A lot of people have been asking me questions regarding the hurricane, our last minute decision to evacuate, and our travel there and back, so I decided to do a blog post recapping the whole ordeal, here we go!
Some of you may remember that Bobby and I were supposed to go on a Carnival cruise leaving out of Miami on Saturday, September 9th. Because of this, I had been watching the tropics extra close, and Irma was making me nervous the closer she got. At first we thought she would turn north and be long gone before our cruise, but then she started going more and more west, and I started getting bummed thinking about our cruise being cancelled.
Soon enough, my sadness turned to fear as I realized the storm was coming even MORE west, right to the east coast of Florida. We had come to terms with the fact that our vacation wasn’t going to happen, and switched gears to “OK so what the heck do we do here at the house?”
Keep in mind I grew up in a suburb of New Orleans and lived in Biloxi as an adult, so I have been through many hurricanes, sometimes we evacuated, sometimes we didn’t. At this point, we had planned to stay. They were saying at worst Irma was going to be a cat 3, and at that point she was still going to the eastern side of Florida. The storm was huge, so we knew we would still get bad wind and rain, but it would be manageable.
All day Friday I watched each new update like a crazy person. I had four newscasters I was following along with via Facebook live, and I was soaking up every bit of information I could. At this point, Bobby’s work had been cancelled as well as Emma Kate’s school, and my parents had evacuated up to our house. We were all set to stay. We had food, water, candles, and flashlights. But yet, with each new update, the storm was moving slightly further west. I could barely eat all day, I just didn’t know what we should do. We had no hurricane shutters or boards for our windows. Stay or go, stay or go….the traffic…ug. Ok we are staying.
That is until the 11:00 update on Friday night. My parents and Emma Kate were asleep, and I was in bed watching the newest model runs. They had moved the eye directly over my house, and said it would be a category four once it hit Tampa. My stomach did a back flip. Katrina was a 3 and that was awful for my hometown. I don’t know if I can do a four, especially with my two year old. At that point, my mama instincts kicked in. I went into the bonus room and told Bobby “I think we need to leave.”
We discussed the logistics for a few minutes, and then he agreed with me. If we lost power it would be miserably hot in the house, and EK would never sleep. Also, we only have one interior hallway downstairs and one bedroom downstairs and the storm was hitting us at night. Trying to explain to Emma Kate why we had to be still in a hall for several hours would be difficult and she would be terrified. We had lived in Atlanta for a few years when I was a child so we had plenty of friends to stay with that had already invited us into their home so that wasn’t a problem. Now it came down to getting all our patio furniture inside, securing the house, and loading up two cars, five people, and a dog as quickly as possible. We thought about leaving the next day but figured traffic would be slowest in the middle of the night.
I went downstairs and woke up my parents telling them the latest news. They jumped out of bed and we all sprang into action. Throwing things into suitcases, dragging in furniture from outside, loading up food, water, and dog food, trying to remember all the things we needed to do and bring. At the end of it all my kitchen table was against the front door and our grill was in my dining room.
We waited to wake up Emma Kate until right before we left, then I had to
pack up all the stuff in her room. It is really a very surreal feeling looking around your house, trying to figure out what to take with you that will fit in your car, knowing this may be the last time you step foot in your house. It really truly put things into perspective in terms of what we “need” in our house. Most of it is just stuff, and I didn’t feel compelled to try and pack it. My brain was going a mile a minute and I didn’t even think to bring photo albums or baby books or things of that nature.
By 12:30, the house was secure and we were rolling out o
f the neighborhood loaded down in two cars. I took the lead, and it was smooth sailing…until we got to the interstate. It was pretty bumper to bumper which was crazy to be because it was almost 1:00! We had downloaded the gas buddy app and it was such a life saver. We stopped in Gainesville for gas, and thankfully they had a good operation going where they were directing traffic and putting you in lines depending on what side of your car your gas tank was on. We only had to wait about 10 minutes, and Emma Kate and I went next door to Walgreens to use the bathroom. Bobby sent me over with a night stick of course. It was a bit of a sketchy area but he had to stay in line with the car so off we went.
By 5:00, we were getting pretty hungry, so we stopped at
a McDonalds (the only thing open) somewhere in Georgia…along with all the other evacuees. I grabbed a coffee since I was doing most of the driving (Bobby’s driving terrifies me) and we were on the road again. The last 3 hours felt like FOREVER getting up to Atlanta. We got stuck in several dead stand still traffic areas due to wrecks and slowdowns.
Emma Kate was watching YouTube Kids on my phone, and said her belly hurt. I didn’t think much of it because she says that sometimes and it’s usually nothing, but then it happened….she threw up all over herself and her car seat. In the middle of a traffic jam. She got super upset and wanted to change but there was nowhere for us to go, we were gridlocked. I tried to clean her up and calm her down the best I could until we could get off the interstate at this little country gas station that actually had super clean bathrooms! We changed her clothes, all took a little breather, and got back on the road.
We were actually staying north east of Atlanta, so it took us awhile to get around to where we needed to go. We arrived around 11:00 after 10.5 hours of driving, and were all exhausted. One thing we had not thought about was the weather, IT WAS COLD! We were all in shorts and t-shirts. We unloaded the cars, and at that point I have no idea how I was still standing. I had been awake for 29 hours and drove most of the way. Since my parents had slept about two hours before I woke them up to leave the night before, they graciously agreed to watch EK so we could nap. I was only weirdly able to sleep about 50 minutes, but Bobby got in a solid 3-4 hours which was good.
Our friends were amazing hosts, and fed us so well. We hung out in the backyard, took Emma Kate on the gator over to the playground at the preschool I attended as a child (the people we were staying with own it) ate dinner outside and just enjoyed being safe, and also enjoyed the wonderful weather. (We cannot sit outside and eat in Tampa, we would melt!) Emma Kate slept on the floor of my parents room on a cot and Bobby and I had the sofas in the living room. I think at that point I could have slept on a rock and not moved all night.
Of course the next day (Sunday) we closely watched the weather, but also knew we had to get out of the house. After an amazing breakfast, we took her to a local park, and it was so cold! Bobby and I walked around a beautiful trail and Emma Kate and my parents played on the playground.
When we got back to the house, my mom and I went to Kohl’s and got Emma Kate some pants, a long sleeved shirt, and a jacket. We also learned Sunday afternoon that they were not expecting the hurricane to be a 4 when it reached Tampa, thank the Lord!
Our next door neighbor staying behind and gave us updates Sunday night and we were happy to hear Monday morning that the house was fine, and also that we still had power! There had been a small issue with some looters in the area which was my next concern but thankfully all was OK. It rained all day Monday and the wind got pretty bad. We were staying in a more county town with lots of pine trees, so believe it or not, we lost power Monday afternoon!
Thankfully they had a generator so we were able to have light, watch TV, and keep the food cold. We grilled hot dogs in the storm, and since it was so cool outside, it wasn’t miserable at all to sleep in.
We decided to leave Tuesday, and looking back that was a BAD idea. I really had no idea just how bad traffic would be. I relied on Google Maps, and it had us taking back roads for the first couple hours before putting us back on the interstate. It was pure misery–bumper to bumper stop and go literally the the whole drive home. My biggest fear was finding gas. Thankfully my dad has bought two 5 gallon containers and filled them up the day before, but even still that wouldn’t be enough to get us home.
We were able to wait in line in Tifton and find gas, but it was a pretty stressful situation. We were all tired, Emma Kate was bored, tempers were flaring, and we were all ready to get out of the car. At one point we stopped at a rest stop and all they had available were port-o-potties and there were people everywhere. The whole thing was just a huge mess. It ended up taking us 14.5 hours to get home. We left Atlanta around 9:00 AM and got home at almost midnight. The drive would normally take about 6.5 hours I think.
We were SO blessed and thankful to have no damage, water, etc. I know some were not that lucky. But I will say, it’s going to take a LOT to make me evacuate again after the mess we had to go through to get there and back. Please continue to pray as some still don’t have power, and have lost everything. Thank you all for your kind words, thoughts, and prayers as we were going through all of this. It means a lot!