Lessons from Irma

Guest post by Emer Kelly

I wrote a post about Hurricane Harvey a couple of weeks ago. I wanted to highlight the kindness people showed one another during that catastrophe, and as I wrote, I also horrified myself with images of people’s homes covered in water, cars destroyed, what belongings they had left placed in plastic trash bags as they were rowed to safety. The images made me shudder, and I wondered what I could do to help, and tried not to imagine it happening to me, or the people I love.

I live in St. Petersburg FL.

This week has been in intense whirlwind, as I battled with the reality of my worst fears coming true. Here are a few things I learned this past week:

1. Things don’t matter As horrifying as those images of houses under water are, when we were told we had a category 5 hurricane possibly making landfall in our town, all we cared about was our safety, and the safety of our loved ones. The house was suddenly inconsequential, and once we had boarded it up as best we could, we left it and fled to safety.

As the days wore on, and the forecast got worse, I tried to cut my emotional ties to stuff, and focus on the people around me. We are lucky that we have friends and family who will take us in if our home is destroyed. We would be ok.

2. People are amazing We have no close friends or family in Northern Florida or Georgia, but an amazing co-worker of my love’s took us and our dog in (the resident cats weren’t pleased) for 6 days. One of our hosts had a tooth abscess, and underwent an emergency root canal while we were there. They also had leaks in their own home to deal with. Despite all this, they chatted, cooked, had fun with us, and made us feel so welcome.

3. Gratitude is a sanity-saver Evacuating in a hurry and driving in insane traffic through the night it very stressful, but gratitude got us through it. Every time it felt like too much, we repeated all the things we were grateful for:

  1. We’re ok

  2. Our closest family members are ok

  3. We have somewhere warm and safe to stay

  4. All our important documents are safely with us

  5. We have enough gas to get us there

  6. etc…

4. Did I mention people are amazing? You would think spending hours on the road would make drivers crabby, angry, and aggressive. But despite the traffic, the stress, and the frustration, the vast majority of people on the road were lovely. There was no honking, no yelling, no road rage. The people we met at rest stops and gas stations were exhausted, but friendly – we were all in this together. A friend of mine even experienced locals in South Carolina coming out to the rest stops with food and dog treats for weary evacuees.

5. I can’t emphasize enough how wonderful people are. We have some friends who stayed behind, one of whom is a member of the US Coast Guard, the other, a registered nurse. By the time the storm hit, they had turned their home into a safe haven for 9 people, 7 cats, 8 dogs, 5 chickens, 2 goats and 1 snake. Despite the chaos inside, they invited any sick or injured neighbors into their home during the storm, as they knew medical help in the area would be limited.

6. Neighbors are the best We have amazing neighbors. And I’m sure a lot of you do too. Our neighbors who stayed for the storm had a lot on their minds. But still, they took in our mail for us, turned off the water when we forgot, took photos of the house and assured us everything was intact after the storm, took a chainsaw over to our front yard and cleaned up our downed trees for us, and today are allowing us to work from their homes as we have no internet at ours. As we walk our dog around the neighborhood, I see countless others working together to un-board houses and piece everything back together.

We’ve been incredibly lucky during this storm. Despite the dire forecast, it ended up hitting our town as a category 1. We still have a house, we have power, we have amazing people in our lives. I have never been so grateful.

If you would like to help those who weren’t so lucky during the storm, please check out this article for a list of organizations on the ground.


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