Hurricane Irma, the Aftermath and My Bonsai Trees

My last post was just before the storm which was about three months ago now. I apologize for the delay, but Mother Nature really threw a wrench in my works. In fact I’ve been working on this post for 2 months now.  Just can’t seem to finish it.  Been trying not to think about it I guess….anyway,

Our area of Florida was hit pretty bad…we not only had the hurricane but tornadoes as well.

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Our 2 year old daughter surveying the damage.

Every second since that storm I’ve been occupied with rebuilding our lives, and haven’t had time to read, let alone write a blog post.  Couple that with the stress and being without a home for a month, I haven’t been in the right mind set to write either.

My family and I are still exhausted from not only getting through the storm but also from the evacuation and subsequent rebuilding of our lives.  We have a 2 year old daughter and it was not easy.

We lost power the evening prior to the storm hitting, while the winds were still categorized as a “tropical storm.”

The night of Irma, one of our hurricane shutters on the house blew open.  The shutters are solid metal with a key lock, just a testament to the strength of this storm.

Then within an hour of us being hit, water started coming in the house from our back door.  The winds were blowing the rain horizontal and it was penetrating through the door seal!  Within minutes of this happening I had water in our laundry room and yes, things were already starting to get ruined.

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Thinking quickly, I grabbed quick drying silicone sealant and began to seal the door from the inside.  What made it difficult is that water was flowing in.  We had to run a towel along the edge and quickly apply sealant before it was wet again so that it would stick. It barely held, I had to reseal it a total of 3 times.

But after that it did hold the water out, and saved us from being flooded even worse. Drywall also bubbled out in other parts of the house, which told me water had gotten in between the exterior and interior walls of the house as well.

I stayed outside to watch the storm as long as I could.  I was able to record some video and get pictures as well.  During the strongest part I wasn’t able to film or photograph as it was too dark and I only had my cell phone.  However, I watched trees go down like straws.  Trees fall into neighbor’s homes, cars and the street flood almost up to our doorways.

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A tree that fell on a pickup around the corner from us.
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A few trees fell into our neighbor George’s house
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This tree fell into our front yard
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Tree on a neighbors house that fell from Hurricane Irma
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Flooding at a neighbors from Irma.

At one point I went out into the storm to move an elderly neighbor’s car so it wouldn’t get flooded as the water rose.  I lost a shoe in the process, but all is well and we now laugh about it.

I’ve been through a few hurricanes in my life and tornadoes as well so I wasn’t stressing out, just dealing with what we had to do.

Ironically, Hurricane Sandy years ago, displaced me from New York.  I was living in Downtown Manhattan on Wall Street, and as we know that part of the city was destroyed then.  That is part of the story of how/why we moved to Florida.  I know dumb move, right?!

Anyway, the next morning we woke up and went outside to see what had happened. Trees in the back did fall but not on our house thankfully.  However the backyard was destroyed.  Fences knocked down;  bonsai benches gone; shed was flooded as well.  Here are some pictures of the damage:

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Before
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After
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The lone bonsai bench that survived

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That large tree in the background had half the top ripped off, it used to be huge.
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Another section of benches.  I put the bald cypress back there after the storm
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The other side of what was left of my yard

Walking around I knew we were lucky.  Surrounding blocks were impassable and asphalt was barely visible from all the debris.

A few photos:

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You can see how the neighbor here had to clear a path to get to his driveway
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View looking down the block that crosses ours
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This tree was old and used to be awesome…..now the top is gone and it looks like a bonsai!!

When we got back we fired up the grill to make food.  Before the storm we stocked up and were well prepared.  I even had Hickory wood for grilling.

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Nothing like good smoked barbecue after a storm from Hell.

Having no power after the storm was worse than the storm itself.  It was 100 degrees Fahrenheit…100% humidity…and no air conditioning.  Absolutely brutal.  We used our Jeep for air conditioning, but now with the trees all down there was no shade.

On that note, don’t cut trees down if you don’t have to.  Trust me.  Shade is priceless, especially in hot climates.  People have forgotten the value of a good shade tree.

That night we slept in the house with no power or a/c.  All windows open.  I let the baby and my lady sleep while I stayed up and watched the house with gun in hand.  300 people were arrested the night of the storm looting houses we found out later from the news.

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We even had tree frogs living with us!!

There were 2 instances where people entered our property by getting in from the other blocks since our fences were down as well.  One ran when he was seen.  This was no joke.

For airflow, I had a small USB desk fan that I ran on pre charged portable battery packs to keep the baby cool.  Even with this, she was sleeping drenched in sweat.  By day 2, we couldn’t take it anymore, and I felt her health was at risk, so we decided to leave.

We decided to pack what we can in our Jeep (yes I took my bonsai pots and supplies, but no trees) and drive North to stay with family.  The drive took 28 hours and I didn’t sleep one wink.  Only stopped for gas, food and to stretch my legs and body.

Before we left, FPL (Florida Power & Light) was flat out lying telling us that power will be on in just a few days.  From what I was seeing that was complete bullshit, and good thing we left because I was right. We didn’t get power back in the area until 11 days later!  Imagine if we waited around like sheep? They kept stringing people along to make it seem like things were okay, but they were not.

It took FEMA almost a week to approve hotels for us. So we bounced between friend’s and family’s houses. It was not easy with a 2 year old.  Then after a week in a hotel, we had to leave the hotel, and wait for re-certification.  So where were we supposed to go between approvals?  Ha!  The system is flawed to put it nicely.

We finally received rental assistance toward the end of September.  At this point we were in New York.  We made the decision to try and move to North Carolina…no way in hell were we staying in Florida.  Plus, we were planning on moving to NC anyway one day.

So we drove down to NC,  and luckily….found, applied and signed a lease on a new home in just two days!  On that note, we love the new house!  It’s all that we wanted and more.

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Lots of trees!!

This storm from hell was turning into a blessing….slowly.  I left her and the baby in a hotel, then I drove about 700 miles back to Florida to go see what our home and belongings looked like.  Oh and also to pack up what was still good and bring it back up to NC.

No air conditioning, 11 days of no power and humidity meant that many things had mold growing on them and lots of our stuff was ruined. The house was unlivable and still is unlivable to this day.   FEMA had our home/area listed as “Inaccessible” for over a month.

My brother and his friend flew down to help with this crazy job.  I had reserved a truck with Uhaul, but once I got there the guy said they had no trucks.  He was confused why Uhaul sent me there.  So after an hour on the phone with customer service, we found a truck a few towns over.  It took 3 hours to finally get a truck!!!

It then took us 12 hours to pack the house up and load the 15 foot Uhaul truck.  I could not have done it without them, thank you Matt and Jay! I rented a trailer to tow the Jeep and after 12 hours of packing and no sleep, we were on our way.

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Uhaul and the Jeep at a rest stop.  Uhauls guzzle gas…

The trip to NC was only 765 miles or so but it took 18 hours.  They flew in so were much better rested than I was.  I drove from NC down to FL 700 miles, then packed for 12 hours, then drove 18 hours without a wink of sleep! I don’t know how we did it, but we did.  These guys were great road trip company, too bad we weren’t going on vacation!

Once we arrived back in North Carolina, we unloaded the truck and got all the big furniture in first since they had to leave 2 days later, and I can’t lift things like couches up the stairs by myself.  We did have some time to hang out and have a few drinks so I was happy about that.

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She is helping unload the truck, I swear!

Many of my bonsai trees died, and of the ones that survived I was only able to bring 1 bonsai tree with me. A Shore Juniper.

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The rest of the trees stayed in FL and are in the care of a good friend.  The plan is to reunite with them one day soon (or at least the ones that can live in this new climate).

Most of my trees were tropical and I don’t have an indoor growing set up, as I never had the need.  So, for one I didn’t want to bring them all up to NC just for them to die.  They were already super stressed from the storm and subsequent lack of care.

If I didn’t have to move so quickly, a better plan for the trees would have been made, but it is, what it is.  Basically losing my whole collection really does suck for lack of a better word.  Losing all the hard work, care, time and future planning that I put in up to that point is disappointing to say the least.

As for what I’m going to do to rebuild my “bonsai life,” well that is for an upcoming post.  For now, I’m going to focus on studying my property and deciding on the best location for the new benches.  Oh yea, and put some plans together for the building of these new said benches.

So starts the next chapter of my bonsai life…

To read the post in prep for the storm click here

 

 

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