What we gain from a storm

It’s amazing to consider that today (Sept 10) marks the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Irma’s landfall.

Any of you who experienced IRMA remember the devastation vividly. Irma plowed into the Keys as a Category 4 hurricane (at that time, the first to hit our state in more than a decade). Then it churned up into Southwest and Central Florida as a Cat 3. 

Along the way, that storm set a lot of bleak records. It was the costliest hurricane in Florida’s history, the strongest storm worldwide in 2017, and forced the evacuation of more than 6 million people.

Yet when I think back on that cataclysmic event, what first comes to mind isn’t the damage but the healing.

Let me explain.

Our Fort Myers offices were without power for about 10 days, and all field work had stopped. Here in Lee County, many neighborhoods had become entirely trapped by flood waters that were too deep for passenger cars to traverse—but not too deep for our field trucks.

So, for four days, ERMI trucks and personnel had a new mission: to go out and aid our neighbors.

Working in conjunction with teams from Next Level Church in Fort Myers, we loaded those trucks with donated food, water and Gatorade, then set out to bring relief to people in need. People of all types and backgrounds were without power, water, and communication.

That’s when I saw a whole new dimension to Irma’s impact. Everywhere there were volunteers mobilizing, donations of vital provisions were rolling in, and residents on streets were connecting and taking care of one another like never before.

I think the moment that made the greatest impression on me was when we arrived at the home of a stranded 70-year-old woman named Sharon, who had taken her 92-year-old neighbor into her care during the emergency. She nearly broke down when she found that we had brought food and water, because all she had left was one can of beans and one can of tuna and didn’t know what she was going to do when those were gone.

The look on her face dramatized the widespread need that existed in those desperate days — as well as the relief that was being brought by all the many volunteers who pitched in.

So yes, given my profession, as I hear about impending storms, I do think about things like stormwater management and neighborhoods with poor stormwater designs (like those we were assisting). But I also think about lives that are touched forever by the kindness of volunteers.

Of course, while I would never wish a hurricane on anyone, they are part of life in the Sunshine State. I have no doubt that our community grew stronger from the experience. Certainly, the storm the storm was devastating, but it brought our community closer together.

I have a poem in my office that sums up very well this reality:

We lost trees, gained friends.
We faced fear, found courage.
We lost power, gained perspective.
Stuff didn’t matter, people did.
Unity replaced differences.
Isolation became community.
Despair turned to hope.
Good came from bad.