Being from Madera, the risk of hurricanes never felt particularly real until I moved to Hawaii. Now I give particular attention to them.
Even more significant was watching and following the path of Irma on television and social media, and later seeing its impact on Florida.
My brother, Robert Russell, also from Madera, lives in the Pompano Beach area or Fort Lauderdale area of SE Florida. When I look at a map of Florida, I imagine his home about an inch from the southern tip 20 miles inland. Oh sure, you say. That tells us everything we need to know.
Talking by phone before and after the hurricane was both frightening and funny. Funny you say? Yes! Rob was in a hotel on the second story. The wind, which reached about 80 mph, was hitting the other side of the building. Rob left the door open so he could watch. He said he wanted to watch the trees and power poles float by.
Mostly, he talked about the ducks swimming below him and shaking off their feathers, as they always do, while gusts of wind were reaching 80 mph.
“We have some big ugly ducks here,” he said. “They look like a cross between a vulture and a duck. With water rising and branches passing by, the ducks ignore it all.”
And talking about vultures. I ordered two cheap flashlights and batteries through Amazon online to deliver to Rob. I expedited it. The company added $54 to overnight it — this was Wednesday before last. It still has not arrived.
Rob’s descriptive words played with my imagination, causing me to feel like I was there with him. Before the storm, he told me how water, gas and flashlights were gone from store shelves early on, so he bought cases of juice. “The lines for gas are neverending,” he said. “Bottled water is gone, and we cannot trust the spigot.”
He drank juice. He drank that through the storm until the stores opened again. He refrained from bathing in it.
Earlier, when I asked why he didn’t leave, he said people don’t understand. The shelters filled up fast. Many people trying to exodus ended up gridlocked on the highway with nowhere to go. Imagine being trapped in a car on the highway with water rising. “You can run but you can’t hide,” he said. His choice was to stay and in retrospect appears to be the right one.
I insisted he call me as soon as he was able after the storm hit. Later he said he tried and tried. When I decided to call him the next day from Hawaii (I am six hours earlier) I got through immediately.
The next thing he described was volunteers appearing with machetes coming out to chop branches and drag them off the roads. Sand was sucked up off the beaches and dropped on the downs. Heavy equipment came in to remove it. As of yesterday, vehicles were still not allowed.
Rob was expecting curfew to be lifted and as the water receded, the traveling ban has been lifted as well.
— Ramona Frances
Editor’s note: Ramona Frances is a former reporter for The Madera Tribune who now lives in Hawaii.