Hey there Tampa Bay,
It is the first week of June, and if you've been in Florida for more than a year, you know that means it is the official start of Hurricane Season. Let's be real, if you've been here the last few weeks and pay attention to the weather channel, you know that this year the season got a jump start thanks to Alberto.
This time last year we put out a blog with some tips and tricks for dealing with hurricane season with children.
Then Murphy and her law decided we needed to have a little more experience weathering storms. Yup you guessed it, Hurricane Irma happened and if you have been following The Seventh Mom Project, Inc. for a while, you may recall that my personal home was flooded by the rising Alafia River following Irma.
I finally went back and reread that original post and reflected on what worked and what I'll be doing differently this year to survive motherhood through Hurricane Season. Recently, I added some tips here.
Here is my story about weathering the storm.
A little back story, our family of seven (and two dogs) had been living in a mobile home, saving to purchase or build a house. On September 1st we went under contract for a new house. Since our schedules are crazy, I knew I needed to get a move on with all the packing and sorting of our belongings. About the time I was collecting moving boxes, we began to receive warnings about a potential category 3 or 4 hurricane.
Due to my husband's employment, when hurricanes occur there is always the possibility of him having to go to work and me having to hold things down by myself. For this reason, and the fact that we live in a mobile home, evacuation has always been the likely hurricane plan. Trouble is, how do you evacuate with five children and two large dogs. I began to research and found listings of my local shelters. There are special needs and pet friendly shelters in Tampa Bay, however they fill quickly. You also will find that your pets are often housed separate from the people, especially when using our schools as shelters.
My other concern is I have a cerebral spinal condition that is affected by changes to the barometric pressure. This makes keeping us safe more complicated during a storm. So the decision came that I would need to take the children and dogs and go stay with family on the other side of the state. However, those spaghetti models were crazy and we didn't know what the storm's track was going to do. Was it going towards the West Coast of Florida or was coming to hit the East Coast? I have plenty of family on the other side of the state that would have sheltered us, but if the storm was heading straight to them, it didn’t make sense to head that way. To really throw a wrench in the works, our youngest was only four months old at the time. She had just recently graduated out of feeding therapy and required very attentive care. We decided to head North.
Now if you are evacuating please, please, please do not immediately think of the farthest possible place to go. I know it seems very instinctual to get as far away from danger as possible and for that reason many families left the state of Florida traveling many States away. However, this massive evacuation caused quite a mess on the roads going in-and-out of Florida, as well as Alabama, Georgia, North and South Carolina. There were times where it took travelers hours to go a few miles. There were gas shortages, not just in Florida, finding gas became difficult even in Georgia and South Carolina. Not only were there shortages of gasoline, there were no hotel rooms.
Of course, our family, like many others, decided the best decision for us would be to evacuate out of state. However, we lived in a mobile home along water. Had we lived in the home we were under contract at the time, we would have likely sheltered in place. Long distant travel when not warranted is not typically advised.
We made this decision based on our family’s needs and packed accordingly for a road trip. We truly anticipated our house being gone when we returned, so instead of boarding my house up, I went to a nearby storage facility and secured a climate controlled storage unit. While many people were out going store to store desperately seeking water, canned foods, and plywood, I was packing up our irreplaceable objects: photos, mementos, books, and really anything I possibly could get into a box and get to that storage unit. For approximately 40 hours before we left, our children were watching TV, while I shoved everything I could into available boxes, and my husband made multiple trips to and from the storage unit. Unfortunately, even with this forethought, we simply could not get everything out.
I followed my favorite, local meteorologist and when the warnings came out of what time you needed to be sheltered or gone, we knew our time was growing short. We finally reached the point of "hey, we don't have any more time for any more trips to the storage unit. We have to leave". We loaded up both of our minivan's, all the kids, both dogs, and the road trip packs we decided we would take with us on this epic journey and said, "good bye, house thanks for the memories".
Aside from packing as many of our belongings as we could into storage, I also packed a large cooler of all the food we could eat on the go from our fridge. I boiled all the eggs, and packed all the cold cuts, canned tuna, and bread. Anything we could eat on the road or at a rest area was packed up. This proved to be quite helpful because our destination was North Carolina but it took us 2 days to travel what is normally a 13 to 14-hour drive. Having just put a deposit on a house and renting out the storage units in addition to our normal expenses, we were on limited funds. Stopping for fast food, if there was even anything open, wasn’t feasible for us, add in the fact that wait times for many drive-through were well over an hour, having packed food was well worth the time and ice.
Something else I'm glad we had the forethought to do was fill up both vehicles with gas because you had to get off the interstates and travel quite a way to find fuel and then there were waits in gas lines.
Just outside of Kings Bay, Georgia we pulled off at a rest stop. I had reached the point of physical and mental exhaustion and simply could not safely continue to drive. While parked at the rest area my husband and I desperately tried to book a hotel. We called multiple services, multiple hotel chains; no one had rooms. There was quite a bit of wind and rain where we were but at that point we had to decide. Our safest option was to stay put in that rest area, lock the doors, hunker down, get comfy as possible and nap in our vans. I know your probably wondering, “How in the world do you get comfortable?” The reality is when the adrenaline finally crashed and we'd been awake so long, it wasn’t that difficult to fall asleep in the parked minivan with kids, blankets, pillows strewn all over and a big dog curled up on top of my feet. We managed to get about 6 hours of rest (minus the 2 or 3 times I had to wake to feed and change the baby).
We crossed into South Carolina about the time the Sun came up. I must tell you, the welcome center across that state line was like and oasis in the desert. Knowing they were about to have this huge onslaught of evacuees coming into the state, they were prepared. The restrooms and were spotless, pallets of bottled water were handed out to travelers, there were phone charging stations, and outlets to use televisions with weather updates. I must hand it to South Carolina's Department of Transportation, because they were on point.
Now focusing back to some of those tips and tricks I shared last year. We utilized the Ziploc bag and tote method for packing our belongings. This proved to be handy even once we got to our destination being able to pull out a gallon Ziploc with a complete change of clothes for a child was so much better than digging through a suitcase or duffel bag. I've taken to routinely keeping a bag in the back of my van with a Ziploc for each person, including myself because you never know when someone's going to get dirty, after all kids are kids, right?
Using the large tote with the lid also proved handy when we needed a diaper changing station for the littlest, a table to lay out the Atlas and check our directions (because when the weather is rough, you cannot count on GPS to navigate you), and a height appropriate place to put the dogs’ food and water bowls in the car.
We followed the weather alerts while we were gone and received messages from friends, family, and neighbors. We were relieved to see the Facebook live videos from neighbors showing that our neighborhood had survived the storm rather well. We were surprised we were returning to a house that was still standing. Of course, the drive home took even longer than the drive out. Traffic, extremely slow-moving traffic, was even worse, because now the National Guard, reserve power companies, and other rescue organizations were traveling to Florida. We saw rows and rows of line trucks and semis carrying generators, chain saws, and all sorts of supplies that people would need for the recovery and clean up.
Once again, I was grateful for my cooler and at this point the non-perishable foods that I had brought. There weren't many places to stop and if you did by chance find and open fast food joint or a drive-thru, the wait times were upwards of an hour or two.
Once we got back to Florida we discovered the river near our home had begun to rise and rise and rise and going straight home was not going to be an option for us so we went to stay with family roughly on the other side of the state. We believed we were close to returning to our normal and relieved to get some real rest.
This was not what happened, but you can read more about the aftermath soon.
This mom wears rainboots,
Each walk is different, but we walk together, and that makes all the