Richard, Joanne, Bleu Kitty, Bill, Carol and Lucky
Thursday afternoon the forecast track shifted along the west coast, just offshore as a CAT 4 or 5 - the worst possible scenario, a Perfect Storm. Irma could be expected to push a wall of water up Charlotte Harbor to flood our house, only 10 ft above sea level.
All week we had been preparing for the storm - putting up storm shutters, gathering insurance and other records, removing the bimini from the boat and adding lines to ground anchors. Wednesday, we also helped install storm shutters at Vincent St de Paul. Additionally, Richard helped put up storm shutters for a widow on our block. Thursday morning Richard and another neighbor finished up that task. Richard doubled the lines to the ground anchors and set out bow and stern anchors for Indigo Star. The boat rides securely to pilings that move and down with the tide. It is tied to blocks that slide up and down tracks mounted to pilings. But, what would happen if the water rose high enough to max out the slides? We didn't know; hence, all the extra work. All this work in Florida heat produced gallons of sweat, believe me.
We discussed parking one of cars in a public parking garage downtown. But what we didn't realize was that a lot of other people thought of the same thing! By the time we got there Thursday mid-morning, only a few spaces were left and those were on the roof level. Well, better there than in a flooded garage.
By Thursday afternoon Richard wanted to evacuate but I (Joanne) wanted to remain. A decision was made for when we received a phone message from the city recommending evacuation. It was time to go. Richard finished up with the boat. We packed a few things and stuffed the car with kitty stuff, flashlights, records, some food and hastily packed clothes bags and started driving north. Later, we learned that the police came around three times urging people to leave over a megaphone. It was a "mandatory evacuation."
While Richard was driving about an hour north of Punta Gorda , I noticed a phone message that I had missed. Upon listening, it was my cousin, Bill, who I had not heard from in some time. I phoned him and he invited us to stay with him and his wife, Carol, in a condo in Orlando, close to Disney. It turned out to be a Hilton Resort and boy, we were happy when we arrived and were ushered into a lovely room with a king size bed. They even welcomed us with our cat, Bleu Kitty, a long-haired Persian. I knew Carol had allergies to cats, therefore, I was worried. But, it turned out they have a lovely dog, Lucky, and she now takes allergy meds. So, NO WORRIES! We had a great time getting reacquainted and reminiscing about our childhoods, the family, etc. We watched lots of movies and enjoyed delicious meals while the weather channel was going non-stop.
At times it looked pretty bad. We discussed losing all our possessions, where we might go and what might happen. As the day moved into night and the hurricane was finally upon us, it veered eastward after demolishing Macro Island. It tracked over land, not over water. The surge forecast change to 1+ ft above ground for us. Still, we don't understand this ground reference since we think of water relative to sea level. Punta Gorda dodged a major bullet at the last hour. Even, my cousin's home in Naples was spared. We were so happy to go home again after the storm!
The blessings of this tough time were many. We heard from friends that we had not been in contact for quite a while. We received emails from our Friendship Force friends in foreign countries - Western Australia, Eastern Australia, Costa Rica, Japan, Belgium and Canada. My daughter actually called twice, once at 2 AM Saturday morning when she saw the forecast track going straight up Charlotte Harbor and offered to come and help us recover what was left of our house. Friends invited us to stay with them. Wow! We were so overwhelmed with the goodness of people. I remember the lessons I have learned in my life - out of tough situations, the sunlight shines. God is in control, not me! I am so grateful and blessed.