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The Surrealism of Catastrophe: Hurricane Irma

By Danié Gómez-Ortigoza

September 13, 2017

We read daily stories regarding natural disasters, war, or dictatorships and see them as something so distant. It’s the first time I live a natural disaster of this kind, and I was pretty impressed by all the feelings and emotions I went through. Even with such little damage, I know I was changed for life by fear. Here is my story.

Everyday we say good-bye to people and to places without knowing. Everyday our journeys collide if only for a second. And then, they no longer do.

The seventh of September I packed all the things I love most, and closed the door of my house holding my breath, not knowing if I would ever reopen that door again. Hurricane Irma was on its way, and every prediction showed that it was ready for a direct hit, as a category 4, to Miami. On its path, it had already destroyed a couple of islands in the Caribbean.

‘You have to leave. Don’t take this lightly,’ said my dad on Monday. By Wednesday, every news outlet was saying the same thing. We were asked to evacuate right away given that we were in ‘Zone A’ which was basically the worst place to be.

I had lived through Mathew, which became the funniest meme ever among Floridians, and didn’t expect this to be a big deal at first. Regardless, we decided to buy tickets, 1000 USD per person versus the usual 180 — thank you American Airlines.

As Irma approached, no one could talk about anything else. No more flights available ANYWHERE. Almost everyone was ready to leave, or had already left. The supermarkets were running low on everything.
Complete chaos.
But we were safe…
We had a ticket out of here….
Right. (watch video below)

We took shelter at a really good friend’s house at El Portal, which seemed to be one of the safest areas. We couldn’t be more grateful to him. My boys were loving the adventure playing with his pets and just having a good time.
We waited.
And waited.
When you are waiting life goes by so slowly.
I started having really good conversations with amazing people on Instagram.
Good wishes.
Shared worries.
We are a wonderful species. When we are awfully vulnerable we become human to the core. We stop being afraid of one another. Flags, religions and languages are no longer a barrier. Vulnerability unites us all.

As the lights blinked, and the winds blew stronger we decided it was time for bed.
I woke up at 5am.
She had arrived.
You should always keep something beautiful in your mind. It comes handy in times of fear.

My children were wrapped all over my neck and my husbands body. We held hands although we couldn’t really move.

The tornado alerts started ringing on our phones waking up everyone.
The measure of who we are is how we react to things that don’t go our way. What is it that determines who leaves the country or who doesn’t? Who decides if a tree falls on a street, or smashes a house? Is there a grand purpose, or it’s just luck?

We watch movies to feel what other people feel, often on extreme apocalyptical situations. But when the things you are going through feel like a movie, all you wish for is an average uneventful day.
Strangely enough, I wanted to go out desperately to feel the force of nature first hand; so did everyone else in the house. It’s so awfully attractive. Obviously fear kept me rational enough not to.

The following morning, it was over. Once we knew we were safe, we were desperate to see how our house was doing. Cellphones were not working. All we knew is that the Grove had lots of fallen trees.
I have a huge oak tree right in front of my house, and couldn’t be more worried. This is how the Grove looked like as we approached home.

As I looked at my oak tree standing strong at the entrance, I couldn’t contain my happiness. I opened the door to my house as I gratefully prayed with all the love in my heart.

We still had a house. It was a mess of course, with fallen branches all over, but the structure was intact. After a couple of hours cleaning up we went for walk to help others as much as we could. Some properties had serious damage. The journey to recovery had begun.

A warm cup of coffee, a friend checking up on you, fresh water, AC or a smile from a stranger has never been more meaningful. As we went for our first real meal in a couple of days you could feel all the mixed energies, and the unity among people. The real damage wasn’t as awful as it could have, but I learned the importance of empathy towards the people going through similar, or much worse situations.

Perhaps the storm in your life is real. It might just be figurative. Whatever the case, just know hope is a work in progress. We can bear so much more than we think we can.

To new beginnings…

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