We knew Hurricane Irma was heading our way for a week or more prior to its arrival. What we didn’t know was exactly where it would go or how strong it would be, so we didn’t worry too much about it. I suggested to my wife, Rose, that we should pick up another cat carrier since we only had one large carrier and one small one for four cats. She gave me a reason why she didn’t want to do that but I no longer remember what that reason was.
The following Wednesday, more than four days before Irma’s arrival, its projected path was still heading to Florida so I decided to go to PetCo on my lunch break and pick up a carrier. They were completely out. I was told that all stores in the area were out. It seemed that people were panicking early. Water and gas were almost impossible to find too. I was lucky to have an electric car. I decided to order a carrier from Amazon and chose the guaranteed Friday delivery option.
By Thursday morning the forecast looked like the storm was going to go up the east coast of Florida and since we live on the west coast Rose decided she wanted to ride it out at home. Then we learned we were in a mandatory evacuation zone and we needed to be out by 6:00 a.m. Friday morning. I thought that was a ridiculous demand and looked into it. It turned out the evacuations were to start at 6:00 a.m. It’s funny how misinformation spreads so quickly.
Evacuating was difficult for several reasons. Traveling with four cats, even with the right number of carriers, is not easy. Then there is the fact that Irma was predicted to affect the entire state and nobody knew what part of the state would get hit the worst. So there was always the possibility that the place you chose to go would get hit worse than your home.
Leaving the state was another option but finding plane tickets was almost impossible. We heard some people paid as much as $3,000 for a one-way ticket out of the state. Driving was also risky because most gas stations were out of gas, all the hotels were booked and the highways were jammed. Not a good place to be stuck during a hurricane.
We had options, but not great ones. We considered staying at Rose’s sister’s vacation condo to the south in St, Petersburg but they were ordered to evacuate too. Her other sister, who lives north of us, said we could come there but they have cats and their mother was going there with her cat so Rose worried that there would be little room for us and there would be conflicts with all the cats. I was also under the impression they were in a worse flood zone than they really were.
Our best option was to stay with friends in the northwest part of Tampa. Their house was closest, about eight miles away, and they had plenty of room. Unfortunately, we learned when we got up Friday Morning that they decided to evacuate too. They said the neighbors told them the area was prone to flooding.
Rose called me at work that morning and said she found a place in Historic St. Petersburg on Airbnb. She said it was in an Evacuation Zone C. I Wasn’t sure if that was a good idea since Zone C was only a little better than the Zone A we were leaving, but since there weren’t many options to choose from, I thought that would be better than our home. We have five evacuation zones here and non-evacuation areas that fall outside the zones.
Friday evening I checked the tracking on my cat carrier and it said it arrived in Clearwater at 4:00 a.m. and was out for delivery at 6:00 a.m. It then said it was delayed at noon and delayed again at 4:00 P.M. It said it would arrive by 8:00 p.m. which is the same thing it said at 8:30 and at 10:00 when we went to bed with no cat carrier. So for some reason, this item was put on a truck in the same town I live in and they couldn’t get it to me in 14 hours.
Saturday morning we packed up everything but the kitchen sink and loaded it into our two cars. We then had to pack up the cats, which is not an easy thing to do. The plan was to put Frankie and Floki in the big carrier but Floki was so difficult to catch and contain that we just put him in the closest carrier, which was a small one, and then put Puck in with Frankie. I then put Frankie’s harness on Chris. We thought Chris would be the best choice to go without a carrier because he seems to stress out less than the other cats.
I put everybody in the back seat of my car except Chris. He sat in the front seat next to me.
He seemed fine for a while but driving outside of a cat carrier was something he’s never done before and I think it made him nervous. He started crying and he wanted to get on my lap. He made driving difficult and I had to pull over and put him back in his seat. He stayed there for a short time and then he started bothering me again.
By that time we were about halfway through our trip and I pulled over again and there happen to be a Petco in the parking lot. I went inside to see if they had a cat carrier. I knew they wouldn’t but I thought it would be worth a try. The guy I talked to was very nice. He told me they didn’t have any but he suggested putting him in a box enclosing the top. He happened to have a box that he thought would be perfect for me. I thanked him and put the box in the front seat and put Chris inside and closed the top. That lasted until I walked around to my side the car. By then he’d already busted through the top. I knew that wasn’t going to work so I took him out and folded the box up, wedged it between his seat and mine, and started driving again.
It wasn’t long before he got down onto the blankets I had on the floor. I was hoping he would lay there but instead, he went head-first under the dashboard. He was in a position that looked dangerous so I had to stop the car again. Finally, he settled into laying on my lap. It was a position that was not great for driving but it was safer than what he was doing so I let him stay there since I only had a few more miles to drive.
When we got there I put Chris in the house first. It was nice because there was an enclosed porch so I could bring our stuff inside without worrying about the cats getting out.
I then brought Frankie, Puck, and Floki inside and opened their carriers. I soon noticed that Chris was nowhere in sight. I assumed he was exploring because that is what he does, but I soon became worried when I couldn’t find him.
It was a small place with not many hiding places so I couldn’t understand where he went to. Rose joined the search and she couldn’t find him either. I went outside to look, thinking maybe there was a way out we were not aware of or maybe he slipped past me, even though that seemed impossible. I was scared at this point, thinking the storm hasn’t even hit and already Chris was missing.
When I went back into the house I was relieved to find out that Rose found Chris. He was hiding in a corner amongst a pile of stuff.
I think the owner wasn’t planning on renting it and had stuff piled around the house.
With that crisis averted, I brought in the rest of our stuff. We decided not to unpack anything we didn’t need to in case we had to leave in a hurry.
The place was actually not bad. It was very old, perhaps 80 to 100 years old, and small because it was a regular house divided into a duplex, but it had potential and the neighborhood wasn’t bad. It was relatively close to downtown St. Petersburg and the waterfront. I’m sure there would be plenty to do nearby on a normal day but this was not a normal day.
There was no sofa or television, which was weird for a rental. There were just a couple of chairs and a table. There was also a bedroom with no doors and a double bed, as well as a day bed on the patio.
We passed the time as best we could. We tried to play cards but that wasn’t easy with Chris around.
I did go out at one point to get ice, which nobody had, and look for a place to charge my car, which did not exist in the place the map showed. While driving I saw a cat in the back of a car. Her mouth was opening like she was crying in distress. I guess this person didn’t have a carrier too.
One good thing happened while we were there. We witnessed Puck use the litter box for the first time in months.
Shortly after this momentous event, I found poop on the daybed.
We spent a lot of time checking weather updates on our phones as well as social media where several people from out of state were hounding us to leave because our life was in peril. I think they thought leaving was easy.
All day Saturday the forecasted track kept moving west with every update. Before going to bed the track was going north through Tampa. Not good.
Sunday morning Irma reached the Florida Keys. I saw the forecasted track moved West again and had it over water from the keys all the way to Madeira Beach, a barrier island next to St. Petersburg, where it was predicted to make landfall. Traveling over water meant the storm would probably not weaken before hitting us.
That was when Rose decided it was time to abandon our shelter and head north to her sister Felice’s house.
To be continued . . .
Read part two here.