What I learned from Hurricane Irma

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Hurricane Irma heading toward southwest Florida on Sept. 8, 2017 made Anna Maria Island residents anxious.

Hurricane Irma was a teachable moment for those who had never experienced a major hurricane and for those who had.

My wife, Amy, and I experienced hurricanes Charley, Ivan, Jeanne and Wilma while living in Orlando, but Irma was our first west coast hurricane.

On Saturday, Sept. 2, I ordered a 2000-watt Wen invertor generator to pick up at the Wal-Mart on Cortez Road later in the week. I learned that invertor generators are better for cell phones, computers and other sensitive electronics because they produce a steadier electrical current than a standard generator. They also make less noise.

We didn’t have Facebook during our previous hurricanes, and Irma showed us how useful social media is for sharing information about the availability of water, food, gas and other supplies.

On Tuesday, Sept. 5, I was at the Lowe’s store on Cortez Road at 6 a.m. buying plywood. I knew 4 x 8 pieces of plywood wouldn’t fit in a small hatchback, but I learned that Lowe’s would cut them into smaller pieces that I could then resize at home.

When I arrived home to board windows for the first time, a friend called and said Irma was now a Category 5 hurricane and headed our way. He said our rented wooden home in Sarasota would not survive Category 4 or 5 winds – an opinion Bradenton Beach Public Works Director Tom Woodard later supported.

Our friend also had concerns about the large oak tree in our front yard and strongly suggested we join him and others from the Island who were driving to Georgia Thursday morning.

I’d never evacuated before, but I agreed, even though I hated the prospect of I-75 traffic jams and gas shortages. I later filled four new gas cans with 11 gallons of fuel that would power a generator or a northbound car.

The prospect of leaving behind the books and CDs I spent a lifetime collecting was almost as heartbreaking as the idea that we all might not have homes and jobs to return to.

Wednesday morning, I put my favorite drum set and two bins of books on a van headed for North Carolina, but I retrieved them before the van left because Irma had shifted east.

We canceled the hotel rooms for Thursday and waited to see what Friday would bring. Faced with no good options, I gathered more information from FL511.com (statewide traffic info), GasBuddy.com and WhatIsMyElevation.com.

Come Friday, Amy and I planned to stay home, but I stashed an older drum set and several bins of books at a friend’s block house in Bradenton just in case.

Later that day, we were convinced to go Brad Robinson’s brick house in west Bradenton. Brad is the son of former Major League Baseball player Don Robinson and Brad’s spacious home offered much better protection.

With Mabel the dog in tow, we arrived at Brad’s Saturday afternoon. I then made another trip home to retrieve my main drum set, the generator and camping supplies, food, water, clothes and a few precious pieces of Joe and Amy memorabilia. Our friend dropped off a second generator and some additional supplies before leaving for Georgia early Sunday morning.

Joined by Brad’s friends Mark and Jen, we spent Sunday waiting for Irma. We watched football, the Weather Channel, the local news and had an impromptu shrimp boil. I went to bed at 2 a.m. Monday with the power still on and I was on the Island taking pictures by 8 a.m.

Our home and Amy’s preschool suffered nothing worse than the loss of power, so we spent Monday night at a friend’s.

On Tuesday, the makeshift Sun staff laid out the newspaper in a Holmes Beach condo that still had power. I had to put some of my canned gas in Amy’s car to get us home that night. I then fired up the generator, plugged in the portable A/C unit, a fan and a phone charger. While Amy slept, I drank a couple beers and thanked Irma for sparing us from her worst.