frustration, it has to be hard seeing these reports and being thousands of miles away, we had prayed and fasted that we would know what the best course of action would be for us. A few days after the storm passed, Melissa and I were talking about what we learned and what we would need to do in the future. While I did the “man thing” and jumped right into forecasts and go/no go timeframes, Melissa did the typical woman thing (recognized the moment and learned from it to make all of us better) and reminded me that we need to fast and pray about the next situation and follow our feelings (guidance). Thank goodness for my better half.  

Irma changed course 100 different times, ended up being late, and just ended up being a lot of drama. Irma lost a lot of power before it got to us, and while we had some pretty gnarly winds and a couple of sleepless nights, we avoided any major damage or power outages. Others in Florida were not as lucky as us. Some estimates put the power outages at 5 million residents with 39 fatalities and over $35 billion dollars in damage. 

People really are GOOD
Two days after the storm, I was lucky enough to join the LDS Helping Hands and head south to support those that were majorly impacted by Irma. The LDS church we met at had 890 volunteers show up to do everything from roof repairs to tree removals…lots of tree removals. It was hot, humid, bugs everywhere…but it was the most fulfilling service I have ever done. 

On the way home, we experienced something truly amazing to see. Do you know how far it is from Allentown, Pennsylvania to Tampa, Florida? 1,133 miles, or 18 hours of driving. Or how about Cypress, Texas to Tampa? 1,206 miles or 18 hours of driving. And that is if you are in a regular car doing 70 mph with air conditioning. But what if you are driving one of these. 

Driving north on I-75, we were passed by 100’s (no exaggeration) of these trucks driving south. Hundreds of crews that left their families, drove for days in trucks that I am sure didn’t have air conditioning, all so they could help complete strangers get their AC. Two of the trucks had logos I could read, PPL Electric based out of Allentown PA and MP Technologies based out of Texas (can you imagine the month that MP Technologies has had with Harvey to deal with).

While tragedies like this are terrible, I do believe that they make us better humans and that it brings the country together. For every 1 story about looters (that the news shows over and over again) there are dozens of stories of kindness, sacrifice and love. A neighbor of mine collected 250 cases of unused water and other supplies and personally drove them to the Florida Keys. Not to make it on CNN, but because she cares about those that are suffering. Or the story that did make the news about a man giving up a generator that he was going to purchase to a women whose husband needed a breathing machine to survive. In a day filled with hate and political uncertainty, it is refreshing to see human kindness in the wake of adversity. 

No comments:

Post a Comment