What one mom learned about family, community and home during a hurricane evacuation 

Hurricane Matthew swept past my sweet little beachside community on Florida’s Space Coast last week. Our home is in the barrier island city of Satellite Beach and on Tuesday, we received word that a mandatory hurricane evacuation from homes on the island would start at 3 p.m. the next day. We were told that the bridges connecting our island to the mainland could be shut down due to weather deterioration and that those who chose to stay did so at their own risk.

Well. That was enough for my family and many of the others around us. We started prepping our home immediately to leave it behind and flee the next day.

Our home and community was spared when the storm took a last-minute jog east into the Atlantic. A measly 20 miles made an immeasurable impact. Many in our community were without power for a few days, and lost fences or trees. Our home had no damage, and most of our cleanup involved raking up leaves and debris.

We. were. so. lucky!!!

As my adrenaline returns to normal levels, I’m really starting to feel the emotions tied to the hurricane evacuation more fully. I learned a few things this past week, about my family, my community and my village (near and far), like…

Homes are so much more than buildings.

Even as we were putting up our heavy-duty hurricane shutters and moving items off our floors in anticipation of flooding, my heart felt like it was floating somewhere in the acidic churnings of my stomach.

hurricane evacuation

What about all of our STUFF?

What would become of the thousands of items, too many to inventory on a tight hurricane evacuation time table, that make up our everyday lives? The backpacks we picked out just two months ago, and the Star Wars bedding my daughter received as an 8th birthday present? The couches with the cushions that always pop out and drive me BONKERS on a daily basis, and the flatscreen TV I bought for my husband and kids last year?

The Paw Patrol action figures whose names my 1-year-old daughter knows by heart, and the Mother’s Day cards my stepson has made me in class (after making his own mom one) since preschool? The dining room table we sit at as a family each evening, that once belonged to my husband’s grandparents — on loan to us from his parents? The dozens of shoes always strewn in the hallways, the hundreds of Pokemon cards peeking out from every drawer and crevice, and the thousands of things we’ve picked up, or set down, or hung up, since our family first started living in this house over 5 years ago?

hurricane evacuation

Pulling out of my driveway to evacuate was VERY difficult. How could we leave our house to the elements, to suffer all alone? I reassured myself with the mantra “things can be replaced, but not people.” I repeated it when house anxiety cropped up again. I knew we had been good stewards, and done everything in our power to give our house a fighting chance against what was coming. Still, I worried what would happen to it — and everything it was guarding for my family.

For the first time, I didn’t see my house for all the challenges it brought, but for all the ways it provides for my family on a daily basis. I didn’t see the clutter, or the laundry, or the overflowing garage that needs our attention the FIRST weekend the temperature is below 80 degrees. I didn’t see the plumbing issues, or the fact that it doesn’t have a pool (waaahhh… poor me!), or the relatively busy street it sits on. I saw a fortress that has been exactly what my family has needed in its earliest years, a building I genuinely care about, and how.

Houses can be replaced but I’m not sure if homes truly can. You can build a new home but the one you are in right now can never be replicated. I wasn’t ready to let go of THIS home and thankfully, it was still here when the storm had passed.

People genuinely care about the welfare of others.

There are a lot of attention-grabbing headlines during times of disaster, many that highlight the ways people prey on others at their lowest moments. Price gouging. Looting. Neighbors fighting over property lines and damages. These things happen but I was surprised at how much good I saw before, during, and after this storm. Most of us in the mandatory hurricane evacuation zone were panicked, trying to secure our homes and get out before it would be impossible to do so. Yet I saw so many examples of people taking an extra minute to go the extra mile, often for strangers in the same situation.

hurricane evacuation

My husband and I went to fill sand bags at a designated spot in our city. It was a do-it-yourself operation, but the city generously provided sand and bags. In the few minutes we filled and loaded ours, several elderly people arrived with bags and shovels. One man even mentioned that he was in his 90s. I was having trouble shoveling and lifting our own sand bags, and was uncomfortable with these neighbors trying to do the same.

A younger couple stepped in and helped fill bags for a few elderly residents. When we were done with our bags, we relieved that couple and filled several more. As my husband shoveled, and I held bags in place, another woman I’d never met started tying them for me — all to load in the car of another resident. My husband and I stayed, helping with roughly 50 sand bags, before we felt that there was enough help for us to head home. I heard from another friend who went later, baby in the car, that a group of residents took her bags, filled them, loaded them, and sent her on her way. Everyone was busy. Everyone was worried. But everyone wanted their neighbors to be safe.

hurricane evacuation

Beyond this example, we had friends and family from all over offering us shelter, food, money, gas, and just kind words as we awaited the storm’s impact. Even the hotel staff where we evacuated went above and beyond to make sure we felt safe and comfortable while visiting. The outpouring of kindness and love from people we knew, and had just met, was humbling. Impending disaster may bring out the worst in some people — but it brings out the best in most.

Privilege buys safety.

It only takes a quick Google search of Haiti to show me what the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew might have meant if I’d been born poor and in a different country. My husband and I work hard to provide a comfortable life for our kids, but we wouldn’t be here today if we hadn’t been born into families who lived in America and had the means to provide a humble, comfortable life for us first.

Not everything in life can be fixed with a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality. With all of our relative problems and worries, people in my position in life (read: white, middle class, living in safe communities of our choosing) are granted more safety and much of that is based on luck, and who we were the day we were born.

hurricane evacuation

Of course, none of this actually impacted the path of Hurricane Matthew — but if the storm had hit my home as a Category 5 (as forecast at one point), and demolished it, I would have had a comfortable place to stay until this home or another was ready for my family again. That’s privilege. It’s not something to feel badly about, but it is certainly something to recognize with gratitude.

I’m more grateful today for my husband, for my kids, for my neighbors, for my extended family, and for our community of people nearby and afar who care about us. Our everyday world as we know it was not terribly disrupted from this storm, but if it had been, I know we would have seen even more goodness and grace.

Featured image via Pixabay

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Category: Mom Lessons

Tags: disaster