Matthew, he was fine. He was unwanted, but didn’t really cause too many issues in the Broward and Miami-Dade counties of southern Florida. This Irma bitch, well, she’s causing some problems.
I’ve lived in Fort Lauderdale Florida for now 4 years and have not had a brush with a hurricane as of yet. As this past week went on and we watched Irma grow into the behemoth she is, here in Florida we all know what we need to do. We needed to get out of this woman’s way. Hurricane Irma, a storm that is the size of Texas, is so powerful that she has been showing up on earthquake monitors.
Working full time as a college administrator in Fort Lauderdale, I patiently waited for elementary and high schools to be cancelled for the remainder of the week. That happened on Tuesday stating that k-12 would be closed Thusday and Friday. It wasn't until Wednesday when the announcement came from the president of the college stating that classes were to be cancelled for Thursday and Friday and staff were excused, too. While I was at dinner tonight (Thursday), I learned that Florida Governor Scott cancelled ALL schools in the state for Friday, not only to keep the kids safe, but to also to be able to use the schools as shelters.
Now that work was out of the way, what should I do? I was already experiencing the storm through the eyes of one of our writers who was riding out the storm in Puerto Rico with his family. His hotel happened to be the headquarters for the FBI and FEMA in San Juan. He didn’t leave and could not leave, but should I? What were my options?
Should I drive out? We were hearing reports on Wednesday morning that northbound highways as far north as the Jacksonville, Florida area were already parking lots as people tried to leave the state. We were able to find gas in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area, sometimes waiting an hour and a half in line to fill up, but the last statistic heard was that 38% of the gas stations in the area did not have gas. I had about ½ a tank which would help me get me to the Orlando area, but once there, would I find gas to return or to continue on? Would I be stranded in the middle of the state, a place where Irma is expected to cause major flooding? Most of us felt that driving was not going to be a solution to escape Irma.
Could I stay put and ride it out? If you know a category 4 or 5 hurricane is coming, you should get out of the way, right? My brother stayed in New Orleans when a similar unwanted woman named Katrina came to his town. He eventually would leave after trying to carry on in his 3rd floor condo, but after three days of trying to make it, and physically located between the Superdome and the Convention center where most of the homeless were coming to and from, he feared for his safety and lack of resources. The first and second floors were looted and the fourth floor had received water damage. But could I ride it out in Florida? I rent a room in a one story home built on a slab which is located about 2 miles inland and west from the mandatory evacuation area, all residents east of Federal Highway / Route 1. The men I rent the room from are a married couple with one of them a Floridian that rode out Wilma in 2005. He is confident that all will be well and has prepared as much as can be expected, buying a new generator, accordion and metal panel shutters all closed and on by Wednesday night, and water and ice everywhere in the home. We even put my kayak in my room before the building was all shuttered up so it would not blow away. I am sure the home is the safest a human can make it, but it still sits in the path of Irma. Did I want to find out if it was safe?
Can I fly to Toronto? Wait, what? Where did this come from? Tuesday night, I received an email asking me if I wanted to attend the Toronto International Film Festival … THIS WEEKEND! I immediately contacted the PR company and said, YES! GET ME OUT OF HERE! The clincher was that they said the weekend, but they meant flying me out on Saturday and back on Tuesday. As of this afternoon, the plan was that the last flight out of Fort Lauderdale International Airport was to depart at 745 PM Friday night. Knowing this most likely would occur, I pleaded with them on Tuesday night and into Wednesday to see if they could fly me out earlier and I would spend the extra money for the hotel room, but they were not fully sure if the trip for me was 100% go. I was highly interested and desired to be safe as well as go to Toronto, one of my favorite cities, but the trip was not 100%. Wednesday afternoon, it was official that the Toronto trip was a dead end.
Stay? Drive? What to do? With the failure of the Toronto trip on Wednesday afternoon, I quickly signed onto Orbitz.com at 2 PM, booked a flight to New Orleans, and here I sit now on my brother’s couch watching the Pats/Chiefs NFL game. My direct two hour flight to safety left this morning, Thursday morning at 7:20 AM. Why had I waited that long to consider a trip to my brother’s home in NOLA? I needed to see where Irma was going. Would she be a big ol’ mess and make it into the gulf and come for Harvey-hit Texas or careen toward New Orleans? By Wednesday afternoon, it was clear that Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina would be her targets.
What did I leave in Florida? I’m safe here, but I left my car at the now completely full airport parking garage complex parked in the best spot I could find. All the garages were so full I had to park on the ramp to the roof. Behind in my bedroom I left clothing, my kayak, my leather chair and ottoman, my watch collection, and that’s about it.
Well there is actually more than that back in Fort Lauderdale. I left many friends. Many of them are single gay men with also no 100% foolproof way to get out of southern Florida. The gas issue was a huge hindrance for many of us. If we had enough to get to Orlando and a little further north, would there be gas there? Where do we drive to if we could? Georgia and the Carolinas are going to get hit so those are no no’s, even most are going there. Is Orlando far enough?
I was finally able to convince one friend to fly over here and crash on my brother’s futon. One less friend to worry about. He was going to stay, but I do worry about some of us that are all alone and don't have any family in the state.
But what I also think about are all of the senior citizens in the state that are living out their lives, alone, may they be gay or straight. Whom do they have to watch over them? To help them out of harm's way? It’s scary folks. If you are still there, be safe, be well, and don’t take any more chances than you have to.
I would like to say thank you very much for Jet Blue. I know the plane I landed on was turning around and going right back to get more people. My ticket, purchased just 15 hours before boarding was only $68 bucks. Jet Blue as well locked one legged flights leaving Fort Lauderdale in at a price no higher than $99.00. Bravo Jet Blue for stepping up and helping out. A big F and a big U to Spirit. I had some Irma related travel issues with that airline and they were not willing to budge one bit. I don't know how you say poor customer service in an Indian accent, but I heard so many sentenced read from a script and just telling me to go to the company's website and all is there. Why have a fricken customer service number to call if all you are going to do is say, I understand your concern, but please refer to the website. I will never never never book with Spirit again, but that’s another story.
I am now in New Orleans until the 17th since this Exodus/Save-My-Life trip has now overlapped with my mother’s 70th birthday weekend extravaganza, including a Pats vs Saints game. When I return to Fort Lauderdale, I do hope I find all my friends (and my car) safe.
Be well Florida!
An educational tid bit. Why aren't there hurricanes 6 or higher? There are no reasons for a Category 6 on the Saffir–Simpson Scale because it is designed to measure the potential damage of a hurricane to man-made structures. If the category chart was based on wind strength, then we would have storms larger than 6. If the average increase in wind strength is that of 19.5 mph, then Irma would be a category 6 with her wind speeds between 174.5 to 194. A category 7, if based on winds, would be 195 to 213 mph.