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Difficult to watch disaster threaten loved ones far away

Large waves churned up by Hurricane Irma hit

Large waves churned up by Hurricane Irma hit the Anglins Fishing Pier in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Credit: Getty Images / Chip Somodevilla

My brother and his wife live in Emerald Hills, just south of Fort Lauderdale, on Florida’s Atlantic coast. They have a beautiful ranch house with an inviting backyard pool, as do many neighbors. We visit them in the winter when it’s freezing here, and they come to stay with us when they miss the excitement of Manhattan.

When I first heard about Hurricane Irma heading straight for South Florida earlier this month, it was as if a monster churning the ocean waters was headed straight for their door. I became terrified and, in the days before the Sept. 10 landfall in the Florida Keys, I repeatedly begged these relatives to come and stay with me. But my sister-in-law and brother, Mirta and Ira Lefkof, would not leave their adult son, Jason, or her mother, Maria Garcia, who also live in that area. I told her, “Everyone is welcome here!”

But no. Although most residents followed official warnings and evacuated, they were staying put. All four gathered at my brother’s home to ride it out.

Friends of mine from Illinois and California called, begging me to persuade the Floridians to come north. Everyone asked why I was letting them go through this. Each phone call gave me more stress. Was I not convincing enough? What more could I do?

Each moment of the hurricane’s approach drew me to the television. It became impossible to turn off. It was not easy to watch the TV weather forecasters and reporters swaying with microphones in hand, inundated by torrential rain, storming wind and potential flooding that could wash them away before our eyes. Yet, they valiantly warned others of the danger.

I was panic stricken that my brother’s home would be flooded or damaged. It is bad enough to watch people you don’t know wading through toxic water up to their waists, as we saw in Houston, or the unimaginable destruction in the Caribbean, but when a natural disaster threatens your family, it is almost too much to bear.

Superstorm Sandy’s visit on Oct. 29, 2012, is fresh in my memory. Although my home in North Woodmere was not flooded, we had no power for weeks. The cold aftermath left a bitter chill that will remain with me forever.

As Irma’s leading winds hit Florida on Sept. 9, Mirta texted at 10:53 a.m.: “Lost power, so no more talking.”

At 9:43 p.m., she texted: “Lost landline.”

Then Irma veered and decided to land her torture on the west coast of Florida, sparing my family a lot of distress on the Atlantic coast. Nevertheless, heavy rain and high winds buffeted the dark Emerald Hills home as my four relatives stayed inside all day on Sept. 10. They had stocked up on bottled water, canned tuna and snacks.

The next day, a Monday, the storm was gone. Fortunately, their home suffered no damage. But my concern shifted to the muggy heat in the low 90s. My relatives had no air conditioning. Tragically, eight residents of a nursing home in nearby Hollywood died in the extreme indoor heat.

Fortunately, at 8:43 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 11, Mirta sent this text: “Thank God power is back!” That meant the air conditioning was back, too.

This time, my family was lucky. Wherever the next storm strikes is anyone’s guess, but they seem to be coming stronger and more often. We must take these storms seriously.

Reader Phyllis Weinberger lives in North Woodmere.


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