Small Business Trends founder and publisher Anita Campbell was on the ground and saw first hand the devastation as Irma headed through Naples, Florida. Here is the first in a series of articles describing her experience.
When I saw the streetlight rocking back and forth a foot in either direction during Hurricane Irma, I realized first hand what it means to be in a ferocious storm.
Hurricane Irma passed right over our home in southwest Florida. I was glued to the window (with hurricane impact glass, so it was safe enough). I couldn’t tear my eyes away. So I started filming and taking pictures.
Then after the fury, we experienced the calm eye of the hurricane. It was just like it’s portrayed in movies.
I never thought I’d be writing a first hand account of hurricane Irma. But having survived it from Naples, Florida, near where it made its second U.S. landfall, I’m now in a position to talk about it.
Two weeks later, the power’s been restored. We’re back in our home. We have mobile phone and internet connectivity once again. We’ve cleaned up. Things are returning to normal — at least for us, although not for tens of thousands of Floridians who were harder hit.
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I’ve learned a lot about hurricanes — my very first. One of the things I learned is that news footage can’t convey how truly disruptive a hurricane is. Oh, you get some sense of the blowing winds and rain during the storm. You see the flooding and damaged buildings afterwards.
But what news accounts can’t really convey is the fear of worrying that your window, door or roof might blow off. News accounts can’t possibly describe the anxiety of watching flood waters rise a foot, then two then three in a matter of minutes, and praying the water will subside before reaching your front door.
And the news can’t convey the level of advance preparation required and the hard work cleaning up in the aftermath. Hurricane Irma consumed me for nearly three weeks nonstop when you add up the preparation, sheltering and clean-up afterwards.
For our family, of course, it was very disruptive. And as a small business owner, it was disruptive to be unable to focus on my business for weeks. It’s like taking a surprise vacation from business — but without the fun and relaxation.
As I first started writing this opening account, we’d taken refuge in a friend’s condo. We stuck it out for six days without power at my home and office following hurricane Irma, but then we couldn’t take it any longer. With temperatures in the 90s, and near 100% humidity, it was very uncomfortable staying in a house without power and air conditioning in Florida. When our friends offered to let us stay in their vacation condo that had power and an internet connection, we jumped at the chance. With nothing to do except wait it out, I started writing.
Working Toward Hurricane Recovery
Thankfully, our home and home office escaped major damage.
We didn’t incur enough property damage to even file an insurance claim. Some outdoor electrical outlets shorted out, we lost a metal part for the air conditioner, our mailbox was mangled, all our food spoiled in the freezer, and we had considerable landscape damage — that was it for us. Oh it cost us, but not enough to substantially exceed the deductible so we elected not to file an insurance claim.
It took us the better part of two days to stake up blown-over trees, and clean up dead bushes, flowers ripped out of the ground, and downed palm fronds. Cleaning every inch of the refrigerator which somehow managed to grow mold in a week without power, took another afternoon I’d rather have spent doing something else. Restocking food and arranging for a new mailbox also took time.
And two weeks later we’re still discovering damage such as the torn-off air conditioner part. Not to mention, occasionally a neighbor will drop by with something-or-other that’s been discovered in a corner of the yard, wondering who it belongs to.
We got off easy compared to others. We still have a house, with a roof, windows, and power.
Tens of thousands of residents and small businesses here in Florida lost everything and are still without power.
Their homes and business buildings were damaged or destroyed utterly. They are trying to put body and soul back together. They are now going through the laborious process to figure out where to live and get food and clothing, and apply for disaster recovery assistance so they can rebuild. It will be months before some of them achieve any sense of normality.
We were fortunate. I am grateful for having come through relatively unscathed.
Yet it’s a bit surreal. When I headed to the airport for a business trip to New York this week, you couldn’t even tell from the airport that a hurricane had been through the area. The Ft. Myers airport was filled with vacation travelers returning home! Just two weeks after a category 4 hurricane. Who would be taking a vacation in a place that just went through a hurricane, I wondered? Well apparently, more than a few people.
This week I’ll be publishing a five part series based on my firsthand experience with Hurricane Irma, as a small business owner and as a person. This is the part 1. Parts 2 through 5 will be published each day this week.
It’s my hope this account can help small business owners and citizens prepare for a hurricane. What’s even more important is to understand how to deal with what’s even worse: the aftermath including the impact on infrastructure, supply chains and communications.
Our Florida public officials — from Governor Rick Scott all the way to local county and city officials — did an amazing job in the midst of a terrible natural disaster. They were visible and showed leadership that the citizens desperately needed. And the local weather reports and news outlets overall did well. Some large corporations, churches, non-profits and the Federal government also provided much needed support. My hat is off to them all.
As well prepared as I felt we were, it’s impossible to anticipate everything with a category 4 hurricane. I learned a lot. Although I hope to never go through another hurricane, there are things I’d do differently next time. And I’ve got a bit of advice for public officials and local news stations from the perspective of someone who spent days listening to a battery operated radio as our only source of information.
My footage showing the street light rocking during Irma accompanies this article. (The street light stayed up although it’s now leaning. A street light across the street ended up on the ground.) Future articles will have additional on-the-ground footage.
Check back each day this week for the following accounts in this 5-part series:
Hurricane Irma: My Experience in the Eye of a Hurricane
Hurricane Irma: Prepping Lessons for Families and Small Business Owners
Hurricane Irma: Problems to Expect in a Hurricane Aftermath
Hurricane Irma: What I’d Do Differently (Why Evacuation is Not Always an Option)
Images: Anita Campbell, Small Business Trends