Hurricane Irma From The Front Lines: The Florida Nurse’s Story
I am 24-years old, and have lived in the Tampa Bay area my entire life. I have endured multiple hurricanes throughout the years, but none were as catastrophic and fearsome as Hurricane Irma.
Hurricane Irma was a category 5 hurricane, stretching more than 400 miles wide; meaning that it engulfed the whole state of Florida. The maximum sustaining winds that Irma displayed were 175mph. For days, the meteorologists projected the hurricane to directly impact the east coast of Florida, but due to the changing pressures in the atmosphere, Irma shifted west, directly impacting the gulf coast of Florida. The uncertainty of “where” exactly the hurricane would hit, left thousands of people unsure whether to evacuate or not.
Eventually, local government and authorities did release evacuation notices to the appropriate zones. The news stations did a great job of alerting all Floridians of the potential devastation that would occur. I worked Sunday day shift at my hospital, and it was mandatory for all staff members to stay the night, to ensure our safety. The entire day, you could see and feel the anxiety and anticipation that everyone was experiencing. Would our loved ones be safe? Would our homes withstand the wind and rain? Do we have enough food, water, and gas? How long would the power be out?
The eye of the hurricane passed over Tampa around 2:00 am and our hospital was running on generator power by then. It was especially scary at night because we could not see what was happening outside. All we could hear was the howling of the wind, the unrecognizable crashes of the unknown, and our fears replaying in our heads.
I was awoken at 6:00 am to prepare to assist the day shift (I was not scheduled to work) and to give ample time for the people working the previous night shift to claim their sleeping spots. The first thing I did was look out a window. The hurricane had passed. There was still wind and rain, but not of hurricane magnitude.
By 8:00 am, the local curfew was lifted and my father picked me up from work. I embraced him with tears and a huge hug, and to my surprise, he stated that our home had no significant damage and our family was safe. The drive home was eerie. There was more debris on the roads than cars. Thousands of Floridians to this day are left with no power, flooded homes, missing pets, limited food supplies, limited gas supplies, etc.
As a resident of the community, I am doing my best to aid those in need. I helped a neighbor move a fallen oak tree that was completely blocking their driveway; since I have working water, I donated the pallets of water I stockpiled to a local shelter, and I volunteered to work at my hospital if they are in need.
My hospital was following the news closely and did not take the hurricane lightly. They did an excellent job of preparing the staff in advance and obtaining necessary supplies for our patients, so supplies would not run low or become depleted. They also did a good job at keeping the patients and staff safe during the hurricane by keeping everyone indoors in hurricane-safe environments.
As an extra precaution, they boarded up patient windows with plywood. They also accepted patients that were evacuated from other facilities. All in all, it was a pleasure to serve my community during this hurricane.
Lessons that have been learned from myself, the community, and hospital administrators is that we can never be over-prepared for natural disasters. My hospital and family were fortunate enough to not endure catastrophic damages or shortages of supplies, but thousands of people in the community and other hospitals did, and are still picking up the pieces.
I know FEMA and many other organizations along with the federal government are doing their best to aid Florida, but we could use all the volunteers we can get. Florida Governor Rick Scott is calling for 1,000s of nurses to come assist Florida to help at special needs shelters and in general. To get involved, please email HELPFL@FLhealth.gov or BPRCHPreparedness@flhealth.gov. The American Red Cross is also accepting donations to contribute to disaster relief.
I would like to thank the thousands of people that are already volunteering their free time to help others in their time of need. I have seen numerous out-of-state electricians trying to get power on, and multiple semi-trucks delivering gas to our stations.
Gabriella Ruskin BSN, RN
“The Florida Nurse”