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Fleeing Wilma

In 2005, I was married to an amazing man, Eran Eisen, and we were living in south Florida, right below West Palm Beach, when news of Hurricane Wilma came through. Wilma was a slow-moving (meaning it was going to stay around awhile and not just blow through) Category 4 hurricane, the size of Texas, headed for landfall a 20 minute drive from where we lived.

At first I had Weather Channel-like visions of being in a show or documentary and telling stories of how we survived the storm with the winds and rains howling. It sounded interesting…like an adventure.

Then I saw a description of the different categories of hurricanes and realized a Cat 4 was nothing I wanted to experience if I didn’t have to. I recall riding my bike through our neighborhood the days before the hurricane made landfall and suddenly looking at every single item as a projectile. That nice lawn furniture? A projectile. That stone garden sculpture? A projectile. That gazebo? A projectile.

After about 10 minutes of looking around and realizing that physical items large and small flying through the air at 140 mph was my clue that it was time to go. As soon as possible.

We did everything we could to baton down the hatches and prepare the house for the onslaught. Then we started packing to get out of town.

We were already hearing stories of people getting stranded on the road, people running out of gas, gas stations losing electricity and not being able to pump gas, hotels overflowing and people not having any place to stay. These were all realties, and we knew we had to get out. Plus, the roads were clogged with people exiting in a panic.

Our plan was to drive late at night and avoid as much traffic as possible. I remember stopping to get gas in our home town and having a vehicle pull right in front of us at the gas pump in a way that on any normal day would be socially unacceptable and bad manners. I took a deep breath and let that driver express fear and lack as he needed to.

We drove late at night, encountering little traffic. In the morning, we arrived in Jacksonville, pulled over into a mostly residential area and came across an adorable cafe. We went in and I started chatting with a gal in line about how we were evacuating from the hurricane and that all the hotels were booked. She said, “You can stay with me!” Then I watched her face as she quickly processed what she just said, having offered her home to some strangers. She seemed partly surprised and shocked, and somewhat excited, and 100% genuine.

We stayed with her and her boyfriend for a couple of days. She had a townhome and a spare bedroom. My then-husband being a great cook, he made some delicious meals for us to share; and he helped them with some computer issues, while I helped them with some business and marketing concerns.

We then headed to Columbia, Maryland, where I stayed with my mother and her sister, my aunt, and my husband soon after went on to Greece to look for some work there.

One of the experiences I remember upon arriving in Columbia was my mother’s extraordinary relief. An early wave Gen Xer, I grew up with a long rope and a fairly cavalier attitude from my parents about my personal choices, so expressed worry from my mother about my care and well-being is not something I’m used to. (Occasional nitpicking, yes, but this was different.) She was so relieved to see us. Truly relieved.

A little over three weeks later we returned to our home, which had, thankfully, suffered minimal damage, though the yard was fairly beat up. Our neighbors had been without electricity for over three weeks and had experienced–as people often do when things are tough–a great sense of community and people helping each other out in many ways.

It’s not my business to tell someone whether they should evacuate, and I understand that we had options and flexibility.

I’m forever grateful for the kindness of strangers, a place to run to and the grace of God that we didn’t suffer more damage or have our home destroyed.

>Sending love and light to all. Be safe, dear ones, be safe!

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