Unfortunately, living in Florida since 1970, I have experienced at least 8 evacuations, and I’ve “hunkered down” for my share of hurricanes and tropical storms. Before I moved south, I always presumed it was quite an easy decision to evacuate for a hurricane. I mean, they don’t sneak up on you, do they?
As with most things, its not quite as easy as it seems. First of all, when you do make the decision to evacuate, you have at least 1 1/2 days of back breaking labor in 90 plus degree heat, and even worse, unbearable HUMIDITY. Doing anything, even bending down to pick up a screw driver, will have you covered in drenching sweat. Moving everything from outside in, finding your hurricane shutters if you have them (mine are heavy sheets of 3/4 inch 4 by 8 plywood). Trying to remember how the damn things go up, and if you have a 2 story house, hauling some of them to the 2nd story, and then taking your life in your hands climbing down a 20′ ladder because you’ve just sealed up the upstairs balconies and the only way down is by a ladder.
Now, in order to find a place to stay and make good time getting away, you have to leave way before you really know where the hurricane is actually going to hit. So, you risk doing all that work for nothing. The folks at the weather stations are getting better, but look at what they told us Hurricane Matthew was going to do…remember the big loop that showed it was coming back? Didn’t happen, did it.
More than several times we were told that the impending hurricane was only going to be a category 1 or 2. No self respecting Floridian would board up the house or evacuate for a cat 1 or 2. No, that’s when you go to the liquor store and stock up on supplies. Then, all of a sudden, everything changes, and when the storm is heading right for you, it increases to a cat 3 or 4. Oh, boy! That gets everyone’s attention. But guess what….it’s too late. The traffic is inching along from Miami and Ft. Lauderdale folks who also thought it was going to be a Cat 1 or 2 and the closest motel room you could find is in Chattanooga. (Not a joke, this actually happened to me on my birthday when it took me 8 hours of 5 mile an hour traffic to go west from Savannah, Ga.)
Oh, did I tell you about the times when I went the wrong way? Twice I headed in the direction that seemed safer only to find out that I had evacuated closer to where the hurricane finally hit the coast. It sounds ridiculous, but it can happen.
So, the next time you shake your head, and wonder why those stupid people decided to stay, you should know that evacuating for a hurricane is not quite as simple as it seems!
By the way, if you do evacuate, coming back is even worse. If you live on a barrier island like I do, they wait to open the causeways. You may have to sit there for hours and you have to show ID to get over. If it’s a bad one, there are no traffic lights working in the whole town. National guardsmen with M-16s are at major intersections and at the few gas stations that have gas, if you’re lucky. Why M-16’s? Because people are going crazy from exhaustion and worry. There is no gas, no water, no food, no electricity, and everyone is worried that they won’t have a house to return to. They also have visions of looters picking up their possessions from the front yard before they have a chance to return.
We dodged a big one with Matthew. If the eye had wobbled just 20 miles to the west, much of the Florida coast would have been decimated.