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An Encounter with Hurricane Irma, Part I

This is a guest post by Rick Burner. He’s a member of the Living Freedom Commentariat and one of several Florida residents who kept us posted before, during, and after Hurricane Irma. He was kind enough to write up this after-action report, which I’ll post in several parts. Rick blogs occasionally at The Working Fish and Being Renewed.


By Rick Burner


No matter the emergency for which we are preparing, a bad snowstorm or the end of civilization, all disasters start out as short-term. If the situation lasts longer than a week or two, the initial period can afford us the time and strength to adjust our lifestyles for the long run.

Disaster prep begins with preparing our bodies. Each of us needs to get our weight to an appropriate level and, through experimentation, find an optimal diet. This diet may differ between individuals in the same household. Regular exercise is vital. Individual health, and the ability to carry out physical labor, will be critical.
Supplies and equipment are necessary, but health, knowledge, and skills are far more important.

My story – an encounter with hurricane Irma – will illustrate some of these ideas.

The Approach
Friday, September 8

Hurricane Irma was approaching – it was pummeling the Caribbean islands and heading toward Puerto Rico. The predicted track showed it continuing westward to strike Cuba, then turning due north and slamming into the Florida peninsula.

At the office, we spent the afternoon preparing. We moved all the electronics up off the floor, onto counters and desks and tables. We covered everything with plastic tarps. My coworkers were beginning to panic – and it was contagious. I was feeling a gnawing anxiety. Since I had come in at 6:30 A.M. – my usual time – I felt justified in leaving at 3 PM.

I’m no super prepper, but I had combined my hobby of camping with medium-term preparation. So far as I knew, I had everything necessary. But I had to do something – anything. On the way home, I stopped at Batteries Plus and bought a spare cell phone charger for my van. You know, “two is one and one is none.”

When I got home I washed my two water barrels, 50 gallons each. I put them in my Florida room and filled them up. Once I had tested that the siphon was working correctly, the panic began to subside. I was so proud of those water barrels that I took a picture of them.

Saturday, September 9

It was a beautiful day – clear skies and gentle breezes.

I had two more items that I wanted to get accomplished before the storm hit. In the morning, I visited my barbershop, then mowed the lawn. One should always look one’s best for a disaster.

In the afternoon, I enjoyed the air-conditioning and worked on the final edit of my book. (My book is 90% done—which means I only have 90% to go.) The predicted track of the storm remained unchanged. I flipped my backyard boats upright and put a few hundred pounds of water in each one. They weren’t going anywhere. (Three canoes, a Jon boat, a sailing dinghy, and a plastic kayak).

Sunday, September 10

First thing in the morning – check the predicted track. The NOAA website indicated that there was a high likelihood that Irma would hit the Tampa Bay area head-on. At category two or three strength. I began to get a little nervous, again.

Once the sun came up – about 7:15 – I went out for a short drive. It was overcast with on-again off-again light rain. I stopped at an ATM to get some more cash, which I doubted I would need. Then I drove to my usual gas station to top off the tank. Once again, not really needed, but I did manage to squeeze in three gallons. Mostly, however, I watched people.

Most of those who are out and about this early Sunday morning were men – early 30s to late 50s. They looked and acted frightened. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to use the word “terrified.” I talked to a few of them and watched the rest. Most looked like blue-collar workers – driving vans and pickup trucks. The type of person who is undismayed by personal danger. It took me a few minutes to realize what was going on.

I wasn’t looking at “people,” or “human beings.” I was looking at men. Men who were frightened that they would fail in their responsibilities toward those who depended on them. Men with elderly parents, wives, children. Men who had voluntarily shouldered the burden of caring for “their people.” These were men I would never hesitate to approach, asking for help. These were men to whom I had given aid in the past. They were “good old boys,” who wouldn’t hurt anyone.

But they were men; if the well-being of their family was at stake, they would be very dangerous. I returned home, deep in thought.

As the day wore on and the storm began its predicted turn to the north, I began to have second thoughts. Was I really prepared? I realized that I hadn’t put in a supply of comfort (junk) food. Wasn’t that something I was supposed to do? I had plenty of food and fuel, water and weapons. But, I asked myself, “how can I live without air-conditioning?” This, as it turns out, was a valid question.

Sunday Evening

As the winds strengthened, I moved my sea kayak into my living room. Then I walked around the front yard and measured, by eye, where trees and telephone poles could drop. I walked next door to talk to my west-side neighbor, Kevin. He gladly gave me permission to move my van to the safety of his front yard.

That’s when I realized that I’d made a mistake on Friday. Nothing wrong with buying an extra cell phone charger, but what was I going to do if my phone ran low? Was I going to run next door, in the middle of a hurricane, to sit in my van for an hour? I should have gotten an external battery pack.

I spent the evening commenting back and forth with Chad on Claire Wolfe’s blog. The predicted track kept changing. I’m in Pinellas, while Chad was in Citrus County. We speculated which of us would be hardest hit. Fortunately for me, but not for Chad, Irma moved slightly inland. Both of us were happy that it had weakened to category one.

The winds blew and howled. There wasn’t much rain – so I stood in my front yard for a while and watched in awe. Have you ever seen three-foot-thick oak trees waving like twigs? It’s kind of frightening.

A slight leak developed in my Florida room roof – right over my keyboard. I covered my computer with plastic sheet and placed a bowl to catch the drips.

With a loud crack, a huge limb from a neighbor’s tree broke off and descended onto my six-foot wooden fence. A “thump” indicated that several sections of the fence were down. I couldn’t see much – my backyard floodlights had stopped working.

By 3 AM, it looked as if the worst of the storm was over. The wind gusts were down to 65 mph. I signed off from the Internet and had a snack. I was very pleased that I still had power – so much for all my worry and preparation.

Two minutes after I crawled into the sack, there was a brilliant flash and a loud explosion. The power was gone.

To be continued …


  1. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty September 23, 2017 2:46 am

    Wow! Can’t wait to read the rest of this. Thanks for sharing.

  2. deLaune
    deLaune September 23, 2017 6:06 am

    You’re very welcome.

  3. Comrade X
    Comrade X September 23, 2017 8:58 am

    Thanks Rick for writing this.

  4. Claire
    Claire September 23, 2017 9:22 am

    It’s a beautifully written piece, isn’t it? Puts you right on the scene and gets more informative as it goes.

    In case anyone hasn’t already figured it out from his response deLaune = Rick Burner.

  5. free.and.true
    free.and.true September 23, 2017 11:31 am

    Very well written and keenly descriptive. Thanks for these and future insights, Rick.

  6. larryarnold
    larryarnold September 23, 2017 5:32 pm

    Well written.

    Fifty-gallon barrels? Siphon? Howzat work?

  7. John
    John September 23, 2017 6:08 pm

    “Men who were frightened that they would fail in their responsibilities toward those who depended on them. Men with elderly parents, wives, children”

    … And, and also; siblings, indespensable friends. etc.

    Those men who are willingly expendables, but seek to live with enthusiasm and purpose. That cannot surrender teeth nor claw.

    Thanks deLaune.

  8. deLaune
    deLaune September 23, 2017 7:17 pm

    They’re just a couple of blue plastic water barrels I bought (on sale) a few years ago. You can find them on the web. My local Home Depot carries them ($60 each).
    To get the water out, I use a shaker siphon. It’s a hose with a simple vacuum pump built into one end. Shake the end of the hose, and it starts the siphon. Cheap and effective.

  9. Shel
    Shel September 23, 2017 7:39 pm

    I didn’t think to look at people’s faces before Irma. But I do remember watching people in Gander Mountain look through the ammo during one of the major scares. No one was disorderly or rude; it was simply that others were irrelevant except for the possibility that someone else would find something useful before they did.

  10. AmericanBTGoG
    AmericanBTGoG September 23, 2017 11:29 pm

    Pinellas County? Citrus? Geez, I’m almost surrounded here in Hernando County — in a good way.
    My family was extremely lucky with regard to Irma.
    Prepared? As you implied, that’s an ongoing process, always. But we didn’t lose power, a couple of trees down in the back; stores closed and/or shelves bare for a while; and some blocked/flooded roads.
    The household went from 4 people to 14, plus dogs, cat, macaw. All went smoothly EXCEPT none of them brought food (some did bring beer and arms, this being Brooksville, if you know what I mean). Luckily, we didn’t reach an AMF moment.
    High point: “Dad, I don’t know how to say this but all this time we were laughing about you having things put back, I apologize.” Silver lining.

  11. Joel
    Joel September 24, 2017 7:59 am

    Been away from the blog for a few days and am catching up. This is good stuff, thank you.

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