The Surprising Toll of Natural Disasters on a Teacher's MInd

3:00 AM

Hurricane Irma was an experience unlike any others!  I have lived in Florida since 1980 and have experienced many storms as a resident and as a teacher.  Andrew, Charlie, Katrina, and countless others have come by, interacted, and wrecked destruction all while I've been teaching.  Fear has come, and gone, as they grazed us and passed by.  And then there is Irma, a new, frightening experience, along with the mind-numbing aftermath.  Here are just a few thoughts.

This was the easiest.  Everyone was on a high because we were getting a day off, we figured we wouldn't be back till Tuesday, easy-peasy!  This was the typical response to any hurricane, because that was the known pattern.  Irma wasn't even aiming for us!  We were closing to be a shelter for the people from the east coast of Florida-who did come!  They booked hotel rooms on the Island (Anna Maria Island), knowing they would be safe.  And then, it all changed!  The path turned and we were a dead target!  People panic, store shelves emptied, and life became REAL!  Then there was the added pressure of friends jumping ship who promised to stay no matter what and students who began to become a concern!  The entire tone of life flipped on a dime and became desperation and a longing for normalcy!  Here is a little glimpse at what pre-storm neighborhood life sounded like:

During the Storm:  
Then there was the actual fear of riding out the storm.  I collected my parents who are in their 80's  and brought them to our house. We have a generator we purchased years ago and knew we could power up.  The storm kicked off the power about 8 hours into the "coming attraction" phase and the generator didn't kick on.  My husband went out, powered it up, and I was in sheer panic and prayer mode.  At this point, the only thing to do was watch social media.  And that is when I saw this:

That blue line is the eye of the storm-the WORST place to be.  That little road that seems to be going no where-that's the entrance to the bus loop at my school!  I was also very aware that at this point there were about 1,000 people inside the school seeking shelter.  Needless to say, prayer was all that was left at this point.  And it worked!  Here's a little example of what happened!  

When the weather guy points out that it is a miracle, you know it truly is!  (By the way, thank you Denise Phillips for keeping us all sane!  You were the only voice of reason throughout the whole ordeal!)   We made it through the storm and there were very minor issues in the area I live in.  Thankful is not the word for how our community felt!

Post Storm and the Longer Term Effects:
To be honest, this is the thing none of us expected.  Immediately following the storm we dealt with things like no electricity for 5 days in horrible heat (We had to kick out generator off for longer periods as we started to run out of propane) and not knowing how the community was as a whole!  That first day back to school was a HUGE blessing, because it marked normalcy.  Getting up, appreciating air conditioning and power.  But it brought something else that day.  The tale of the school building itself.  Teachers returned on Friday to an empty building.  That same building that had been occupied by 1,000 people a few days before.  Here are some of the realities of that that our principal shared:

-He had allowed a group of elderly home people in that had been rejected by 5 other principals. Who does that!  Crazy!
-He needed all their medical equipment in the end, as Red Cross all but abandoned our area.  They didn't have enough volunteers!  Yep, you read that right.  The group that was supposed to show for sign-in and medical help just didn't!
-The home had a terminal patient that wasn't supposed to make it.  They had to talk to a deputy and get a body bag. The deputy sent for extra, "Just in case this turns bad!"
-He talked the National Guard members into leaving their guns in a safe location.  Like our school...for protection!
-He had a regular visitor stroke out during dining!  Again, if it wasn't for the elderly medical attendants that were there, who knows what would have happened!  They would have needed that body bag is my guess!
-There were funny things too!  People brought pets-lots of them!  Not all pets were in "pet friendly" containers.  One person brought her dogs in a large plastic bin-with NO HOLES!  Dogs were escaping and running all over our Science Lab!  Some dogs were put in crates-that hated each other!  So, there were dog fights!  And there were cats!  Many of them.  All animals were separated from their owners-to some owners cringe!  One guest fell all over her cats cages and cried when they were forced apart.  I can only imagine that this stress was real, as I couldn't imagine leaving my pets and riding out a storm in a place with 1,000 other people!
-And there were some positives. One visitor gathered a group of others who committed to cleaning the bathrooms during the event because they shouldn't look the way they look!  Others committed to cooking every meal with the Cafeteria Manager because the Red Cross didn't show up.

Overall, my school was lucky.  There were no drugs, no sex (yes, you read that right), no urinating and defecating in corners (yep, you read that right!) that happened at other schools.

But the side effects-the weird ones-have come out:
Teachers are a little freaked out here and there.  Things like our carpet have taken on a whole new meaning.  They were sprayed with a special solution and every carpet was cleaned before anyone was let back into the building.  But it leaves a little questioning.  Teachers are a little more cautious about what they do on the floors now!

Another weird side effect has been Irma Brain as many have begun to call it.  It's like a time warp of that week keeps replaying, badly!  We can't get past it.  We are still talking about Irma Brain, and the lack of recovery of it.  You're a little more on guard, a little bit more aware and frightened all at once.  Moments will trigger it.  Like the idea of driving around and area, or having a student leave-it pops you back to that moment when your class started emptying out because the parents were getting them to evacuate.  Long term thoughts that will take time to heal.

Then there is just the physical reminders.  Piles upon piles of tree branches, well over my head (and I'm 5'8") that have laid there now for a month.  There was no sign of help, but FEMA has finally arrived and truck upon truck is picking up these piles.  So, it is getting a little better.  And then there are the homes that still have their hurricane protection on them.  You wonder what makes them want to walk around in a pitch black home with no sun light in the daytime!  It wears on you, keeping Irma Brain alive and kicking.  Here are some pictures to help you get an idea:

   This is three hundred year oaks that went down.                    An example of a road in my town.  Piles for as far as the eye can see!  
   This pile is about 7 feet tall!   

 An example of a home with protection still on the windows.                     Many oaks were lost to the storm. 

Overall, I am truly thankful for the fact that we are safe, we have homes, our damage is minimal, that we have recovered.  But it leaves me with a bigger thought:  What about those teachers in the Keys who will have no school for the REST OF THE YEAR!   How are they making a living to clean up their homes!  What about their classrooms that have been wiped out (the schools in that district just can't be fixed this school year!).  Don't forget about Houston either!  What about Puerto Ricco!  How will those people continue to deal with the disaster day after day?  They are now a month into no power!  No school!  No normalcy!  And then there is California!  Towns completely burned to the ground!  As a teacher who has gone through the concept but has been blessed, I can only imagine the ongoing process of which I have spoken of.  It would be mind boggling!

My suggestion for you, teacher friend, is that if you are the praying sort, start there!  All of our colleagues in these areas need you!  If you can financially assist, do so!  If you can donate supplies, do so!  It would be one way to break through the fog of the ongoing onslaught of what happened and a chance to grab onto what was-and can be again!

by Julie from The Best Days Classroom

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