Living & Thriving with Rustie Living & Thriving with Rustie, Inspiration on TAP (c)
3941 Tamiami Trl #3157-582
Punta Gorda, FL 33950


Irma and a Shelters Tail

It’s around 2 am on Saturday morning. I am laying in my bed filled with anxiety. What should we do? I am a full-time single mom and I work a lot. I have always had to make the tough decisions and this one was super tough. Do I try to keep our lives in balance for the emotional well-being of my daughter or do I swoop up my girl and her pup and head for shelter?  By 7 we get a mandatory evacuation notice and my decision was clear. We sought shelter.

By 9 we were out of the door and headed to the nearest shelter. We stood in line for 45 minutes only to be denied as the high school was at capacity. We were told to head to the middle school and after 1 hour of standing in line, we finally got confirmation that we were going to be offered shelter. Bella, of course, was least interested in separating from us and being placed in a kennel. The gym bathroom was filled with anxiety-laden animals that were unusually separated from their loved ones. The howls, whimpers, and cries were overwhelming even for me and I tend to have nerves of steel.

We got to our room and unloaded. We immediately went to volunteer as there were so many elderly coming in and the shelter was limited with 8 volunteers. By 5 I had to be in the kitchen to start serving a never-ending line of starving, scared, and tired folks. Children, men, women, poor, rich, and homeless. This storm took everyone and anyone to our shelter. No one really knew what was going to happen but we followed our orders and everyone was there. The internet gave out later that night. I had limited signal and Chloe was able to intermittently text. Her father sent so many texts as he was not satisfied with her answers and he refuses to speak to me. She ended up turning her phone off as it was beginning to stress her out.

We had a nice room full of folks. We had a little girl who kept all of us smiling; She was a feisty little tester for sure. She loved her Dad but loved to test his limits. I think she might have been 2. Most of the folks in the room were pleasant and one liked to read to us scripture. A fella I will call Mr. C has Alzheimer’s and his wife is one of the most patient women I have met to date. Mr. C did give us a scare when in the middle of the night he decided to try and leave the room. Boy, I couldn’t have that. So, I walked him back to his barely awake wife who soothed his confusion. I laid back down on the hard concrete floor fully awake after that. My mind flooded with what will Mr. C and his family do if they lose their home? His condition will get worse I imagine and that is not good. I worried about all the elderly folks who were limited in physical ability and was concerned as to what would happen if this Irma did the destruction we guessed would happen. I wondered where their children were and why they did not come and take care of their folks. Were they local? Were they far away? Whats the story?

I finally fell asleep around 4 only to wake about 6:30 when everyone kept coming in and out of the room to get breakfast. I got up to get Chloe breakfast as I knew I wouldn’t get anything as a Celiac. Dietary needs are hard to meet in an emergency situation. I got Chloe some yummy breakfast and headed back to the room. I tried to check the internet and messages but again the signal was intermittent so I felt in the dark for most of the day. I went to get a coffee and women collapsed at my feet throwing up. The fear was so intense for a lot of folks and their bodies were just shutting down. As the morning continued, Chloe and I got right out there to help get the new arrivals settled in. Then by lunch, I was serving again. This time we were at around 2500 folks. We served one hot meal and one bagged meal for everyone at the shelter was going to Lock Down around 4 to prevent anyone from getting hurt. The winds were expected to exceed 45 MPH.

After lunch, a lot of us sat outside, waiting. The breeze was perfect. It was sprinkling here and there. Pet owners walked their pets for the last time and many of us just listened. Although there were voices, chattering, and giggles, there was still an uncomfortable silence. It was thick in the air and we all tried not to “look it” in its eyes. We skirted it. This silence. We dodge it with uncomfortable laughter and acknowledging another’s pet. The kids raced chairs up and down the hallway and the baby girl made her dad chase her around. We all knew that we didn’t know. We all tried to avoid the thinking that this was the end of that when we come out of lockdown, the world as we currently see it won’t exist. Several of the Elderly felt lost and alone. Some made mention that they knew that this was it. The big one. Everyone shared new news as they got it and that seemed to offer seconds of comfort.

NorthPort Sun Article
I am unsure why we didn’t get updates. It was really difficult to go about our days with limited information. Maybe there just weren’t enough volunteers? Who knows but I think it would have eased folks worry even if we had a tv or radio set up. As we got closer to lock down the winds began to pick up and the rain thickened. Folks were reluctant to get behind the door as we all knew that when we come out the next day, our world may be turned upside down. Once inside our room, folks tried to make light conversation and one lady had the internet. She was able to help us learn that Irma became a 2 and that we may be out of the damage zone. As the night grew later, everyone went to bed. Lights out. Around 2 am another woman tried to escape from the room. She was clearly unaware of where she was and why she was there. She was frightened. I got her to her room and fled ours to get some form of help. At this point, All emergency personnel would not leave to help anyone. After the high-risk time frame, then the emergency responders would respond. She was scaring the children and began to throw things at the other adults. I had to try. We found a national guardsman who was able to check her vitals and help settle her. She finally fell asleep.

Snores filled the room and I felt like this was finally calm. The concrete floor was getting more comfortable as I was exhausted. 4 hours a night of sleep and all the running around did me in. My body won and I was out. 6 AM Monday morning and 3 folks had disappeared in the night. I felt as though I failed by falling asleep and that if anything happened to them it was my fault. I was nervous only to have been assured that they left safely on their own will. The storm passed us leaving us with some minor flooding, downed trees, branches splattered everywhere, and a renewed feeling of empowerment.

Yes, Irma gave us new hope. A hope that our community can come together and help each other without complaint. A new hope that we are getting smarter about these storms and although we did not get it as bad as anticipated, I believe that our damage is far less than it would have been if there wasn’t a sense of urgency to get everyone safe. So, I think all was well done. When we got home, we lost all of our refrigerated food, had no power, and was told that we may not have power until Sept 22. However, after I finished cleaning out our refrigerator, the power came back on.
Another sign of HOPE.

Some family donated money so that I could replenish some my fridge. I am currently missing work due to no power. I am not alone in that boat. I can say that I am so grateful our home wasn’t destroyed and that we didn’t get major flooding. So, we clean the house and begin again. It’s not the first time for us as most of you know who have followed our heartache. We are stronger now and more able to handle this because of our journey.
I have to give a shout out to Principal Kris at #heroncreekmiddleschool. She was fantastic and her team was so strong. They went above and beyond. They had more than 2000 of us and handled it with a small crew of 8 and a handful of us.

Yup. They are amazing.

Thank you for all that have stepped up and “got nice“. So many folks needed a hand or two. I am grateful to #glutenfreeemergancykits. I can eat safely now. My next blog will showcase the kit and I really advise you to visit their site and stock up. Irma may have been the first 400-mile hurricane but we all know she is not the last of natural occurrences and to be prepared is the best way! I would even ask that #fema, #redcross, and others take stock in this as we are many more of us than folks realize. No one should go hungry.

I would ask that if you are interested in donating to help Floridians, call the county that you wish to donate too. I know the largest need in my area is volunteers, food, and waterProject Phoneix is asking for donations of the same. There is about 40% without power still and a pizza place here in town that is helping serve hot food to the elderly. Call Robs Pizzeria and buy a pasta dish for one of the elderly folks who can not get out. These guys have done a lot for our community.
                                                            Until next time.…….

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