Hurricane Evacuation – a Swirl of Emotion

This blog post is a personal reflection on this past week.  I needed to do it for my own mental health.  It has absolutely nothing to do with retirement transition!

We knew when we moved to our new home in Florida that hurricane evacuation was a possibility.  But we had owned property (second home) in the area for 10+ years and only had one evacuation situation. We were not in residence for that one and our property had no damage. I definitely downplayed the possibility of evacuation and a hurricane’s impact. This week it became not a possibility but a reality.

I realized there is a huge emotional impact difference between dealing with an incoming hurricane when dealing with a second (vacation) home versus a primary (and only) home.  When you evacuate your only home with a hurricane coming, the anxiety is huge.

Hurricanes have predicted paths and all Floridians follow the paths as they form, knowing that it’s hard to know at first the direction a hurricane might take.  But when they give the Mandatory Evacuation call for your area (with 17 hours to leave) and you live in a single story home on the water with 10+ foot storm surge predicted, you get out.  Yes, in a hurricane, you run from water.

We spent those hours prepping the house to leave: lifting things up onto counters in case (hoping) it was lower surge and only minor house flooding; putting up flood barriers & sand bags on all doors; tying things down or bringing in anything that could become a missile in 100+mph winds.  Yes, all my yard art and container pots needed to be moved.  Boats and boards needed to fit back into a full garage.  Then packing up the “critical stuff” and finding a hotel room on higher ground (one that takes pets!). My search for a hotel room was being done along with thousands of other people’s searches.  I had 6 in process of booking when someone else beat me to them, finishing their booking first!  We ended up with a room 80 miles away (in Orlando, right near Disney World) and that 80 miles took over 3 hours of driving as thousands of us went in the same direction.

But the emotional impact was horrendous. I still tear up thinking about it. I felt high anxiety that we would come back to complete destruction and nothing salvageable. Everyone says it’s about the people and not the stuff, and I agree.  Until you think about having nothing but what you put in the car – one bag of clothes and a box of all the important papers. 

The anxiety was combined with a disruption of routine. My normal morning activities, my regular exercise classes, and even my dates and appointments for the week were all gone.  I’m a creature of routine/schedule and this disruption certainly did not help. Nor did lack of sleep because of flood anxiety! As I drove those 80 miles I worried about canceling appointments (would I get charged for late cancels) and about who I needed to let know that we evacuated so when/if they saw the news, they would not worry. I used Facebook and group texts and was grateful for how useful those tools can be.

And we were spared. The hurricane’s most predicted path was not taken. It shifted and the eye hit 100 miles south of us, creating catastrophic destruction for a different community. And then ironically, the eye went over our evacuation location. We lost power at the hotel, but stayed safe and mostly dry. (Dogs still need to be walked even if it’s pouring rain!)

While we had limited connectivity with the power outage, it was heart warming to get texts and emails from friends and family reaching out to know how we were. Those connections sustained me, as we didn’t know how bad our property hit was.  Even 100 miles from the eye of the hurricane, there’s still a lot of wind and storm surge possible.

Coming home, I feel so much gratitude.  But I also feel a huge side of guilt for feeling grateful, because there are thousands who lost everything. And unfortunately, the anxiety remains. Every time I look at the news and see what’s happening just 100 miles away, tears form and my tummy clenches, because that could have been us.

I know that this is now our reality.  Climate change means more severe weather and even though our area has had very few hurricane hits in many, many years, that is not the expectation going forward.  I will learn to let go of attachment to stuff. We know now how long it takes to prepare the house to leave. I will plan earlier to find high ground hotel space and update our pack list. 

Intriguingly, I stumbled across a series of articles about dealing with anxiety and worry.  I thought the concept of “worry rehab” was helpful:

  • To stop fixating on what I cannot control, accepting that I have no power over the universe (and hurricanes).
  • To proactively push aside the worry by simply directing my attention toward something else.
  • To accept that things are as they are and work on returning to a normal state of balance and normal rhythm.

So, I will push aside the anxiety (deep breathing), stop looking at the news pictures, return to my normal routines ,and enjoy this space.  Because when the anxiety of total destruction is not there, our place is really amazing.

Picture credit: Pixabay

32 thoughts on “Hurricane Evacuation – a Swirl of Emotion

  1. I am glad you were spared the destruction, Pat, and can only imagine what the mental anguish is like. Reading your description of packing up, finding safe accommodations, and the actual evacuation helped me realize how traumatizing that must be. What a powerful lesson in releasing attachment and embracing impermanence. Of course, my love and prayers go out to everyone involved. Again, I am so grateful you and yours are okay.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Christie, Yes, this fits totally into your blogging topic on embracing impermanence! I’m definitely working on releasing attachment to stuff…. this is an uphill battle for sure.

      [I know my friends out west deal with similar issues with forest fires, so hope you are not in those areas where your two houses are.]

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  2. You were on my mind when we saw what was happening…..I can completely understand the fear, the terror and the threat. It is now with you….and it would be easy to say “oh you can relax now” but no, you can’t. You have experienced something awful ( the threat) and now, over time, need to absorb this. Let is happens as it does in its own good time, and make plans for what to do in the future. The only reassurance you can have, is to do what you can. Thinking of you …take care, and be kind to yourself …Denyse

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had someone ask if I could live with knowing that it still might happen to us. With climate change, this might be a more regular occurrence. At least with hurricanes, you have warning and can evacuate. We did and we will in the future as well. Too many lives were lost because people did not evacuate, for various reasons. Maybe it’s time to let go of attachment to stuff, or try to!

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  3. I understand what you mean about the guilt and your anxiety. I’m happy for your good fortune. Seeing the devastation prompted me to feel blessed. We will have to find the best ways to help those who lost so much.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We live close enough that there are local drives for materials (beyond money). First set was for clean-up items – tarps, coolers, cleaning supplies, bags, gloves. Local Rotary, American Legion, churches – all filled trucks/busses and drove them down. I expect to get next request on living items this week – non perishable foods and clothes. We are doing what we can!

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  4. I appreciate how you’ve shared your worries here. I’d be freaked out. Knowing that a hurricane could decimate your property is entirely different from experiencing the possibility firsthand. I’m glad you’re safe and in one piece. Back to normal now?

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    1. Ally, Yes, back to normal. But a definite shift as well. I did 3 beach walks this past week! I think need to “personally justify” being here by how I live (and appreciate where I live) every day.

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  5. I’m glad you are safe and that you only had minimal damage. I feel so awful for all the others that have experienced the worst…help cannot come to them fast enough 😦 Myrtle Beach got the second shot of Ian and since we live about 7 miles away from the coast we weren’t in any real danger. We did lose power for a little bit but in comparison, that’s nothing. When we decided to move to MB we purposely chose an area outside the established evacuation zones because I didn’t want to worry about losing my home every hurricane season :-/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sharon, Someone asked me yesterday if I can live knowing every hurricane season we might lose our home. I’m hoping that knowledge will make me less attached to things, which will be a learning curve actually. Not that I want it to happen – the pictures from down south of us are chilling. It was so good to see bridge to Pine Island already a temporary fix and the talk on Sanibel Causeway being weeks not years. Yes, I’m following the news quite a bit again!

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  6. Glad you are safe and well. We evacuated out of a Charleston, SC, beach; but just a rental so no emotional component, just some inconvenience. I guess somehow we have to acclimate to a more dangerous future. Best to you and yours.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tom, Glad you evacuated when necessary. I’ve seen too many stories this time of people not evacuating and then being in real dire situations. (The death toll continues to rise.) And I agree, acclimating to a more dangerous future… and not just on the coast of Florida.

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  7. I’ve been thinking about you and assumed you had to evacuate. I’m so relieved that our favorite area was spared the worst but I feel terrible for those farther south. Thanks for writing this so soon afterwards to let us know you’re ok.

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    1. I didn’t realize this was a “I’m safe” blog but now I am glad I wrote it. Yes, our area had little damage – a few trees down and some power outages. Everything back to normal. But the images from down south are heart-breaking.

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  8. Hi Pat, I am glad you shared your experience as I believe it is a huge part of ‘retirement transition’ and one that many do not consider before moving to Florida. We all seem to have an attitude of ‘this won’t happen to me.’ But, it obviously can. We have never received an evacuation order, but we have prepared and sheltered in place a few times during impending threats. I completely understand the stress, the relief, and even the feelings of guilt that you are going through. Accepting things as they are, turning your focus elsewhere, and finding your new rhythm is good advice. Thanks for sharing both your thoughts and your current status. Glad all is well on the home front.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Last summer, a month after we moved in, we had a prepare and shelter in place. An evacuation feels really different! And now seeing the damage down south, I’m sure the next evacuation order will be even more stressful. I’m going to work on another pack list – things that I need to not lose, beyond the “important papers”. That’s going to be challenging because it also needs to fit into a car. One neighbor went and rented a Uhaul to evacuate with – they flooded 2 years ago in that year’s bad one that hit Tampa area and had all new furniture and electronics. It’s an idea!

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  9. This may not be a normal for your blog, but I think it has everything to do with retirement transition. So many either move to or purchase a winter home in Florida that I am sure your blog speaks to many retirees. Including those such as myself that have wanted to move there. It is certainly something to consider, among many other things, when thinking about said move. And for those there, acknowledging the new stress and how difficult it is and some guidelines on how to handle this stress is definitely about retirement. So blog away about it!
    I really should have started with – I am so glad that you all are safe and sound and that your home is ok. I can’t even imagine the stress that is associated with what you and so many others went through. And much as you say, it is different when it is a vacation home and the only home you have. I know everyone says we shouldn’t be attached to “things”, but………let’s be real. A lot our comfort comes from having things. Our home and our special things are like our teddy bears for life. Our home is our “den”, our “cave” of protection and the things we cherish – our teddy bears. To have them threatened is very stressful!
    My prayers are with all those that have and are still suffering through the effects of Ian.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love how you talked about things… so articulate and I wish I had those words in my blog! I honestly do not know how I would be if we had lost it all. I know I need to start thinking about what “teddy bears” I need to load next time we need to evacuate. We won’t be lucky every time.

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  10. Thank-you for posting. Like your other posts, this one has universal messages in and beyond retirement. I am very grateful that you are safe, and that your home was not damaged/destroyed. Keeping those who did experience loss in thoughts and prayers. Take care!
    John (from Newfoundland, where Fiona left much damage and destruction on our west coast. I live in St. John’s, on the east coast, where it was warm and sunny that day.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. John, Thanks for commenting. It amazes me sometimes who reads my blog.

      We are only 100 miles aways from the complete destruction of the hurricane’s eye, 50 miles from some badly flooded areas. It’s frightening how close we came and were spared. Now we are trying to support the rescue and rebuild efforts as we can.

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  11. Hi Pat – what an absolute nightmare that would have been (I can’t even begin to imagine the stress and worry!) I’m so relieved for you that you weren’t hit by the worst of the storm and that your home is safe. An interesting aside is that those three points about “worry rehab” are exactly what I’m using in the lead-up to my surgery. It’s all out of my control now and I just wait and hope…..and leave the worry in the deep recesses and focus on what I have some control over.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Leanne, I think those approaches are good for many things we worry about that really we can’t control! Getting back into more “normal” activities today was helpful too. It’s still hard to hear other folks stories cause I feel guilty we were spared!

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  12. I’m glad your home was spared. Sadly my son and grandson live in North Port and they were not. Not sure of full damage yet but know my grandson’s home was flooded and my son’s home has roof damage besides losing his fence. Reenforces our decision not to buy a second home in Naples area. We are fortunate that our North Naples rental did not experience any serious damage beyond a few downed trees in the condo complex.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have a good friend with a place in Naples and their house is fine. It’s crazy the impact on some streets and not others. Hope your family’s homes can be fixed easily and quickly. It’s a hard thing to manage through, I am sure.

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  13. Glad to hear you are safe. It was harrowing experience that will definitely be with you forever. My home/family was affected by the 1974 cat 5 tornado. I remember every detail of that day and it has shaped who am I am today. This experience will affect the remainder of your retirement in many ways. Make it all good.

    Linda Odioso

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Linda – I didn’t realize this blog was an “I’m safe” message to many folks. I’m glad I posted it. I also recognize we might be facing this situation again. So I’m going to enjoy every day we have here!

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    1. Thanks Bernie. Today we started living “normal” again and getting back into routines has been helpful. It’s so sad to see the amount of damage and so close to where we live.

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      1. Our friends moved to the Okanagan this last year and found out about evacuation orders and being prepared. Seems we are always just reacting to climate change and not slowing it down. Bernie

        Liked by 1 person

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