The real devastation and triumph of Hurricane Irma lies in the personal stories of loss and survival. While the extent of the catastrophic property damage in the State of Florida is just now coming to light, the people of Florida have rallied around each other in simple acts of kindness.
Since this was the largest evaluation in the United States history, many Floridians down south headed for northern or central parts of the state unaware that the storm would soon follow them. Due to the unpredictable nature of this hurricane, both coasts were under mandatory evacuation orders. Family members and friends living in safer areas of the state took in their coastal neighbors. Some people carpooled to conserve on gas and keep one less car on the two north bound clogged interstate highways.
Once the rain and winds died down and residents began to survey the damage, the realization hit that nearly 70% of Floridians were out of power. Some residents lost their homes, boats, roofs, trees, farms, and water. Our downtown Orlando neighborhood which is known for the 200+ year old oak trees that line the streets, had several huge trees fall (roots and all). But the neighbors gathered around and in a few days, the road ways were cleared making it easier for the power to be restored.
The adrenaline that pumped through bodies prior to the storm had plenty of time to reboot as the massive storm lasted for several days over the entire state. But now the attempt at normalization begins for some workers while schools remain closed for a few extra days or indefinitely depending on the damage. Not only is the recovery physical, but the mental and emotional aspects of the storm need to be addressed as well. Here are some tips:
- Write it down. Florida has a population of approximately 19 million residents and each has a unique story to share. For some the storm did only minor damage while others lost everything including someone they love. The act of putting it down on paper helps to focus on accurate memory while reminding a person that they did live through one of the most devastating storms.
- Talk to neighbors. This is a time to reach out to neighbors to make sure that they are OK. Many Floridians are elderly so this is especially important because phone service, power, and water have not been restored in all areas. Shared common experiences are far better than trying to handle this alone. Take time to talk to neighbors and form a bond.
- Be cautious. Already, there are several news stories of unnecessary electrocutions, carbon monoxide poisonings, injuries from power tools, and many car accidents. Even though the work seems overwhelming, go slowly and carefully. Take time to do even the simplest of tasks with full awareness of the environment. Avoid all standing water and downed power lines.
- Stay present. There is a temptation to relive the past preparations and worry about the future. This can drain precious energy needed for the present day. Instead, make an effort to accomplish only what can be done today and not be anxious about tomorrow. Tomorrow’s worries will be enough for that day.
- Listen to others. One of the best gifts to offer others is that of listening. Listen to the stories, fears, hopes, and sorrows. Those tempted to give advice during this time are doing a disservice to others, most people just want and need to be heard. If they want advice, they will ask for it. For those seeking advice, please DO NOT look for it from a person who has never gone through a hurricane. This is the equivalent of getting parenting advice from a person who has never parented.
- Begin to grieve. The grieving process for any loss of a person, property, or community is the same. It is denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The duration varies depending on the significance of the loss. For instance, grief over a minor piece of property can take a few weeks, while grieving a community can take years. Expect to ping-pong from one stage to the next in a random order.
- Release emotions. One of the best ways to release emotional stress is to cry. Crying releases sadness, anger, frustration, anxiety, and stress. Physical activity is another good method to let off some stem. This is not the time to unleash onto family members, the power company, or others trying to help. This only generates hostility and increases isolation.
- Do normal activities. As soon as possible, try to reengage in normal routines and activities. Even if the only possibility is a morning shower, it is better to start with something that is even slightly familiar. Try to stick to regular bedtimes and wake times. This allows the body to reset and feel healthy. Eating normal foods and drinks can also help during this time. The last thing a nervous stomach needs is strange foods.
The most important thing a person can do now is to give thanks for what they do have instead of what they have lost. While the loss might be catastrophic, it is helpful to discover even the little things that a person can give gratitude for experiencing. Lastly, please stay safe.