I finally made it to Illinois, thank God. When I was a kid, it wasn’t such an ordeal to get across the country. Domestic flights used to cost less than a month’s pay. Passenger trains ran more often because more people could afford them. There was also a lot less of this ridiculous suspicion about people crossing state lines. We’re all still one big happy American family, right? For now, anyway.
Also, did you know that Illinois is 395 miles long from north to south? I knew this intellectually, of course. I used to visit Alejandra a lot in Chicago. But now she lives in a college town that’s closer to St. Louis than Chicago. As I stepped off the train this afternoon, I noticed a distinct lack of tall buildings. Also, not surprisingly, there’s no sign of the ocean. Not yet, anyway.
I’ll talk more about my new home and new life here once I’ve had the chance to get settled. In the meantime, I was going to tell you about my last days in Miami.
Last Thursday started out as a day like any other. Yes, there was a hurricane warning. But it’s hurricane season. Even before we really started noticing the effects of global warming, a hurricane in June was nothing unusual. You watch the weather reports, stay indoors, maybe board up some windows if you own a house or storefront. Such is life in Miami.
But then all hell broke loose. Nobody expected Hurricane Florence to gain so much intensity so quickly. Even as the storm made landfall, local newscasters were reopening the age-old debate about whether it was time to create a Category 6 for hurricanes. And then, of course, they were presumably hiding under their desks and praying for their lives like the rest of us.
For anyone who cares about the numbers, the winds reached 176 m.p.h. and the storm surge reached 18 feet. But numbers can’t convey the reality of what we experienced on the ground. Florence laid waste to Miami like something out of a movie. Even before Florence, we were having constant problems with flooding due to sea level rise, a fact which most people don’t even bother denying anymore. But as soon as Florence hit, everything was underwater.
I was in my apartment when it happened. Our landlord didn’t do much to prepare for the storm, so I got a front row seat to the action. The wind shattered my front window really quickly. Luckily, I had some foamboard taped to the window, so the glass didn’t go flying everywhere. But once the window was blown out, I could hear the wind howling like a big hungry demon that was devouring the city I love. The rain soaked everything in the living room and I could hear terrible crashing and crunching sounds outside over the din of the storm.
I didn’t see anything at first because I was hiding under my desk. I don’t know how long I was sitting under that desk clutching my knees to my chest and saying more Hail Marys than I’ve said in the whole rest of my life. I’m not a very religious person, but it was one of those moments, you know?
When things finally settled down, I looked out my window to see a different city. Several feet of standing water had filled the streets with bits of broken buildings, overturned cars, trash, and who knows what else. Honest to God, I think I saw a dead body floating in the water down the block. Thankfully it passed out of sight before I could be sure. There was no power, no running water, no cellphone service, and no safe way to get out of the building because of the floodwaters.
My first response was shock. I must have spent a few minutes just staring out that window, mesmerized by the eerie silence punctuated by occasional shouting and crashing in the distance. Then, I remembered something.
I was prepared.
Living in Miami teaches you to prepare for storms. Living in Miami and spending your whole life learning about global warming teaches you to prepare for apocalyptic storms. Unlike most people I know, I had an entire closet filled with preparedness supplies. Highlights include:
- Several cases of MREs, these little meals in a bag that they originally designed for the military
- Emergency bottled water (10 gallons plus a gallon or two in my kitchen water cooler)
- Portable water purifier and water purification tablets
- First aid kit with extra supplies
- Multitool and small toolbox with other tools
- Rope, twine, and other small but useful supplies
- Laminated map of my neighborhood
- Hand-crank emergency radio and HAM radio
- Hand-crank LED flashlight
- Emergency flares
- Suitcase-sized portable solar charger
- Passport, birth certificate, and a few other documents in physical and digital form
- About half of my life savings, which unfortunately was not much.
- Self-inflating life raft
Even for me, an avid prepper, that last item seemed way over the top when I bought it. But it was on sale secondhand, so why not? I knew Miami would flood like this eventually. I just didn’t know it would be this soon. Besides, even if it never happend, my long-term plans included spending retirement on a boat somewhere along the coast.
Thanks to Florence, I was living the dream ahead of schedule.
That’s all I have time for tonight. Alejandra said she was going to bed soon which is why I started writing. But now she wants to talk some more about what happened and our plans for the rest of the week. Maybe talking to her will help me focus my thoughts as I get to the hard parts of this story. In the meantime, wish me luck in my new home here in small town southern Illinois. This is going to take some adjusting, but with Alejandra by my side, I can do anything.