Talk about feeling helpless.
I spent all last weekend worrying. Not about the Miami Dolphins and the season-opening game against Tampa Bay because that game was postponed.
In fact, just about the entire state of Florida shut down as Hurricane Irma moved closer and closer.
My mother and grandmother live in Palm Beach County, Florida. In fact, most of my mother’s side of the family lives in South Florida.
Mom is in her 70s and MaMa (yes, MaMa, I’m from the south, remember?) is in her 90s. I talked with them on Thursday of last week, asking where they were going.
"We’re not going anywhere," was the reply.
See despite warnings from officials, my mother and grandmother insisted they were safe where they lived.
They had hurricane shutters, they had cut down large trees out of the yard 6 months prior, they had generators and gas in case the power went out, so they figured to ride out the storm.
At one point my mother and grandmother were going to join my aunt and uncle at my cousin’s house because it was the newest and strongest, but when Irma decided she wanted to hit Key West and go up the west coast of the state instead of the east coast, plans changed again and they stayed home.
Mom lost her phones early Saturday and her cell coverage Saturday afternoon. Power hung on until Sunday, but I didn’t know because I had no way to contact her.
Sunday was the first regular season games for the NFL. I didn’t care and didn’t watch any games. DirectTV had several channels devoted to hurricane coverage, so I was glued to that.
Several channels based in Palm Beach County — WPBF and WPTV — were shown at various times and I could see what was happening.
It wasn’t pretty or fun.
Every shot outside showed high winds, heavy rains and continued pleas by TV folks for people to stay put where they were. I saw boats on football fields, flooding in downtown Miami and reports of alligators walking around in neighborhoods after canals had risen.
While I had an idea what was happening in my hometown, I had no clue what was happening with family or friends.
Throw in I had several friends in Daytona Beach — where I lived and worked for 4 years — who were reporting via Facebook and Twitter how bad things were getting there and I was worried and glued to the television.
My mother and grandmother are elderly. Neither has Facebook or Twitter, nor would they utilize it much if they did. So, with phone and cell service down, my only glimpse into what was happening was on TV.
I saw a call of a fire alarm at a Rivera Beach apartment complex. The location was east of my family.
Flooding in Miami and looting in Fort Lauderdale? South of my family. There were several tornado warnings in Brevard, Martin and Indian River counties. All northeast of my family.
With every note of the Acreage on Palm Beach County stations, I perked up. Yet, there was no video — as even TV folks were trying to stay safe — and many times there was little actual news.
So, I stayed glued to a television all day Sunday for what amounted to zero information.
My mother finally called on Monday morning. She had no power, cell service had just returned, but she and my grandmother were all right.
There was some damage in the yard, but no flooding. A few shingles came off the roof, but no other damage to buildings. They got high winds (above 90 miles per hour) and lots of rain (more than 11 inches by their rain gauge), but they were OK, safe and grateful.
Power returned to my family on Tuesday evening.
So, my family is fine, thank God. However, Florida is not fine.
Key West is a disaster area. Marco Island was hit hard, as was Naples and Tampa Bay. Jacksonville flooded, worse than Miami did. Power lines were downed, power is out and, well, it takes time to recover.
So, while I’m thankful my family survived, I wonder why they risked it? Yes, they’ve been through hurricanes before (Andrew, David and others), but Irma was different. Irma’s eye was on the western edge of the state, but rain bands and hurricane winds covered the entire state at one point. Counties were ordering mandatory evacuations from some areas and implementing curfews to keep streets cleared.
The fact Irma was so big is one reason my family decided to stay. As my mother said, "Where can we go? This hurricane is so big, we couldn’t get far enough away."
Well, I thought Georgia would’ve been far enough, but they would have had to hit the road much earlier. After all, when Irma was a category 5 and looked to be moving towards my family, their big decision was to gather at my cousin’s house.
Safety in numbers?
When Irma’s track moved west, everyone stayed at their own home. Mind you, my family endured hurricane-force winds and more than 10 inches of rain, but it wasn’t bad because the eye was 90 miles west.
Oh and Irma weakened to a category 3 before landfall.
Have we all become this jaded? Do tornadoes mean chasing the storm and getting great video or taking shelter? Did we stay safe during the ice storm or did we go outside in our vehicles and take pictures?
I don’t understand. As a journalist, I have to cover these things. Get pictures or video of devastation. It’s my job.
That doesn’t mean I’d want an employee to suffer and injury because of their job. Safety must come first.
I watched weathermen standing in 130 mph rain with rain stinging them as the eye wall approached. Yes, they did their job, but they weren’t in terrible danger. Most of them were right next to shelter if they needed it. The video was more for information than for danger. Most people watching realized this.
The hurricane sucked the water out of bays, inlets and canals. People in the know were warning about sea surge and the dangers when the water came back — faster, stronger and higher than when it went out.
Families were shown walking around areas that usually had water. They were exploring the scene rather than understanding it. Maybe that’s our problem. We’d rather see for ourselves than stay in place safe.
Sometimes Mom, MaMa, leaving ahead of danger is even a safer move. How about we try that for the next Irma, huh?
Roger Bluhm is the managing editor of the Dodge City Daily Globe. Follow him on Twitter @roger_dcglobe or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.