My grandmother was the queen of preparing for bad weather. She lived 'in the country', and we often got blizzards that meant the roads were impassable. No problem for my grandmother - she had all her preserves, a cold cellar loaded with canned goods and juices, and a freezer full of meat. My grandparents could probably have lasted 6 months on my grandmother's stock.
And so, the first thing I did when preparing for Wilma was to stock up on non-perishables. We also bought a tray of eggs, and replenished our water jugs. We would not suffer from hunger or thirst.
Years of tent camping taught me how to collect and conserve water. In advance of the storm I filled the laundry tub and pails and pots with tap water. The pool was also filled. As the rain water poured down the staircase through the open doorway on the top level (the door was blown off), I collected it in pots rather than let it run out the back door. When we siphoned the water off the second floor terrace (where the drains were blocked with leaves), I stood under the hose and took a much-needed shower. I reused water, going from cleanest (i.e., washing dishes) to dirtiest (i.e., washing floors).
In the second-floor bedrooms, I put away everything except the large pieces of furniture. On the main level we moved as much off the floor as possible. We had a lot of water in the house, on every level - but nothing was seriously damaged inside.
What did I learn from Wilma that will help me be better prepared for the next hurricane?
- If anyone is visiting, send them home before it is too late to get a flight out. DO NOT let them stay, things may be bad for much longer than they are prepared to stay.
- You can never have too many batteries or candles.
- Charge the cell phone and buy enough credit to get through a couple of weeks.
- Buy charcoal for the BBQ.
- Before hurricane season starts, review the emergency supplies, check batteries, recharge 'chargers'.
- Stock up on fruit - it tends to last a while without refrigeration.
- Stock up on pet food.
- Get cash - we were able to eat several meals in the few restaurants that were serving.
- Put as many plants inside as possible - the hot wind will burn them very quickly.
- Make sure your neighbors are ok, and be generous to those who have less than you.
- We really need to learn how to use our solar equipment to trickle charge battery packs and cell phones.
Hurricane Wilma was an intense storm that went on for much too long. I was prepared for 8 hrs of wind, but not at all prepared for thundering, vibrating winds. Powerful winds that caused the furniture inside the house to vibrate, so much that it felt like an earthquake was about to swallow us up. Like a train thundering through the subway station. Like an angry force out there wanting to destroy us all. Winds strong enough to pick up the water tinacos on the roof and thump them back and forth against the house until the plumbing broke away and the tanks flew to the neighbor's terrace. Winds strong enough to rip a heavy metal door from its hinges and toss it over to the next lot. Wind that was hot. Wind that teased us by easing up a bit, then returned in full force with the next revolution. Wind that made me want to scream "Enough!". It started on the Thursday, while we were still completing our outdoor preparations, and it finally stopped, really stopped, by Monday.
And when the storm stopped was when we started post-Wilma living. No electricity for 15 days. No phone. No fans to cool the house. No lights to take away the darkness (and in October it gets dark around 6:30 pm). Long nights with nothing to do. After a week, when the airport reopened, I returned to Canada to pick up supplies to bring back - bedding and emergency supplies for those whom had lost their homes.
I remember standing up on the third level and watching helicopters bringing help. I thought about the times I'd read about emergency aid during disasters, or watched it on tv. I never thought I'd be on the receiving end. I felt like a survivor, pulled out of the rubble of Wilma. But we all were survivors - with the same dazed look on our faces - disbelief at what we had just endured, and the destruction we witnessed all around us.
I remember the taxi ride to the airport. Shocked at the devastation in Cancun, much worse structural damage to buildings than we'd had on Isla. I remember how good it felt to get to the airport in Cancun, and find electricity. And a restaurant that had 'normal' food - eggs, bacon, toast! I remember feeling shell-shocked still, and silently sitting in the airport listening to all the people around me sharing their personal stories.
When I arrived in the US to connect to my flight to Canada, it felt odd to be back amongst the normal living. I felt different. Changed, maybe. My sister claims my memory is not so good, but I know that I will always remember living through Wilma. Three years ago tonight we were in the center of the storm, I will never forget that night.