Living on the edge of Hurricane Irma

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 10, 2017

The night was short. The wind strengthened around 5:00 am and the sound of gusts through the joints of the windows became very strong. We kept water and electricity all night, but the outage came at 7 o'clock. Moreover, the alarm messages arrived at the same time: tornado warning for the building and elevators out of use, text messages from the county telling us to take shelter.

 Last satellite image of hurricane Irma before power surge

Last satellite image of hurricane Irma before power surge

Now we switch to survival mode. The heat starts rising. We are now on water reserves to drink and wash, on ice reserves to keep the food cool some time. Not one animal outside. Waves form and strike the breakwaters, flooding the first row of houses by the bay. And it's only low tide. Irma has regained strength in Cuban warm waters and returns to category 4 to hit the Lower Keys. We do not see Downtown, nor North Bay Village or Miami Beach for that matter. From our North Miami observatory, visibility extends for a few hundred yards at most.

Around 1:00 pm, at the height of a coefficient 89 tide, the pontoons of the marinas are submerged, the docks begin to break. Two boats sink under our eyes and the parking lot disappears under the muddy water. The waves reach 4 feet inside the bay and now smash on the facades of the houses. With a 120 mph wind, the sprays fly over hundreds of feet inland. Between the buildings, the wind accelerates and breaks the branches. The palm trees are decapitated at mid-height, the pines lie down. Saltwater comes on the parkings, the swimming pools, the lawns and gradually flood the cars. The gusts make the water surface white and the rain comes to strike the windows in a thunderous thud. The water also passes under the bay windows, pushed by a powerful and continuous stream of air. The rail on the ground is flooded and the water bubbles while entering the apartment. Near the elevators, the whistling is almost unbearable.

hurricane-irma-photo-miami.JPG

At 2:00 pm, the eye of the hurricane passes Naples. In a few hours, the wind and rain will begin to calm down. Reflexes die hard: you open a tap to wash your hands, you touch the switch when entering a room... Seeing the situation outside and the County's priorities, FPL will not touch our power line for quite a while. The phone network is still operational, although it's weakened. It's 82 degrees in the apartment. We play, we paint, we eat, we do crafts, we read. The deafening sound of wind and rain on impact windows never ceases. At least we do not live by candlelight during the day.

 The waves, the rain and the wind against North Miami bay shores

The waves, the rain and the wind against North Miami bay shores

3:30 pm. First time we have been really afraid since the beginning of the storm: the concrete dam that protects the Jockey Club from the bay has just broke. The waves propel blocks of concrete and enormous clods of ground 5 feet in the air. In 20 minutes, almost 10 meters of ground were swallowed up by the bay. My favorite palm tree, which rises here, has already lost three quarters of its leaves but remains solid in the wind. At each wave, the sea digs a little more around it, until only a tiny island remains with my palm tree in the middle. I hope he will stand up.

Some of our neighbors found protection in the stairwell. They pile up their mattresses, their most precious things and food. Each stair is a small makeshift house where people reassure themselves like homeless. After the fright of the land collapsing, we took down the 20 floors to find ourselves blocked on the lobby: the 130 mph rainy gusts prevent any escape. We're stuck here.

It seems that every time we think it calms down, an even stronger gust makes the windows shake. Sometimes we feel the building wobble a few inches. With the wind pressure, it is impossible to open the windows. At 5:43 pm, my palm tree collapsed. It has delivered a courageous battle, remaining erected longer than the concrete. We begin to feel the lull. The moisture is still very high, the tissues are moist, the pages of the books curl.

 My palm tree before, during, after the deadly storm

My palm tree before, during, after the deadly storm

The Aftermath

In the morning, a breeze from the west and a warm sun make the atmosphere soft and sad. We asses the damages: lying trees, flooded parkings, torn shutters, destroyed parapets and docks, sunken boats. And we only wiped a tropical storm, as the hurricane hit further west. Irma landed the coast of Florida in Marco Island and Naples. There it must be the apocalypse. We are among the secondary victims. We are lucky and have no complaints to make.

People wander the streets. Some are already working to clean everything up, others are doing disaster-tourism, others are lining up in front of closed shops. At the foot of leafless trees, haggard squirrels are in shock, while disillusioned iguanas warm up at the first rays of sun. The seabirds have resumed their flights: seagulls, cormorants and anhingas are feeding on dead fish. On Biscayne and the 79th Causeway the sirens of firetrucks, ambulances and police alarms keep ringing. Tonight, the city vibrates by the flashing lights of emergency vehicles and falls asleep by the purring of power generators.

Tuesday, 12 September, 7.30 am. Still no running water or power. The toilets begin to smell, so we spit out the mouthwash on it to make it better. We recovered some of the rainwater that came into the apartment during the storm, but flushes consume a lot. Our drinking water supplies are still good. This morning, we transfer all the remaining ice from the freezer to the refrigerator to keep the food fresh. The bay is totally smooth. Not a breath of wind and a cloudless sky. Manatees swim slowly between boards and floating debris. We use laptop batteries to recharge cellphones.

First drive out. The brake discs rusted with salty sprays and braking makes a scary noise. On Biscayne Blvd, there is no traffic lights and the police is on the biggest crossroads. We offer a bottle of water to a homeless person who is filtering out stagnant water through a sock. The poor man begged us to take refuge in an atomic shelter further north, by taking the left lane... Aftershock thought. Most shops are still closed, gas pumps empty and packed in plastic. At Home Depot, people line up through the entire length of the parking lot. At Costco, there are few things left: beers, a lot of frozen products and some fruits. For meat, only chicken is left. The traffic is very dense, most streets are strewn with branches. Back in our building, we still have to climb nearly 300 steps (291 exactly) to return to our apartment where it is 85 degrees. On the balcony, a very light southwest wind gives us a feeling of holidays.

At 4:30 pm, electricity returns, soon followed by the water. Tonight, the apartment will begin to dry.

Now the storm has passed. Close.

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