I thought about my friend George Wendell as I read the horrifying reports about the impending Hurricane Irma, bearing down on the Caribbean, and soon, the entire state of Florida. I sent him a text, asking how he and his wife Laura were doing in Coral Gables, and he gave me a call a few hours later. “Are you getting ready to evacuate?” I asked. “No, we’re not,” he said. What about going to a shelter, is that possible?
“Are you getting ready to evacuate?” I asked. “No, we’re not,” he said. What about going to a shelter, is that possible?
“No,” he said, “this neighborhood hasn’t been designated as an evacuation zone yet so they wouldn’t let us in if we tried.”
I was dumbstruck and fearful. I can’t remember in all of my 58 years fearing for a weather event as much as I have been about Irma. Maybe it’s because I am still in shock over what happened in Houston, I mean, when did any city in history ever get 55 inches of rain in one storm? It’s preposterous, and it’s scary as hell. And now we have not one but two hurricanes bearing down on a part of Florida that’s practically at sea level, at best.
I didn’t try to convince George that his path was foolish, he lives there, he knows more than I do about the risks. He cited his hurricane-proof glass on his windows and doors and said that people around their neighborhood were praying. Not moving, just praying. “Have you seen the traffic jams on 95 north?” he said. It would take days to move not that far.
I still think that since it’s only Thursday and the storm is expected to hit Sunday that they should get in their car and leave. But just as famous billionaire Sir Richard Branson has decided to stay put on his Necker island, (where his huge house was totally destroyed in a 2011 hurricane) and simply huddle in his wine cellar, some people just don’t want to leave. He survived, but here is what Branson said about the storm.
“I have never seen anything like this hurricane. Necker and the whole area have been completely and utterly devastated. We are still assessing the damage, but whole houses and trees have disappeared. Outside of the bunker, bathroom and bedroom doors and windows have flown 40 feet away. I’m speaking these words from a satellite phone that is just about working, but all other communications are down.
For those who are still in the path of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Jose to come, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to put safety first and prepare as strongly as possible. Having seen first-hand the power of this storm, please ensure you stay inside, ideally in organized shelters or other solid concrete structures with water, supplies and emergency contact plans.”
I asked George to call me next week and tell me how he and Laura fared. I am crossing my fingers and hoping they are ok.