When I last posted, I was fleeing from Hurricane Ian. My wife, dog Sweetie, and I are safe. I will do a three-part series of posts on this site about my experiences fleeing from the hurricane and life afterwards. In this post I describe my preparation during the 5 days BI (Before Ian) to leave the island and what we did after hearing that many of the homes on the island were damaged.
Friday, September 23, 5d BI Checked the Weather Underground Tropical site. It was the first day we could see Ian’s path with a projected cone. Smack dab on Sanibel Island was a red dot denoting a direct hit. I made a reservation for the LaQuinta Inn in Sebring FL, 102 miles NE of our house. We had not travelled much since the pandemic, but we chose LaQuinta because it is dog friendly. Pulled up my hurricane preparedness list to organize our departure.
Saturday, September 24, 4d BI Good news for us as the area of primary impact was now projected to be Tampa Bay. Counties with huge populations in the area were ordered to evacuate. Started to gather up items on my list that we were not using at the time. Included on that list were
- Hurricane tag to return to the island after the storm had passed
- 2 gallons of water
- Can opener
- 5 cans of tuna fish
- 5 cans of veggies
- 10 energy bars
- High-temp milk
- 10 sodas
- Phones and charger in zip-lock bags
- iPad & charger
- Travel kit
- Pillows & blankets
- Close-toed shoes
Placed all that I had gathered in the preparation zone in my garage. Purchased items on the list not in the house. I already had clothes, toiletries, etc. in two small bags replenished after we returned from Irma. Filled both cars with gas.
Sunday, September 25, 3d BI Went to a local restaurant to get my weekly Sunday breakfast of a three-egg omelet, hashbrowns, and decaf coffee. I began to leave.
“See you next week,” said my waitress.
“That’s if we are still here,” I replied.
Then I headed down the street to church. I am responsible for ensuring that we have enough ushers at each service. It was our new minister’s second week on the job. The atmosphere was electric; good vibes all around! I ran into the Chair of the City Council. He assured me that we would have a weather advisory prepared by experts the next evening. It was a nice quiet afternoon and evening as I continued to gather up items on my list.
Monday, September 26, 2d BI Weather was a little cloudy and hot. Storm projections started coming back down the Gulf coast. Sanibel was still at the edge of the projection cone. I went by the vet’s office in the morning to get a copy of Sweetie’s vaccination records. No one in the office seemed to be concerned about the possible approach of the storm. They seemed amused that I wanted her records.
I spent most of the rest of the day putting up hurricane shutters around the house while my wife went to work. Some of the shutters were accordion style that moved on a track. Others were upright and attached by wing nuts to prepositioned screws. The effort took most of the day. The accordion shutters covering the bay window went off track. No beating, banging, cajoling, or swearing would get them back on track. The renter from across the street took pity on two septuagenarians struggling with an insurmountable task. “If strength will help, I’ll make it happen.” Using the tools we had, he got the shutters back on track and locked together. In the evening the City of Sanibel recommended a voluntary evacuation. Nothing much to worry about. All indications were that we would not get a direct hit. We went to bed and slept well.
Tuesday, September 27, 1d BI We were greeted with a sunny morning. We packed the newer car (2005 Buick LeSabre) and got the house ready to leave. For lunch we prepared big salads with all the fresh vegetables we had in the refrigerator and a little cheese on top. Then we checked each room before saying good bye to our home and its contents. As a precaution we put sealed, plastic containers containing my collection of food-themed tee shirts on the bed in case the house had some flooding. As before Hurricane Irma in 2017, we looked around, knowing the storm might overtake the house but believing that we would return to our home.
Then we locked up the house, turned off the water, and headed off the island—destination Sebring. We almost made it to the interstate when I looked left briefly, my wife shouted “Whoa,” and I rear-ended the vehicle in front of me. All three of us were OK. Our airbags did not deploy. The radiator did not look good. The man in the other vehicle noted some stiffness in his neck. Paramedics came by and checked him out. They asked us if we were OK, and we said yes. All I could think of was to get back to the island to change cars and get out of harm’s way. I headed back to the island, but the engine temperature was rising. We almost made it back home, but the engine died. We called 911, and someone from the sheriff’s office came by. She informed us that we had left the scene of an accident. Since we were in a different jurisdiction, the event was treated as a disabled vehicle. They called a wrecker to come. We called for a taxi. The officer asked us to remove everything from the car.
My wife told me to go into the nearby grocery store to buy black plastic garbage bags to put all our stuff in as it was starting to rain. The wrecker came followed shortly by the taxi. We arrived at home in time to load our older car (2000 Buick LeSabre) for our second try to get to Sebring. After a 2-hour trip we arrived at our destination and lugged what we needed up to our room on the second floor.
Wednesday, September 28, I day It was a beautiful day in Sebring. There were two types of guests in Sebring LaQuinta—those like us fleeing from the coast and residents of a nearby trailer park visible from the top two floors of the hotel. Almost all guests had dogs. Spirits were high. Television sets blared weather and storm reports. About 9:00 in the evening, there was a shift in power to generators. Half the rooms had lights and power in the bathrooms but with no air conditioning. The other half had AC but no lights in the bathrooms. A warning came over our cell phones at 9:30 to take shelter in windowless rooms for the next two hours. We moved to our lighted bathroom. No other messages came. After the two hours, my wife took Sweetie out to pee. Hurricane Ian apparently passed over our heads. In retrospect, it may have been the eye of the storm passing when Sweetie took her break.
Thursday, September 29, 1d AI The weather was clear. Young supple trees to the left of the hotel were bent over and would not recover. The trailer park behind the LaQuinta appeared untouched. We still did not have full power in our rooms. There was a comradery among the guests and the hotel staff (many of whom had left their families to serve us). We were served a breakfast on limited power. Reports came on our phones of damage to homes up and down the coast, but no-one knew what happened to their home. Some roads between the hotel and homes were flooded or blocked. Guests wanted to get home and find out what happened.
Friday, September 30, 2d AI Dogs and guests started emptying out of the hotel. News from Sanibel reported the loss of the causeway, the only access to the island by motor vehicles. It became obvious that we needed to head north to family as we decided to regroup.
Escape from Florida The next day restaurants started opening up again. Gas lines were long. We left central Florida behind and spent that night at the LaQuinta in Gainesville. The hotel was more modern, more elegant, but with a more sterile environment than Sebring. News came that Sanibel was wiped out. Friends told me that things were probably not as bad as they seemed. Somehow, I felt less stressed believing everything was lost.
Stops in Georgia in Macon to visit friends and Lawrenceville to spend the night at my sister’s home helped break up the road to South Carolina. It also provided us an opportunity to do our laundry. We visited with my wife’s sister as we arrived in South Carolina and talked with other members of the family before reaching our destination.
We were overwhelmed with all the messages we received from friends across the country. We had at least seven offers of places to stay while we decided what we were going to do with the rest of our lives. Two offers for apartments in homes with a private entrance were the most attractive as we would be able to stay there for a while without disrupting the lives of our hosts. These places were also close to family in the area. We chose to take the offer from two successful professionals in my wife’s family. We didn’t know them that well, and they didn’t know us that well. We arrived at our destination and saw two nature trails by the house. My wife took Sweetie on one of the trails. I was met at the top of the driveway by our hosts. I told them that we had to negotiate the terms of our stay. I said that we planned to pay them rent. Our nephew replied “That’s not going to happen!” It was then that I realized I was not in a strong negotiating position! They have been wonderful, gracious hosts. We could not have asked for a better situation.
We started to deal with insurance companies. State Farm came through for us with a decent settlement on the 2005 Buick. As far as the house insurance was concerned, I’ll save those experiences for a later post.
Road food. When on the road, food choices change. On our first night in Sebring we dipped into our hurricane rations to enjoy a can of Dinty Moore’s beef stew paired with Ben’s Spanish rice. Stores were closed the day after the hurricane, so we tried some more shelf-stable, processed foods that were satisfying and delicious. Hotel breakfasts became repetitive and boring, but as long as we could eat sausage links or patties, we could satisfy our morning hunger. By the next day we were able to find some fast food. Our travels north saw us embrace a fast-food culture with stops at Longhorn Steakhouse and Cracker Barrel. A homemade meal at my sister’s house was a treat. Processed food and restaurant food, fast or otherwise, are life savers to nomads with no food preparation capabilities.
Next post: Return to Sanibel and the aftermath of Ian