“Hurricane Andrew was the worst storm to hit Miami, I was one of the fortunate ones not to lose my house. I do not want to live through an event like that again.”
These are the words of my college professor, right before telling the class that we should all leave the Miami area immediately. This is when the panic started. 25 years ago Hurricane Andrew devastated Miami, and on the horizon was hurricane Irma, which was tracking to be almost twice the size of Hurricane Andrew. Miami was going to be hit hard and I was not going to stick around to watch.
Coming from the North Shore of Auckland, hurricanes are not something I am familiar with and I am not going to deny that the panic the media was expressing was affecting me. I am currently a sophomore student at Florida International University, located about 30 minutes back from South Beach in Miami, Florida.
When people started to realise that this storm had a high chance of hitting Miami extremely hard, I went to Costco to get water. The shelves that would normally be covered were empty: they had completely sold out. The lines of people were going halfway to the back of the huge stores, so it was then that I decided that this wasn't going to be the best place to shop for one person. I was really getting nervous! I eventually found water after visiting multiple shops, and queuing with hundreds of others in endless lines.
Next up was the hard task of getting gas. Every gas station I drove past had lines out on the road and was running out of petrol rapidly. Having decided to bite the bullet and join the long line, I finally got to the pump 40 minutes later. The price of gas had escalated to its highest level since hurricane Katrina in 2005. I also stocked up on non-perishable foods but quickly realised my appetite was much larger than the amount of food I had bought, meaning my emergency supplies lasted around two hours. Let’s just say rationing isn't my strong point.
It became apparent that my best friend and I would have to evacuate the Miami area. So, along with 1.3 million Miami residents, we headed north. Our destination was Sarasota, which is about three and a half hours up the west coast of Florida. At that time, Irma was forecast to hit Miami and then make its way up the East coast of the state.
Staying with my best friend's family in Sarasota I felt much safer than in my apartment in Miami, which was still on course to get a battering by the strongest hurricane on record. As the week progressed, we came to realise that Sarasota was going to be straight in the line of fire as Irma decided to change her track towards the West coast. This meant hurricane shutters went up, all devices charged, non-stop Irma tracker on television and endless bags of water frozen in the freezer. We were prepared for the worst but still hoping for the best.
Irma was expected to arrive at around 2pm on Sunday, so the waiting game began. And we waited. And waited. Finally around 10pm we started to hear some wind but nothing like I had prepared myself for. My professor had told the class how the winds would sound like a freight train and the snapping of branches would be terrifying. Fortunately, I did not experience any of these. The winds had dropped considerably from what had battered islands such as Barbuda and St. Thomas. They now sat at a “comfortable” 80 miles per hour, which meant we did not go one minute without power. Throughout the whole hurricane we could not stop talking about how lucky we were. How lucky Irma had been downgraded to a category two. How lucky we were to be able to be prepared. How lucky we were that we were alive.
Irma created a path of destruction far and wide, and created panic which stretched even further. My first hurricane experience was stressful to say the least and I am one of the lucky ones. Clean-up is still underway here in Miami, following power outages and fallen trees having lined most roads. But what we experienced here in Florida is nothing compared to what those in the islands experienced; many lives have been changed forever.
By Imogen Francis