Surviving Hurricane Irma
"This will be one of if not the greatest, strongest, and most detrimental hurricanes that Florida has ever seen." - Anderson Cooper, CNN "The largest evacuation in history from the state of Florida is happening right now as people are trying to escape for their lives." - Sean Hannity, Fox News
These were just two of the statements with thousands of other warning reportings being heard over the radio and tv as Hurricane Irma closed in on us in Southwest, Florida. Hurricane Irma was destined to hit our area early September right after we had closed on our new house just weeks before and after moving to Florida just months earlier. I have to admit, one of my greatest fears when we decided to relocate our family to Florida was "what if a hurricane hits?" to which everyone we met including my realtor (go figure) was diminishing hurricanes and how they never have them and how they're never a big deal. Then, all of a sudden it felt like we signed the dotted line to close on our house and we began hearing the warnings of the most dangerous hurricane headed right for our home. Not only was my home and all of our belongings in jeopardy but my husband is an executive in healthcare and had informed me that he would not be leaving in the event they had to evacuate thousands of people. Leading up to the actual week of the hurricane it felt like a waiting game. Was this really going to be as bad as everyone is saying? Coming from Georgia, I had no idea what hurricane shutters are and how do you put them on your house? Luckily, when we bought the house it came with an organized metal shutter system that have to be individually placed on all windows and doors and porches, but we still had no idea how to put them on. When I say storm shutters - I don't mean light wood cute little shutters. These are massive 12 foot x 2 foot sheets of metal that have to be slid into grooves and then hand screwed into a bolt that you slide through the grooves. Each window took approximately 5 sheets of the 12 x 2 metal shutters to cover just that one window. The week of the hurricane, no one in our neighborhood had really put their shutters up. There seemed to be this mutual feeling of everyone sort of looking to see if the others had become anxious enough to put theirs up yet. We felt like if no one else has put theirs up then maybe we just need to "do as the Floridians do" and not get too worked up. It was the calm before the storm where no one really seemed to be preparing. Cameron and I finally said to one another that let's be safe instead of sorry and go ahead and put ours on in the event something happens and we can't be here to get them on. He and I worked all through the night to get them on, taking us hours to get them up. (We had a wonderful neighbor help take them down!) We boarded the house and garage up like a fortress. It all seemed surreal when you're walking around your house in broad daylight but you can't see outside because your brand new house is boarded up.
The hurricane was set to hit Sunday of that week. On the Tuesday before, Cameron and I had to have the hard conversation of what our plan was. After seeing people from the Hurricane Harvey floating on their doors with children, I began to slightly panic. Trying to survive on my own would be one thing, but trying to survive with a one-year old would be an entirely different story. We saw reportings on a mother found dead with her 2-year old clinging to her and countless other horror stories. In the moment it was like living a nightmare wondering if it all was really happening to us. That's the easy part about watching the news when the nightmares are happening to someone else. It's easy to watch a disaster on the news and think to yourself, "how awful that is" and then so simply changing the channel or going about your life. We were the story. We had become the "how awful that is"... there was no changing the channel, we were the disaster area and it was our reality. Cameron and I decided that for our childs sake, it would be the best option for me to load up the car with everything I possibly could fit in there and evacuate Florida with my baby to my sisters house in South Georgia while Cameron would pack a bag and go stay at the healthcare facilities in order to properly evacuate their patients to a safer building. Walking around a boarded up house going from room to room looking at everything in a complete daze thinking to myself, "If our house isn't here on Sunday what in this room would I would've wanted to save?" I couldn't take everything with me so I was having to prioritize items of importance. I can remember walking from room to room thinking to myself, "what would I want Auden to have of his dads if all of this and Cameron aren't here after Sunday?" What to save in the event that I'm a widow on Sunday? What an awful thought but it was reality. I spent hours walking from room to room dazed, crying, praying, wondering if this is really happening and finally looked down to see that I had Dove Soap in my hand.....the soap was what I was choosing to save. I was having a anxiety attack and not being able to think clearly. I began to pray over our home, grabbed a bottle of olive oil from the pantry and began touching every door and window with oil on my hands. (Scriptures on anointing oil) I prayed for Gods protection over our home, property, belongings, and of course over my husband. I don't believe that the fact that I was leaving my husband behind had set in yet as I had this task before me to load the car up with items I'd like to save. I began grabbing all of my husbands guitars and musical instruments, items that were precious to him and to me, I loaded our laptops and desktop computers up because they have all of our photos and memories on them which are priceless, I text my cousin (also our photographer) and asked if she had all of our professional photos saved because if so I wasn't going to take up space in my car with the photos hanging on the walls. I grabbed our important documents such as our marriage license and passports and home insurance documents in the event that I returned to a flattened, wet mess of our items. Its incredible the thoughts that go through your mind seeing your home in tact with the fear that in just a few days it can all be destroyed. I loaded the car up along with what I thought I needed to survive and headed to get gas and water in the event we became stranded on the interstate with millions of people but there was no gas and no water to be found anywhere. Reality became so surreal - the realization that I wasn't prepared to stay and I wasn't prepared to leave. I was trying to get out to save my sons life and the fear of leaving my husband had still not really set in yet. We had not met a lot of people here in Florida but the ones that have befriended us text me and encouraged me to fill up my sinks, bath tubs and washing machine with clean water in the event drinking water was cut off and Cameron could make his way back to the house and have a few days supply of clean water. What?! Being from Georgia and North Carolina, Cameron and I weren't evening thinking like this. I decided to prep the house and put things up off the ground onto the counters everywhere in the event that our house flooded at least the items on the counters would have a better survival rate. The interstates were already reported as crowded and so I decided to leave around 4 AM the next morning in hopes that there wouldn't be as many people on the road at that hour. I kissed Cameron goodbye, picked my sleeping baby up out of his crib and put him in the car while it was still dark outside and everyone seemed to be sleeping. When I walked outside the sound of clanking metal shutters going up was all around us. People had finally decided to prepare and had been working at it all night. The reality was so shocking - I truly think I was in a state of shock. Was this all too dramatic? The scary part was if you don't prepare and what happened in Houston happens here then you'll wish you had prepared. It's easy as Christians to say that if you have faith, then simply pray and believe that it will all be ok... but what do you say then to the Christians who lost everything through Hurricane Harvey? Faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26) so I prayed, believed, and physcially prepared. The signs of no gas or water told us that everyone else around us was panicking as well. I got on the road at 4 AM, leaving Lee County Florida, one of the most southern tips of Florida on the southwest side and headed North along with tons of other people. The roads were jammed at 4 AM with everyone trying to get out. I believe seeing how everyone else was thinking how I was thinking at 4 AM made it even more real that everyone is trying to get out and I'm leaving my husband here. I begged him desperately before I left trying to change his mind, telling him that it's just a job and he can get another job but we can't replace his life, begging him to come with me. "We can rebuild our house, but don't leave me as a single mother if it doesn't have to be that way by choice." Cameron had been on the phone with the Florida Governor, Rick Scott, earlier that evening discussing the plans for the healthcare of Florida. Cameron wasn't leaving. I backed out of the driveway with a perplexed look on my face, feeling deep sadness that this could be the last time I leave my husband but also a little mad at him that he wouldn't get in the car and come with us. He chose to stay. He was responsible for the safety of thousands of patients in a variety of levels in healthcare and he was going to stay and help make sure they were all safe. As I left for Georgia, Cameron put his car in our garage, locked it down and had someone take him to his work with a bag where he would be camped out until the storm passed. What should've taken me 5 hours to make it to my sisters house took over 12 hours due to so many people on the road. Throughout the entire process the info he was giving me was so different from the info on the news. He seemed to be under the impression that it was just a mild storm; meanwhile, Anderson Cooper of CNN was reporting from our town in familiar areas that I was seeing on the news. Hurricane Irma had initially been set to hit Miami and the southeast side of Florida but now it was headed directly for the Southwest side making landfall at Marco Island, just a few miles south of our home. I remember telling Cameron how Hurricane Irma had just ripped through and leveled other islands and locations in its path. I said, "Buildings are crushed, walls were ripped off and people were sucked out of the buildings! That's what's coming your way!" I begged him to leave, I begged him that if could get one of our friends jets or helicopters down there would he get in and leave to which he would only refuse and say no. I sought refuge at my sisters house with our baby. I didn't talk much about what was happening, I simply watched the news and would retreat to the guest bedroom to get on my knees and cry and pray. I didn't want her children to see or fear something was wrong. My one year old baby would walk around the house calling for "dada". I couldn't bear the thought of him calling for his dada and his dada never coming home to us again. You see, my husband, Cameron is truly the greatest man on this earth. No one can compare to him, his integrity, his ability to make people feel peace in the midst of tense situations, his humor, his thoughtfulness, his acts of kindness and heart of service, his connection with me is far greater than anything I've ever known and his way of being a father to Auden leaves me knowing that Auden would be an entirely different person without Cameron in his life. Auden needs his dada. I didn't speak to anyone on the phone. I didn't speak to my parents and only responded shortly to a couple of people. I'm very grateful for the amount of people who reached out to me through a Facebook post as I read every comment during that time and felt everyones prayers, it meant so much to me! I simply wasn't in a state of mind to communicate with people, only read the love that was pouring in. Sometimes that's how people feel when they're in a dark moment or season of their life, they may not be able to properly communicate but they are listening, they are reading. I was in a waiting game waiting to see what my fate would look like after Sunday. Cell phone reception was spotty so it was far and few between when I got to hear from Cameron. Due to certain laws and policies there are some details I'm not allowed to share with it being a healthcare setting but as most things are in his life, this evacuation in this healthcare setting would not have been as successful without Cameron Honeycutt. Without saying too much, many people on staff decided to leave and flee for their own lives including some people that are technically above Cameron that he reported to. When Cameron called me to let me know that one of his main teammates left and told him "she had to be committed to her husband first and save her own life" I can't tell you the anger I felt. Cameron is equally committed to his wife and child but decided to stay and risk his life to save others and make sure they were safe. Due to several teammates leaving, naturally it created more work on Cameron to which he pulled off like a pro. They successfully evacuated thousands of people to safer places and kept them as comfortable as possible until the storm passed and they could then be returned to their original location. After the storm passed, I anxiously waited for a call or text from Cameron. I felt a peace from God during those moments that everything was ok, that God had protected us and answered our cries. I had gone to my sisters inlaws home where her mother in law pulled me aside in tears and shared with me some scriptures that God had laid on her heart early that morning to give to me. One of the scriptures read, "do not believe what everyone else is saying." The news was reporting only disaster stories and I had still not heard from Cameron yet. I have cameras at my home that I was hoping I could check in and see if my home was still there but of course they were reading "offline" with power outages so I also had no way of knowing if my home was ok. As I returned to my guest room anxiously waiting during those dark moments, the scripture Psalms 91:14 dropped in my spirit that says, "Because he loves me, I will rescue him and protect him." Camerons devotion to God is unlike any that you see in men today and I knew that this was a word from God. I knew that God would keep Cameron safe and all that were in Camerons care. I felt an overwhelming peace during those moments that Cameron was alive and safe, that our home was alright, and that this would be a marked moment in his life that would develop him for something greater in life. Our home and his job are located right on the water. As I was watching the news, they reported, "Irma has made landfall at Marco Island, torn through Naples, headed for Fort Myers but all of a sudden has taken a 20 mile shift to the east towards inland. " That 20 mile shift was what saved my husband and my home. The storm shifted right as it would've torn through our neighborhood. 20 miles inland was flooded. I finally received a text message from him several hours later that he was safe and that while other areas were flooded, the healthcare location and patients were all safe. The warned storm surge never impacted our area. After the hurricane had passed southwest Florida and headed north, Cameron's work still wasn't over. He worked day and night at the facility getting thousands of people back to where they were supposed to be safely. He told me to stay where I was for several days because he was completely tied up around the clock making sure everyone was back safely and attempting to get the power running. Almost all of the state of Florida had lost power, especially south Florida. By Wednesday of the following week from Irma, I began to make my way back to see him and help him in any way I could. What should've taken me 5 hours to return, took 10 hours. We still had not seen our house. I just wanted to be back with my husband. Headed back to south Florida I filled up with gas in Valdosta, GA in a long line wrapped around the interstate. The mass evacuation of Florida was now a mass return with zero gas anywhere to be found. No one had power so that means no food chains were open, no gas stations were open, no one who had opened were able to take credit cards for payment so unless you had lots of cash on you you weren't able to purchase anything. People were running out of gas just waiting to get to the gas pump then they would get up there and realize they couldn't pay for it because they didn't have cash and the gas stations didn't have power so most everyone was stranded. Miles long of stranded cars filled the exit ramps. Thankfully, I found gas in Valdosta and prayed that I would be able to make it the entire stretch of Florida. As I got close to Tampa, my gas was low and I began noticing that the only people on the road were cars that had extra gas cans strapped to their cars. I didn't have an extra gas can strapped to my car. I pulled off several times trying to find any gas station with gas but no one had any. I was waisting gas just trying to find gas. I began trying to call gas stations before driving there but received the busy tone as people didn't have power. I had a hungry baby in the car and at one point noticed a chick-fil-a had an employee putting up letters on the sign that read "L" and then "I" ... I drove over quickly thinking if he puts up an "M" next then that means they have a limited amount of food. "M" was the next letter. I was the first person in line as they were serving a limited amount of chicken nuggets only that they had made while running on a generator and were accepting cash only. I purchased 5 boxes of chicken nuggets thinking it could be the only thing that we eat for several days. When I got back in my car I began thinking I should've bought more but the parking lot was full of people trying to get food. I fed my baby and headed back on the road. I believe that my arrival in south Florida was nothing short of a miracle as I pulled into our town on empty. Seeing my husband for the first time was the best hug I've ever received. He was hot, sweaty, a mess from being at work working around the clock for 5 days at that point. The power had still not been turned on yet but they were running off of a generator pulling minimal only necessary power to the appropriate areas. Cameron, Auden and I stayed on site that night and it was so hot that we slept with the door open to the outdoors and put the baby in a diaper only in his portable crib right at the door so that he could breathe. It was so hot and humid after the storm you could barely catch your breath. The next day, we went over to our house to find that our home was perfectly safe and in tact except for a torn screen in our pool screen. We had 1 palm branch laying in our yard. Other homes had entire trees down with debris everywhere. Our yard looked like it had been perfectly manicured with only 1 palm branch down. While others had piles of debris by the road int he later weeks, we pulled that 1 branch to the road and were done with our clean up. It's easy to say, "God protected us" but then it makes you question, so did He not protect the others that love him? Those are questions we cannot answer, but for this season in our lives we are so grateful for his protection over our lives and over our home.
Cameron stayed faithful and true to God, he kept his focus on God, he did not panic, he did not waiver, he was solid the whole time doing what was right even though so many others left him, he stayed and made sure the lives he felt responsible for were safe. He is a hero in my eyes.
There are many parts to this story that I'm not at liberty to share due to the nature of healthcare but I can tell you that my husband is the greatest man I've ever known and we are so blessed to call him ours. We survived our first (and hopefully last) Hurricane Irma. To hear the locals say, "we are officially Floridians" now that we've pulled through our first massive hurricane. When the reality sets in that you could lose everything dear to you it certainly causes you to think differently about life. The things I saw during this process and witnessed humans fight for water and gasoline truly causes you to realize how fragile our society is. When there's no food anywhere, the grocery stores have no food, the generators run out because they have no fuel, and you become stranded with no gas, no grocery store to walk to and no money to pay with once you arrive somewhere that may be open its a wake up call. I do believe that after living through this I will always live with a preparedness mindset. Moreso than being prepared with gas and water, it urges me to say to also live in a preparedness mindset with your families and loved ones that you never know when something could happen to cause you to never see them again and to also live in a preparedness state in your life with Jesus Christ as you never know when you could be the one that the story is about on the local news. I know that's not what any of us want to hear, but life is fragile. It's not fear based for me, its a reality that I've lived through and I believe God brings us through things in life to develop us. I fully believe that Cameron lived out one of his purposes in life that day - to stay and make sure so many who could not fend for themselves were safe. We never know what storms will come in our lives, but through it all the scripture I held onto the most was Daniel 3:18, "Even if He does not (save us), He is still our God." I prayed, wept and pleaded before the Lord and over and over the words that Even if HE does not.... He's still my God. Sometimes in life, we don't get the response or the ending that we desired. But even still, He is a good God. God has proven Himself to my family over and over through the years. We will always give Him Glory for rescuing us and for the protection He provided to our family during Hurricane Irma. God is faithful and I'm so grateful for all that He's provided to my family during this season in Florida. In our short time here, this season has brought blessing, provision, experience, leadership, development - it's been nothing short of an incubation season that has increased us in all the right areas and decreased us in all the right areas and I can't wait to see all that God has for us in the future. Living the blessed life with my family is something I'll never take for granted. This certainly was one of the most crucial moments in my life that I believe we will be learning from for years to come as we continue to process all that occured. Hug those you love a little extra and pray for those who may be in a storm of some kind today.