On Friday afternoon, meteorologist Ryan Maue tweeted there was no longer any uncertainty — Hurricane Irma was going to slice its way up the state of Florida, making landfall as a category 5 hurricane.
Tracking the angry red, swirling blob from up here in Yellowknife — watching it loom basically right over her home brings a special kind of dread and there is really nothing to be done.
Leading up to the storm was a palpable buzz of fear and speculation. I spoke to my sister on Friday afternoon using an app called Zello, which allows smartphones to double as walkie-talkies over wifi rather than cellular networks. She had downloaded the app just in case she needed it to keep in touch with friends and family, after it proved useful to residents in Texas affected by Hurricane Harvey last month.
Because she is a nurse, she was not permitted to evacuate. My sister was on Team B at the Lee Memorial Health System facility in Fort Myers, Fla. That means she was scheduled to report after the all-clear was given to relieve Team A, who was tasked to stay and work through the storm.
I asked how she was doing — predictably, she was anxious. She told me her house does not have reinforced glass meant to withstand hurricanes, and she was just hoping her roof wouldn’t blow off. The good news was she doesn’t live in a floodplain or storm surge area. I asked her if she had a basement to take cover in.
“If you dig down below our house, you get the Gulf of Mexico,” she said. “You just hit water.”
There wasn’t a lot more she could do to prepare, as two days earlier she said shelves were already empty and gas, propane and lumber were nowhere to be found. She did say she had the option of evacuating to her work, where there were about 300 beds to accommodate an expected 1,800 people.
As Irma inched closer, the forecast was sketchy to follow. The five-day track showed possibilities of it hitting Florida head-on, veering east up the coast, or drifting right up out to the Atlantic Ocean.
The three-day forecast, released last Thursday at 5 p.m., is generally considered to be much more credible, but differing models tracked the storm either right up the centre of Florida or up the east coast. By Friday, some meteorologists were calling it: Irma was going to track right up the centre of the state. But by the time Irma made it to the southwest coast Sunday morning, models were predicting a more westerly track, skidding along the coast and finally making landfall on the panhandle.
For about six hours on Sunday, while the worst of the storm was over Fort Myers, there was no word from my sister. In fact, there was no word really from anywhere in the affected area. Social media searches of Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres only turned up the odd tweet from people hoping to find information about their family in the area. The silence was eerie. It’s amazing to think there are natural events strong enough to totally isolate populations of people from the rest of the world.
During this time, there really was no place to get good information. The odd video would pop up on social media showing storm damage to various regions of the state. Major news outlets had livecams going so people could tune in to watch palms struggle against wind and rain. There was an abundance of news about the hurricane pulling water away from beaches ahead of the looming storm surges. There was a feel-good story about two manatees that were saved after being beached in receding ocean water. But none of these reports were particularly helpful to me until I’d heard an update straight from my sister. Around 8:30 p.m., I did. Bridgette was able to check in. Cell service was back, and she had used her computer to give her phone a bit of charge. She was getting ready to assess damage to her house, but she made it through.