Ian wasn't supposed to be this way: What I saw when the Cat 4 hurricane blew through Florida

Ian wasn’t supposed to be a giant-killer.

The Gulf coast of Florida is not usually a place where notable hurricanes hit. Usually they hit on the east coast of Florida or they beeline it across the Gulf to Alabama or Louisiana, or they just peter out and skitter into the Gulf of Mexico to die. 

But not this. Ian devastated parts of the Gulf coast of Florida, went inland and continued to wreak havoc there. Small Gulf cities like Englewood and Venice, Ft. Myers and others, were decimated by flooding and fallen trees. 

Ian started his rampage out in the Caribbean and circuitously sneaked his way into the Gulf. First, it was supposed to hit Tampa head on with massive flooding. Tampans prepared for it with sandbags and whatever else was necessary. Then, the track shifted slightly south towards Sarasota, then Englewood, then Venice. Ian tap-danced in, out, up and down, teasing everyone.

Once the forecasters were pointing toward Sarasota where I am, the Publix near me saw polite but determined water purchases. Wisely, Publix was ready for the onslaught with stacks and stacks of bottled water and other hurricane supplies and food that could be grilled or eaten cold. Gasoline stations were out of gas by Tuesday, the day before Ian hit. The bank saw increased activity. The west coast of Florida rarely sees Cat 4 hurricanes, so people believed cold hard cash might come in handy.

I did not see “panic” purchases or behavior. Most people on the west coast of Florida are not that way. 

We were going to stick it out here on the 10th floor because our condo building is older but strong. However, a Category 4? We considered driving to Boca Raton to stay at a hotel there but my spouse nixxed that idea. You have to go north to go west to Boca Raton and north was going to be bumper to bumper Floridians trying to get out, which is like Gehenna, so, no.

Right about then, friends came to our rescue with an invitation to pick us up and drive us to their place ever so slightly north and inland, away from a direct hit where we were. We dithered for a day, then took them up on it.

Our hosts had prepared for our arrival and our stay, however long it went, by doing everything possible to make us comfortable and entertained. We had fun. We had homemade chili. We had a pork roast with mushroom gravy and red cabbage to die for. We had movies I had been drooling to see! It was an adventure. They were so accommodating, but that’s what friends do, when they can.

Wednesday night was a howler. When the winds picked up, they whipped the palms around like wet spaghetti left, right, up, down. Our hosts had something I have never seen before: Lexan shutters. Clear, wavy sheets of what had to be kryptonite that you bolt to your windows and sliding glass door frames. They look like this. I’m still fascinated by them. In gusts at times in the 70s and 80s, these babies held tighter than ticks without rattling or threatening to pull away.

Ian turned out to be a hair's breadth from a Category 5 hurricane. Very scary, at times.

All through the night, the wind and the rain howled. High, medium, low, then the gusts I thought would take the roof off. Well, that’s what I thought. But our hosts were considerably more sanguine and confident. They were right. 

All through the late hours of Wednesday and until about 1 a.m., Ian kicked the living crap out of Lakewood Ranch with wind and torrential rain, but the house stood firm and fast with no water leakage or flooding. I barely got two hours sleep that night but morning brought breezes and no rain. When we finally ventured outside, branches and leaves were everywhere like a carpet. But so was the sunlight. Our power never once went off, but internet and phones were kaput.

AM radio allowed us to hear from Gov. Ron DeSantis about what had happened and what he was mobilizing. The pre-prep by DeSantis for this storm should be the how-to manual for everyone else. He thought of everything.

After Ian stopped, it was another day and a half before we left for our Sarasota condo. We packed up and were chauffeured back by our lovely hosts. I was told by the intrepid couples who stayed in our condo building that the power was only off for 12 hours, not even long enough for freezer food to defrost, so that was a blessing, even though I’d totally emptied my freezer, anticipating disaster and powerlessness for days if not weeks. I erred on the side of caution but I need not have in this case. 

Without internet, I was not able to use my landline or stream movies or TV but I had my books, my Bible, my writing, and my iPhone was operative. Texting and actual phone calls were possible and that is how we kept in touch during the Great Blackout of Hurricane Ian. There is a message there. No pun intended.

Friends went out of their way to help each other and to help strangers in need. The devastation in Englewood was awful but my friend’s house there survived with only some yard flooding. They had no power and no water but a small generator ran the fridge and some other appliances. They were the fortunate ones. Others had trees topple over on their houses. Big trees. GoFundMe pages were set up immediately. It was emotionally draining for everyone. And some people died. With Florida being a state with many elderly people, things got pretty dicey. The full tally for the death toll and other casualties, as well as property loss won’t be known for weeks, I’m sure.

What I learned from this massive, evil storm was that people will do what is necessary to help their fellow men and women. That is, people who are decent and honorable will. Happily, here on the west coast of Florida, those kinds of people are the only ones I came in contact with.

I also learned that one’s contentedness and lifestyle is only one hurricane away from evaporation. I learned that I have far more friends than I imagined. Most of all, I learned that in the storm, God is there.


Image: Screen shot from CNBC video, via YouTube.

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