Irma Aftermath
By Steve Steiner

After more than a decade, 13 years to be exact, Polk County was hit with a hurricane. Were people ready for Hurricane Irma? Had they sufficiently prepared? Did they go to shelters, tough it out alone, or even have hurricane parties? Was this their first hurricane, or were they veterans, having lived through the three hurricanes that struck in rapid succession in 2004?

Everyone had their own hurricane story, and they were on the lips of many for about a week after Irma had left. Either barely any damage was incurred directly, or there was a connection to someone else who really had it bad — and the tales were told and told again. In the end, most in Polk County had to deal with no more than a few days of lost electricity and the clean up of yard debris. Here are a few stories from residents that remind us just how lucky many of us all were.

For Sherry Warren, who lives outside Bartow, this was not her first “ride on the merry-go-round.” She experienced the hurricanes of 2004, so she knew what to expect.

“I was adequately prepared,” says Warren. That included securing items that could not be brought inside, boarding up windows, and having an ample supply of drinking water and sufficient amount of non-perishable food. However, she didn’t get away unscathed. Following sage advice she filled her bathtub only to make a discovery.

“Unfortunately, it all leaked out,” she says with a laugh. That is because the stopper did not properly function, which she had no idea because she takes showers not baths. “Now I have to call a plumber.” Other than that, there was no damage to her home.

She was also fortunate that power didn’t go out until about midnight the day the hurricane hit. It would not be restored for three to four days.

In the meantime she and her neighbors busied themselves. The storm’s aftermath left a number of uprooted trees, limbs and branches strewn across the neighborhood.

“The whole neighborhood pitched in,” she says.

The hurricane was not quite as kind for Mona Beedle, who, with her husband Rob and his mother, live on 2 1/2 acres in a rural section of Auburndale off the old Dixie Highway — they also had four families staying with them because those families live in trailers.

Their home, actually their property, sustained damage. The majority of damage sustained was not so much from wind (although it did create a concern as detailed later) as it was from water. Their property backs onto a retention pond that is adjacent to a creek.

In addition to that they have a neighbor whose property includes a 14-foot deep pond. The rain from Irma was such that the neighbor’s pond overflowed onto their front yard. The creek overflowed into the retention pond and the retention pond created a river that ran through the backyard. In doing so it prompted a particular concern.

“We have well water and the raging flood water almost knocked over the pump,” she says. Later, with the loss of power, they couldn’t pump any water into their house.

Fortunately, although their property flooded, the water didn’t make it into their home, but came close. Prior to the arrival of Irma, they realized they needed more sandbags but there were none to be had, so they scrambled to fill the void.

“We had to go to Lowe’s to buy bags of mulch that we placed at the front door.”

Beedle says that while their home was adequately stocked, such as bathtubs filled with water — as well as purchasing large trash cans they also filled with water — there were things they didn’t do and now wish they had, including boarding up the windows.

“You could see the wind pushing the windows of the sliding glass doors. We were a bit afraid they were going to shatter,” she says.

The Beedles lost power around midnight and were without electricity for three to four days. At night they used cell phones for light, as well as lit candles. To occupy herself when she and Rob and their guests were not helping clean up the property or helping neighbors — which took about five days — she spent her time studying her bible and writing a presentation she was scheduled to deliver for an upcoming Christian women’s meeting.

They were also resourceful. A one-time long distance truck driver (as is her husband), she went to a nearby truck stop to shower.

While they were fortunate that no trees fell onto their home, Hurricane Irma caused them to each lose at least a week’s pay. They also lost approximately $500 worth of food.

Betty Piper lives in a gated community in Winter Haven. She is also someone who (pun intended) weathered the three hurricanes in 2004 and she felt that Irma was more stronger than Hurricane Charlie, and of longer duration.

Regardless, she felt for the most part she got off scot free. Her home showed no sign of damage and her friend Howard Marshall’s home was also relatively unscathed.

“He lost a few shingles,” Piper says.

Nor was she inconvenienced for too long as she was without power only two days. When the power first came on it later went off for half a day, she says. After that it came back on and stayed on.

She believed the impact was minimal because of the hurricane’s direction.

“Irma seemed to blow by to me because we were on the right side of the eye,” Piper says. However, this was not the case in other parts of the subdivision. “At the end of my street are a number of trees. Quite a few of them got knocked down, as if they were hit by a tornado.”

If any building in the subdivision was damaged it was the clubhouse, she says. She believed it lost some windows and there appeared to be some damage to the roof. However, there was a possible greater damage, that of flooding.

“There was so much water the ponds overflowed and filled the parking lot of the clubhouse. That’s a lot of water,” Piper says.

Throughout the county roads were blocked by fallen trees and other debris, power lines down, and homes and buildings and fences damaged. There were vehicles damaged or destroyed by felled trees or massive tree limbs or by flying debris.

Intersections, especially on major roads, became four-way stops until power could be restored. In some instances the traffic signals had been ripped from their moorings and lay in the road, splintered into pieces almost unrecognizable.

The few gas stations that were able to open had long lines of drivers waiting to put a few dollars of gasoline into their auto tanks; it was not unusual for police officers to coordinate this situation.

For the most part people seemed to take the inconveniences in stride. One homeowner, whose pickup truck fell victim to a huge fallen tree saw this as an opportunity to capitalize on his calamity. A sign on the busted windshield offered for $1 the opportunity for people to pose with the truck’s owner alongside the vehicle. He had at least several takers.

In the end, whether hurricane veterans or virgins, Hurricane Irma was a wake up call for many to be better prepared for a natural disaster.

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Personal hurricane story of the author of this article, Steve Steiner…

My Personal Story

Among those hosting others and/or holding hurricane parties was a close friend of mine who lives in Lakeland. Because her house had been built several years following the three hurricanes, it was constructed to withstand a Category 3 hurricane.

She invited several of us to stay with her, along with our pets. Two of her friends from Tampa took her up on the offer, as did I, as this would turn out to be my first true experience with a hurricane.

Among the four of us were four cats and a dog. The couple from Tampa, a mother and daughter, brought their dog, Miss Moneypenny. I live in Bartow and brought my cat, Itty-Bitty Pretty Kitty Short Legs Sneaker Belle the Bay-ay-ay-bee. It made for an interesting dynamic as my friend has three cats. Needless to say, there was a lot of hissing when her cats met my cat and the dog. There was hissing when my cat met the dog. Eventually, her three cats decided to sequester themselves under her bed for the next several days. Itty-Bitty ended up being kept in a separate room. Moneypenny would bark if any of us made too sudden a move, but she basically had the run of the house.

To prepare for the hurricane, whatever could be brought into the house was, and what could not was secured as best as possible. That also included throwing all the pool furniture into the pool. Let me tell you, that was the easy part. Getting the furniture out of the pool was not.

Everything was fine until 4 p.m., the Sunday of the hurricane, when the power went out as a tree toppled onto the power line that leads into the subdivision. Power would not be restored until the following Friday. By storm’s end, my friend’s home had lost some flashing, the gate to her fence was torn asunder, at least one post on the fence needed to be re-firmed, and one of the pool screen panels was ripped, allowing in a multitude of insects.

That was the least of her damage. The major damage came from inside as rainwater found its way into the house by the fireplace. That led to a major scramble to take down the large screen TV that was on the mantlepiece above the fireplace. Fortunately, when power was restored the TV operated.

However, the floor around the chimney was ruined by the water. So too the floor by the refrigerator, as ice had melted and drained onto the floor. The flooring will need to be replaced.

It wasn’t until Tuesday when the four of us were able to leave the subdivision and travel to my house to see the shape it was in. There was no damage to my house save one small exception. An older part of the fencing around my backyard was separated from the post to which it had been attached, leaving a six inch gap. Other than broken branches, there was no damage to my house, which is 100 years old. To say I was relieved was one thing. To say I was disappointed was another. Dag nab it, but I sure was looking forward to a remodeled kitchen.

According to my next door neighbors, power was lost for only a few hours. I figure that was because I live one block off downtown and about three blocks from the county courthouse, jail and county commission building. For the next few days my friend ran part of her business from my home, as well as showered and did laundry. We also brought over food from her refrigerator that hadn’t spoiled. I also extended invitations to others who lived in Bartow, Lakeland, Winter Haven and Auburndale to please come to my home to shower and do laundry.

That I chose to stay at my friend’s home, the irony doesn’t escape me, but overall I’m glad I chose to be in the company of friends rather than toughing it out alone. After all, nothing compares to playing numerous rounds of Uno while there is daylight, nor to playing Trivial Pursuit by candlelight, watching moths dare suicide flying close to the flames, all while devouring chocolate cake and washing it down with wine and liquor.