As Hurricane Irma hit Florida with fierce intensity on Sunday, September 10, my husband and I watched the storm with cautious fascination from the safety of our front door windows.
We live in Palm Beach County on Florida’s east coast, which is 120 miles away from the eye of the storm track on Florida’s Gulf coast. The distance did not do much to tame the tropical force winds that pummeled our local area for more than 15 hours.
From 5:00 a.m. in the morning until late in the evening, we surveyed the scene as the wind howled and shrieked. Rain pelted off the roof of neighborhood homes, coming down sideways in sheets at times.
Wind gusts in the county were recorded at 79 miles per hour in Boca Raton and 90 mph in Lake Worth. Periodically we would hear a thud overhead, as another large limb from the neighbor’s huge tree hit our roof. Thankfully, the tree itself stayed upright.
Florida has the luxury of seeing bad weather approaching. As frightening as it might be to see a Category 4 hurricane heading in our direction, residents did have time to prepare homes, businesses, boats, and family members.
Preparations started on Monday, with early predictions of where Irma might land. “South Florida,” known locally as Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties, was first up as the possible target for landfall. Needless to say, the approximately seven million South Florida residents paid attention this time. In earlier years, many took a more laissez-faire attitude of delaying storm preparations to the last minute or not at all.
Perhaps it was the photos of Hurricane Harvey fresh in our minds, or the recent 25 year anniversary of Hurricane Andrew, but South Florida residents collectively headed out to stock up. Starting as early as Monday, empty store shelves began to appear where bottled water, bread, peanut butter, batteries and other essential items once stood. Gas disappeared equally as quickly. Long gas lines started appearing by Wednesday, with some drivers waiting up to three hours and still not getting gas. After a search of the eight closest gas stations (all closed) on Thursday, we were very grateful to get gas at our local Costco outlet.
As the week progressed, the storm forecast shifted to the west coast of Florida. Gulf coast residents who thought they were out of harm’s way realized, to their horror and surprise, that in fact Irma was taking a westerly path up the state. Officials in Marco Island, Naples, Fort Myers, and Tampa had to scramble to respond.
Some people in designated evacuation zones along both coasts, as well as mobile home residents, were under a mandatory evacuation. Others simply decided that taking their chances with a Category 4 storm was more than they could bear. But where to go? The storm was wider than the entire state of Florida. Instead of seeking safety, you might run right into the storm. In fact, this happened to many residents fleeing Miami and other eastern Florida cities based on early forecasts. They headed to west-coast cities for safety, only to find out they had moved into harm’s way.
Now that the storm has passed, we can make a level-headed assessment of the damage. Property damage is much less severe and extensive than it could have been based on the original projections. In our area there were downed trees, broken tree limbs, and plant debris everywhere. Power remains out for many Florida residents, and the outpouring of support from utility companies across the country, and as far away as Nova Scotia, is greatly appreciated.
Almost all traffic signals in our area were out of order on Monday, making driving extremely nerve-wracking as every intersection became a four-way stop. As of Tuesday, major intersections seem to be operative. My husband saw a police officer near our office keeping the lights at a large intersection working with a small generator powered by several gas cans!
All the schools in Palm Beach County are closed until next Monday, since many are without power.
I am very grateful to report that we have power at home, although not at our office. Many others are not as fortunate.
One lesson we have learned is to prepare early. While we had most of our supplies, once the store shelves are restocked we plan to round out a few missing items. Next year we will inventory our needs in May or June before the hurricane season intensifies in August.
Looking at this from a business perspective, insurance defense law firms in Florida, Georgia, and other storm-struck states may want to freshen up their firm resume and reach out to insurance carriers who write policies in the storm’s path. Claims are likely to involve policies for homeowners, flood, renters, boats, commercial properties, and autos. While carriers have mobilized to respond quickly, inevitably some claims will end up in litigation.
Legal Expert Connections is up and running and ready to help. Contact insurance defense marketing consultant Margaret Grisdela at 866-417-7025, via email, or connect with her on LinkedIn to learn more.