By Elaine Viets
Last Wednesday, Don and I were part of the two million people ordered to evacuate for Hurricane Matthew. Matthew – a rare, powerful Category 5 – had lashed Haiti and was barreling across the Bahamas straight for South Florida.
But in Florida, there's no place to go. The state is about 600 miles long from the Georgia border to Key West – and the Keys are barely above water on a good day. Our part of south Florida is maybe 120 miles wide from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, with the python-infested Everglades in between. Airports were closing. Amtrak had stopped, and driving was impossible. It's a four- to five-hour drive from Lauderdale to the Georgia border. During a hurricane evacuation, thousands of cars clog the highways, and gas stations quickly run out of fuel.
We also had to sneak in the cats, since the hotel didn't allow pets.
Packing was a pain in the neck. Both our cats, Harry and Mystery, were jittery. We caught Mystery in the living room and stuffed her in the caddy. Harry hid under the couch, just out of arm's reach. Don had to lift the couch. Harry slashed both my arms with the steak knives on his paws, but we captured him, too.
The sunny day now had dark scudding clouds, sudden downpours, and lashing wind. Our hurricane windows, designed to withstand 150-mile-an-hour winds, were about to be tested.
I threw a load of wet clothes in the dryer and turned on the dishwasher, hoping that wasn't an exercise in futility. As we locked our condo door, I wondered if we'd we have a place to come home to.
Traffic was miserable on the side roads to the hotel, with citizens briskly flipping one another off.
At the hotel, we sneaked the cats in on a luggage rack surrounded by suitcases. We were grateful the middle suitcase didn't meow. A friend confessed she'd smuggled her cat into a hotel in a rolling suitcase. My laptop had died, so I packed up my big monitor and tower and lugged them to the hotel, too. The hotel was packed – every room was taken and there was a waiting list – but the overworked staff stayed cool under pressure.
That evening, we watched TV, jumping from channel to channel as rain-drenched reporters made dire predictions. At seven-thirty Wednesday night, we dodged rain squalls for dinner at a Chinese restaurant. We'd live on take-out all day Thursday.
We're back home, with no damage to our condo or car. Matthew wasn't as bad as some summer rainstorms. Even the low-lying streets didn't flood.
Hurricane season officially ends November 30. I hope someone gives Mother Nature a calendar.
We were lucky. Matthew hit – and hurt Florida, Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Some 20 people died in the US and more than 1,000 in Haiti. Please help the hurricane victims here: https://weather.com/news/news/hurricane-matthew-how-help