As I sit on my Indiana porch sipping my Indiana coffee, I contemplate the destruction that has surely overtaken the area in which I once was.
Traveling south on a long-awaited vacation little more than a week ago, my family and I could hardly contain our excitement as we inched ever closer to the virtual Graceland of every child in America: Walt Disney World.
Completely unaware that a mammoth hurricane by the name of “Irma” — what a name for a storm, right? — was churning up the warm waters of the mid-Atlantic Ocean with the Caribbean and Florida directly in its sights, my wife (Sara), our four-year-old son (Jay) and four-month-old daughter (Hannah) traveled in relative comfort inside my mother and father-in-laws’ motor home, ourselves a mere portion of a group comprised of grandparents, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces and cousins.
Upon arrival at our temporary abode in Lake Buena Vista, and indeed for the first few days, we looked forward to an absurdly (but happily) long vacation in the tropical climate that surrounds Orlando and the beloved Walt Disney World.
And as we gazed upon the palm trees, the beautiful sky and the terrible drivers, we knew we were ready for an experience.
An experience not fraught with…
…genuine concern of a natural disaster that would cause the entire state of Florida to panic around us.
For the first few days, it was nice. I must admit, there was no cause for concern on any front, save keeping my Hoosier family cool in the Florida heat. We went to Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, the Epcot Center and the Animal Kingdom as so many have done over the preceding decades.
Then, about halfway through the vacation, I made a short trip to the nearest gas station for two of my marriage’s most vital necessities — Coca-Cola and Mountain Dew. While there, the cashier, a young surfer dude, asked, “have you heard?”
I replied, “Heard what?”
He answers, “The governor just put all of Florida under a state of emergency because of Irma. I don’t know if I’m going to stay or try to head north but, if you can head north, I’d get to it.”
“Hmm,” I thought as paid for the essentials and drove back to our condo. “Is it going to get here before our vacation is over?”
I then drove home and flicked on the television to check out the weather and, sure enough, there was a monster of a hurricane nearing the out-stretches of the smallest island nations about 1,000 miles to the east.
This “Irma” that I had paid little attention to was now demanding it.
For our fourth day at the mecca of all that is childhood happiness (Disney World), we chose to explore Animal Kingdom and the Pandora section which, of course, is modeled after the fictional world depicted in the famous Avatar movie, and I began to notice fewer and fewer people attending the park.
Once the state of emergency was declared, everyone in Florida began moving slowly northward to escape the path of the hurricane, and this mass exodus is what quickly became the central focus of the rest of our trip: We need to get our of here before it’s too late.
We then decided to pack up and head north the next morning (Thursday, Sept. 7), and I’m extremely happy that we did so.
We returned to Indiana Friday evening (Sept. 8) after an arduous trip that diverted us around the jam-packed interstates of northern Florida to the crumbling interstates and U.S. highways of coastal Georgia, South Carolina and northwest through North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky. It wasn’t until we were into Kentucky that we saw an environment not fraught with concern which, needless to say, was a sight for sore eyes.
It was the following day (Sept. 9) that the governor of Florida declared a deadline, of sorts, to leave. Basically, he stated that, if you haven’t begun traveling by noon on Saturday — do not try. Do not attempt to leave as you will add to the massive traffic jam that was northern Florida.
And now (Sept. 10-11) Disney World is closed for only the second time since its opening in 1971.
Thank God for meteorologists and their abilities to predict natural weather disasters and for alerting us to the approaching danger; thank God for the governor declaring a state of emergency when the weather outside seemed fine; thank God for the easterly-route we decided to take; and thank God for family and friends who prayed for our safe return as we narrowly dodged the most powerful hurricane ever to hit the United States.
Thank God for my family’s safety.
For those looking to donate to the relief efforts taking place in areas affected by Hurricane Harvey or Hurricane Irma, visit unicefusa.org, redcross.org or give.salvationarmyusa.org.