Wednesday, September 13, 2017

4th Post to my IRMA DIARY. DAY OF STORM AND THE 3 DAYS POST STORM



Wow. Words cannot explain how incredible the past 2 days have been. I cannot believe that just 2 days ago when I posted my last Irma entry I didn't yet know the people I now feel so connected to. My life was changed by the lessons I learned volunteering with the awesome Red Cross folks. As soon as I posted my last entry, I found the Red Cross shelter coordinator who promptly gave me a Red Cross disaster relief vest, taught me how to register people and gave me a tour of the school. There was 2000 people staying there and only about 15-20 volunteers so everywhere I walked people asked me for things or information. I am so, so glad I was put to use almost every minute after that except when I was sleeping the past 2 nights or indulging in a massive crustable PB&J at meal time. I'm not complaining that this was the only vegan option for each lunch and dinner because with 30 grams of sugar they sure are delish and also the reason I most likely packed on some pounds at the shelter! I'll be dreaming of those giant crustables for a long time. I did have all my vegan soups, bars and canned fruit and beans with me so I certainly was spoiled by all the food.

The shelter layout made it hard to do anything in the high school without a journey to the other side of the building. The first building had the gymnasium which was filled with people and is where Dave and I set up camp. The gymnasium was right behind the entry doors where we registered everyone and then the building on the other side of the cafeteria is where 3 floors long wrap around halls were lined with families on the ground for 3 full days. Many only had blankets on the hard floor, a bit of food and change of clothes with them and they slept in the bright halls and gymnasium for the entire time like that. The lights were never shut off!  Most families had young kids.

The first night I volunteered I did a lot of running around and then got my first little helper, a sweet 3rd grader named Angelina. She wanted to help out but wasn't 16 and when I saw her start to cry I crowned her my little helper and we put a orange vest on her. Her face lit up and for the next 24 hours I had myself a sweet, kind little shadow helping me out wherever I went! Angelina and I gained 2 more helpers a little later in the evening when we played beads with an adorable group of little girls. Gabby and Isabella, a 4th and 5th grader became my next little angels. I then had 3 little angels following my every move!

 I found myself suddenly taking over the group games in the center of the gymnasium where a square had been blocked off in the middle for little kids to play. This was the most magical moment for me. Having 40 children laughing and running playing red light green light, duck duck goose and telephone. It was getting late and since we were in the center of where many people were sleeping, around 10PM I found a gentlemen who had his guitar and who had been playing for people with his wife earlier and asked to play a lullaby for the children in the circle to help them calm down. Oh my goodness-what an unforgettable moment this was for me! I literally felt my heart melt after I made the children draw close to this man and I witnessed him lead the kids thru humming to rock a bye baby with his guitar. Something about knowing what these kids were going home to and watching this sweet, connecting, still moment warmed my heart so much. He was wonderful with the kids! We then did the same lullaby and all made an "OOOO" sound instead of humming. We did the same to twinkle, twinkle little star and we all quietly sang the ABCs before we all dispersed for bed. 
I slept so soundly that night, feeling so fulfilled and like I actually was able to make a difference! I awoke yesterday to Dave telling me my little angels had already came by our "tent" for me. It was 9AM and the little girls told me I slept forever! As soon as I got ready, it was non stop go all day. We rallied all the children up for sticker and coloring time in the cafeteria. Waking thru 2000 people to find all the little ones and tell their parents that there was an activity going on certainly did take a while! Probably about 200 kids were able to come and color donated WAWA activity books and play with stickers. I'm sure that giving them a change of scenery and something new to do with all the other kids really brightened their spirits. 
The rest of the day was a whirlwind helping out wherever I could. The sky started getting dark around 2 and the winds began to pick up. We rallied all the kids up again and started playing games with them in a new location other then the gym. The older kids played taps and I led the younger ones in duck duck goose. I went to get coloring books and beads and while I was gone, the fire alarm went off and all the kids scattered back to their parents because it was pretty loud and scary. Someone smoking in the stairwell set it off. 
Eventually the kids came back and we made bracelets and colored for hours. The area we all met at was open and spacious with huge windows so it was a nice place to relax with the little ones and give the parents a break as the storm started to get near our area. The storm started to get worse around 2 or 3. They told us it was going to be bad from 3-9PM and no one was allowed on the roads. We heard that police pulled over anyone driving to inquire where they were headed. Supposedly some people even got arrested who were on the roads after 3. Not only was it extremely unsafe on the roads but they also wanted to keep the roads clear for emergency vehicles and I believe to prevent looters from breaking into places.
 It started to get quite dark and we started seeing poles and trees swaying in the wind outside. The rain slowly got heavier and the gusty winds The shelter went into lockdown at 3 and no one was allowed to leave but we wouldn't turn anyone away. At 4:30 we cleaned up the crafts and sent the kiddos to be with their parents for dinner.
That night I saw some pretty sad things and heard some sad stories. An apartment building with families trying to wait out the storm caught on fire from lightning and the roof flew off. Since no one but SWAT teams were allowed on the roads during the worst of the storm, 60 family members had to be rescued and brought to us in the SWAT vans. We registered them as quickly as we could and kept the cafeteria open to feed them and opened up another hallway to give them space since everywhere else was completely swarmed with people lining the walls. These poor families had no blankets or anything so later in the night the mayor brought by blankets and pillows from his own home to deliver to them!
I also saw an elderly gentlemen have a medical emergency get taken off in a SWAT van along with another man who had stayed in his home and witnessed the roof fly off  over his head who was suffering from trauma. 
Around this time the power went off at the shelter. The school's generator kept the lights on but the  air conditioner and fountains no longer worked and some of the bathrooms started to act strangely. The halls and gymnasium started really heating up but I think everyone was grateful to be safe inside. I started feeling really exhausted but knew I'd regret not continuing to help out so I kept going until I no longer could. I stepped outside before laying down for bed and was comforted by the post storm breeze. Irma had come and gone on to the next cities to tear up on her path. The air felt cool and the rain had subsided. After 3 days of waiting, the storm was over. I was so tired but satisfied that I didn't stop helping when the exhaustion hit. I now would go to sleep knowing I did all I could to help.

Dave woke me up today because I could've slept forever. We sat up to see most people cleared out. We were eager to see how our home stood up so I went to say goodbye to the other volunteers and was sure to exchange contact info with these INCREDIBLE people! When I said goodbye they were still working passing out breakfast to the disabled and elderly. What angels these people were. I learned so much from them!
After 3 days at the shelter, we felt hopeful on the drive home. The power was out so the street lights weren't working but the city was quiet and felt still. Some downed trees lay scattered around and I was shocked by how the winds could knock over some massive ones! There were branches everywhere but we saw no broken windows or torn roofs. We got a bit scared when we couldn't get down one street due to huge tree laying across the road. When were able to come down another way and I ran around the back to see our floor to roof window doors which were not hurricane proof completely unharmed! The only "damage" to our property was our 2 huge flower bushes in our backyard got ripped out of the ground. We are grateful especially after hearing all of Miami is flooded.
The water works but no hot water because the electricity is out. We set up our new dining room table and I took a cold shower and a 4 hour nap before we biked to our beach a mile away thru our torn up park nearby to see 100 surfers out surfing the biggest waves this area will probably ever see. There were so many people out at the beach it was a pretty cool time. I went for a swim and Dave and I talked about our time at the shelter. We came back when a rainstorm hit and took another cold shower and ate some of our canned food at our new dining room table by candlelight with the screen doors opened letting the slight breeze help to cool off our place. I lit incense and love how it feels like we're camping. Our new dining room table and chairs got set up at the perfect time to make it all just that much more memorable!
Ive been sitting out here charging my phone in the car and listening to the crickets. The neighborhood is going to get cleaned up quickly and the power will be on soon enough. This wild hurricane weekend will always be remembered, even after the trees regrow new limbs and the streets are all cleaned up. I'll never forget the beautiful souls I met and the amazing time I had living at a crazy hurricane shelter. 
I look forward to working with the Red Cross more in the near future. You also can sign up to go on 14 day assignments with them at redcross.org. They will buy your plane tickets and give you 35$ stipend per day for food. If you feel called to help with Irma cleanup, this is a great option. 
Now it's time to watch some downloaded shows on Dave's tablet. I was so busy at the shelter I only watched 1.5 of the 10 shows we downloaded! Chilling out today with no power feels great. I'll post this when we have wifi again when the power comes back on.
Send your love to all the people negatively affected by this terrible storm and consider volunteering! It will be hard but so rewarding. 

Love!

WED SEP 13 - 3 DAYS POST IRMA

I'm hot. Last night was the 3rd night sleeping in sweltering heat. I know we could have it so much worse. I know we could have gotten flooded or lost a roof but it's crazy that our home is on one of 2 streets in the neighborhood without power. Each day that goes by, the hotter it gets in here! We go to the beach to cool off on our bikes during the day and the size of the waves and amount of surfers out to play is just crazy. The beach is truly beautiful post irma with light blue water and huge rolling waves. We were stoked to see our local grocery store was open and after the beach we stocked up on healthy fresh food. My dinner was LIFE CHANGING. I feel like I'm my taste buds were numbed from all the canned food and each thing I ate with dinner tasted like the best food I've ever had in my whole life. I hope that eating real food again will help with the extra pounds put on during Irma!

No power in our home in this Florida heat is starting to make me feel crazy. I feel that the constant heat is really  getting to me since I am lethargic and little energy lately. Last night I took 3 cold rinses in the shower since it was the only thing to do to get my body temperature down a bit. We are sleeping on only a sheet with nothing over us and still we lie there and sweat. Being hot while I sleep is making me have some wild dreams. It has to be well over 90 degrees in our home and with no air flow. Good thing my gym is now open and I'll be getting an intense workout in which should help with my low energy. It's also crazy to be in the house with no wifi or cell service. We have to use a repeater to get cell service in our home and it has to be plugged in to work. The grass in our backyard is starting to look like a jungle and all the ice is melting in the fridge. I'm so glad businesses are starting to reopen because after my workout today and my cold shower at home, I'm heading to a local cafe to get some work done! I'm excited to sit in the air conditioning with cell service and wifi and not feel so hot right after I dry off from my cold shower. It's funny to think that the whole year we lived in the camper we didn't have internet! Oh how quickly I've become spoiled! However, I am a firm believer in the benefits of ice cold showers so those have not been so bad and I am also lucky that I regularly drink cold coffee so that also hasn't been a hard adjustment. Unlike my love who loves his coffee piping hot - he daydreams about hot meals and a cup of hot coffee!

I was supposed to work a trip over the time the hurricane hit but since the airport shut down, obviously I didn't go to work. Dave has his vacation this week and next so we've been enjoying some much needed relaxing quality time with each other. For so long it was all HOME HOME HOME talk every moment we were together and always deciding on big things for the house since we are doing a major renovation and also moved into this 3 bedroom home from the camper with nothing. Now that the constant home update choices are slowing down, it's been good to reconnect and focus on each other under these unique circumstances. Unfortunately it looks like my mom won't be coming anymore this weekend for her visit unless we get power back tonight. 


Grateful that things aren't worse and for all the lessons I've learned during Irma! 
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