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A mixture of emotions: Florida family with Yarmouth ties described process of preparing for Hurricane Irma

The Turpin family spent the days leading into the hurricane boarding up their Florida home, praying there won't be too much damage from Hurricane Irma.
The Turpin family spent the days leading into the hurricane boarding up their Florida home, praying there won't be too much damage from Hurricane Irma.

FLORIDA – There are a multitude of emotions in preparing for a hurricane the size and danger of Irma. You push through the exhaustion. You’re overwhelmed by the uncertainty. You get waves of confidence that the work you’ve done will protect your property. And then at times all of these feelings are overtaken by fear.

It's been like this for Meg Turpin and her family in the days leading up to hurricane Irma and its strike on Florida.

On Saturday, the hurricane was predicted to hit Florida as a Category 4 storm when it makes landfall Sunday morning.

For days before Irma reached Florida, Turpin and her family were securing their property. Turpin (a Miller before she married) spent part of her childhood growing up in Yarmouth, N.S., and still has family and friends here. During the summers, she and her husband Traynter and their daughter Jessi spend their summers at a property they own in Yarmouth County.

The Turpin family: Traynter, Meg (Miller) and their daughter Jessi while "home" for the summer in southwest N.S.

Now they can only wonder how their Florida home will fare in this hurricane. Securing their property has been hard labour through hot and humid conditions, she said – 95 degrees Fahrenheit, or 35 degrees Celsius.

“The stress of the anticipation and uncertainty is really overwhelming. I was nauseous this morning thinking about it,” Turpin said Friday. “You get waves of confidence and then, fear.”

Their home is in southeast Florida.

“Preparation includes filling all your vehicles with gas and extra gas tanks. That was hard. Starting Sept. 4, as soon as hurricane warnings come, people race to the gas stations and the lines can be hours long,” Turpin said. “I got up at 5:15 a.m. Wednesday to fill my tank. And an hour later all the gas stations in my area were empty of gas.”

Hurricane shutters are a must, she said.

“They are heavy and cumbersome for the most part. Takes screw guns and hard work. Some people have storm-proof windows, but still double protect with shutters or plywood,” she said. “We put plywood over our front doors and sliding glass doors by the pool that we don't have shutters for.

“We had to pick up all lawn ornaments, plants, chairs, flag poles, anything in the yard that could become a flying weapon,” she said. They trimmed trees to prevent limbs from coming down and flying into houses. Freezers were filled with ice and extra water. Food that could be prepared on a barbecue was stockpiled, in case following the storm there is no power.

They have a boat at the ready in case of flooding.

A satellite image of Hurricane Irma released by the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA)

“We packed all important insurance papers and IDs, etc., in a watertight bag and backpack in case we have to suddenly evacuate,” she said. Those documents have also been scanned into a computer and shared to the cloud storage.

“I have horses so their prep has been similar. Ordered extra bedding, hay and feed. Put some plywood up on doors that have wind blowing through. Securing all barn items as the house. Filling big tubs of water. We have emergency first aid kits for people and horses and dogs. And sedatives for the horses.”

If they didn’t evacuate, they secured a safe room in the house in case the roof comes off.

Names and phone numbers were marked on pets in case they get lost during the storm.

Turpin’s work van has been emptied of expensive veterinary equipment, including ultrasounds and computers, which have been put somewhere else she hopes will keep the equipment safe.

She says they’ve thought about evacuating, but they’ve also been consumed with everything there is to secure. She doesn’t want to leave her horses, but she also wants to ensure her family is kept safe.

“Every place is out of gas. As of yesterday it was taking 30 hours to get out of Florida,” she said Friday, referring to their part of the state.

The family has been through other hurricanes. In 2005 there were three in a row, including Katrina. There was Floyd in 1999. Matthew last year. In 2005 they lost electricity for two weeks and cooked for the entire neighbourhood on their grill.

The biggest concern with Irma, Turpin said, is the storm surge and flood waters.

“The other thing is tornados in the middle of the hurricane because there's no escaping that,” she said. “And then there's my horses in stalls. Not sure if they will freak out. Not sure if flying objects will damage them or kill them in the stalls, or when I can safely get back to take care of them and make sure they have enough water.”

But in the end it all comes down to family.

“Of course I am most afraid for our nine-year-old daughter. If anything, save her,” she said.

The Turpin family spent the days leading into the hurricane boarding up their Florida home, praying there won't be too much damage from Hurricane Irma.

The family has participated in, and even helped to organize, hurricane relief efforts to help other areas hit hard by other hurricanes in the past. They did a big hurricane relief effort after Katrina, and most recently helped put together care packages for people impacted by hurricane Harvey in Texas through a relief effort in coordination with the Palm Beach Troop Support and Tropical Sands Christian Church.

“Floridians definitely have empathy,” she said. “We didn't know we would be hit so soon after Harvey.”

Asked what the mood has been like where she lives in the days before Irma, Turpin said, “The mood is between hectic chaos and subdued. Most people are ready to lend a hand. The neighbours have been great. Everyone helping each other. Nothing bands people together like this sort of tragedy when we are all in it together.”

Still, the worry of the unknown is what lingers all the time.

“There is anticipation and fright of just not knowing,” Turpin said, as everyone can only wait to see what Irma leaves behind in her path. 

 

 

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