In the Suburbs / Paradise lost — Irma’s curse
Published 3:57 pm, Wednesday, September 13, 2017
As I watched and read about the latest hurricane devastation from Irma, I was struck by two separate accounts from residents of the Fairfield and Bridgeport areas. One couple, visiting St. Maarten, took refuge in a stairwell during the wake of the storm. The husband said that as they emerged from the stairwell, they saw barely a shell of their hotel. And all around them was chaos.
The wife spoke of looting beyond anything she had ever imagined and feared for her life. The couple was able to find barely four walls for shelter, but the husband slept with a knife beside him all night. They worried they would never see their son again.
Meanwhile, in Monday’s Connecticut Post there was a brief account of a couple, now living in Naples, Florida, who had moved there after Hurricane Sandy all but destroyed their beachfront home in Fairfield. According to their story, they moved to Naples because it represented paradise after the ordeal of Sandy. Not!
The couple expressed their shock after seeing the devastation Irma had delivered to the Florida Keys, Naples and beyond. After reading their sad account of yet another home damaged by the wrath of Mother Nature, my only thought, borrowing from the poet John Milton, was to refer to this catastrophe as Paradise Lost.
After living in Fort Lauderdale for three years back in the 1970s, my wife and I couldn’t quite refer to it as paradise. Each June through November, we kept a watchful eye as hurricanes churned through the Atlantic and the Gulf, hoping we were far enough inland to avoid direct hits and storm surges. I had been transferred with Motorola and while we enjoyed the weather during the season, we hardly considered Florida paradise.
While I completely empathized with the couple from Fairfield who moved to Naples, I might have chosen another paradise, perhaps in the mid-section of the United States or on a lake in the Carolinas where they might have had a fighting chance against hurricanes.
Hurricane Irma also struck close to home for us, because my wife’s brother from Virginia, who lives with his wife for six months of the year in the paradise of Siesta Key (another place in the path of Hurricane Irma), was down there with one of his sons for a father/son weekend.
Their decision was a split-second one on Friday. They believed there would be enough gas in their rental vehicle to get them at least to the Georgia border, so they could fill up and reach the Atlanta Airport. Fourteen hours later after their odyssey began, as he explained to my wife, they arrived home in Virginia, drained and sweaty, but safe. Their weekend in paradise was a literal washout.
Like so many other folks here in Connecticut, we have even more relatives and friends living in Florida, beyond my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, but it’s been difficult to reach them to be sure they were at least safe. My wife’s cousin, for instance, lives in Jacksonville when he and his wife aren’t traveling around the world—we keep following them on Facebook. But I don’t know if they were home over the weekend, because there hasn’t been a recent posting on Facebook. We could only assume all was fine, despite the flooding and damage.
A friend of ours, whose son and daughter-in-law live near Orlando, told us that her family had tried to escape during the evacuation but gave up the idea when they couldn’t secure a flight out of Atlanta and worried that they wouldn’t find gas along the evacuation route. We received a call on Monday that the family was fine and had remained barricaded in their home. Of course, like hundreds of thousands of others, they were without electricity, but were safe.
I thought I had seen Mother Nature at her worst in Houston, which will be digging out for an indefinite period. But the havoc from Irma, which began in the U.S. Virgin Islands and other Caribbean islands, left permanent damage, often wiping out entire islands like Barbuda and causing long-term damage to Puerto Rico, St. Maarten and Cuba before crossing into the Keys and across Florida.
After this nightmare, I’m sure many people will reconsider using the word paradise to define Florida and the Caribbean. Clearly Irma made sure that paradise was a forgotten memory, at least for the near term and probably for many years to come. From our perspective, we just want to know that loved ones were spared the worst of the storm and will be able to repair or rebuild.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.