Irma changed paths, and this Tampa mom is still glad her family fled. And forever grateful.

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Suddenly, it hits me: We could have stayed. We could have boarded ourselves into our home, avoided the mayhem of the

irma-changed-paths-and-this-tampa-mom-is-still-glad-her-family-fled-and-forever-grateful photo 1 The author’s back yard, post-Irma. (Kyle Howell)

It’s 11 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 10, and Irma has just annihilated Naples, Fla. Drone images show row after row of houses covered to their windows in murky storm surge.

We had just fled our home in Tampa, just as we saw Irma changed her path and was heading right for our home.

I say my 70th prayer of the night and take another sip of my lager.

I alternate between CNN on the TV and four different group texts on my phone. I’m huddled on the couch in between my sister-in-law, who has wrapped herself in a blanket — meager comfort against the worry as Irma sets our homes in her sights — and my husband, who snores softly, the sleepless nights finally catching up.

My friends are reporting in.

“We’ve just lost power. Something is banging against the side of the house.”

“Our power is gone, too. Bottoms up, ladies!”

“We still have lights, but I heard the plywood rip away from one of the upstairs windows. I’m freaking out!”

“Don’t answer any knocks on the door. Looters are out and someone just tried to rob my neighbor at gunpoint.”

“My sister’s dog tore my dog’s stomach up, and now Jon is headed to the vet’s. Please pray he is safe on the roads!”

At midnight, I nudge my husband and we both stumble off toward bed, my heart heavy with what we might wake up to if we manage to sleep at all. I’m sick for my friends and family in Tampa, knowing the fear in which they’re currently embroiled.

When I do eventually give in to slumber, I dream that I’m standing with my kids on a beach staring down a tsunami taller than a New York skyscraper. When it starts to fall, I reach for my sons’ hands to pull them to safety, but their fingers leave my grasp, and they’re swept up in the water. One by one, their heads disappear below the churning sea.

The next morning, I open bleary eyes to a gray Atlanta morning. Outside, the trees swish back and forth like feather dusters being shaken out. Rain drizzles onto the patio in soft pitter-pats. Irma, downgraded to a tropical storm, is at our door.

Irma.

I grab my phone and race out to the living room where my family sprawls, glued to their phones and CNN.

“What happened with Irma?”

My husband looks up, eyes red but bright. “She turned. She’s headed east. It wasn’t a direct hit on Tampa.”

My hands shaking, I click to news coverage on my phone. Sure enough, Irma’s bands hit, but the eye and its destructive winds shifted.

Immediately, I text my brother and his husband, who’d hunkered down in their home near the Bucs’ stadium in Tampa. He reported that although their power had tripped, the lights were back on. They were just waiting to see what would happen with the storm surge.

Friends send me photos of massive oaks uprooted on their lawns, flooded yards, shutters wrenched from the sides of their homes and discarded onto their neighbors’ driveways. But each one reports that they still have roofs and no one is hurt.

I share the good news with my husband.

Then, I take a deep breath and text my neighbor, Drew, to see if he’ll check on our home. Fifteen minutes later, the photos appear.

One by one, I flip through. The roof? On. The lanai? Standing strong. The windows? Intact. One of the screen doors is wrenched away from a hinge and hangs twisted against the frame, but I almost cry in relief when I see it. That’s all the damage there is.

Our lake has flooded. The dock is underwater, the pontoon floating well above the lift. The kids’ playhouse is ripped apart and scattered across the lawn.

And although the water gives me anxiety (will gators suddenly find their way onto my back porch?), I am relieved at the extent of the damage. By all accounts, it isn’t much of anything.

Suddenly, it hits me: We could have stayed. We could have boarded ourselves into our home, avoided the mayhem of the evacuation trip, and still been safe and sound.

But as I stare at the images on my phone, reading the texts of my friends who are relieved they’ve pulled through, I’m glad we left. Their anxiety is enough to convince me the harrowing trip was worth it.

irma-changed-paths-and-this-tampa-mom-is-still-glad-her-family-fled-and-forever-grateful photo 2 A neighbor’s tree. (Cathi Johnson)

“We can go back,” my husband says. “I’ve booked you and the boys a flight on Thursday, which is the soonest we can get out. I’ll drive back with the car.”

But it’s Monday, and Thursday seems so far away. Suddenly, I want more than anything to get back home. To give crushing hugs to my family who stayed. Who survived. To meet up with friends over dinner and discuss all the ways we were terrified and clink our glasses together with cries of “Cheers!”

“You couldn’t get any earlier flights?”

“Everything is booked. I was up all night checking.”

So, we discuss the reality of leaving earlier on a teeming highway, weaving through traffic with the millions who’d evacuated. Some of our discussions are louder than others. Finally, we settle on an early-Wednesday-morning trek. We’ll take back roads and our time. We’ll stop for lunch and let the boys out so they can run like border collies. While they play in the grass at some rest stop near Valdosta, Ga., we’ll squeeze each other tight, kiss and promise to be grateful for the rests of our lives.

Because Irma was a fickle hag of a hurricane. She sent thousands from one side of the state to the other, only to have them swept up in 125-mph gales. Irma left people homeless, wondering where they’ll land when the surge recedes, and she stole the breath from the bodies of those who didn’t have a way out.

We’ll be grateful that we’re going home to a broken screen door. That’s all Irma took from us. With all the punch that she packed, she could have taken so much more.

As we huddle in the living room and decide what to do on this blustery, rain-soaked day with three little boys who desperately need an outlet, I pull my husband to me, kiss him and apologize for arguing about when we’ll leave our haven in Atlanta.

Because although today will be a day for the books, filled with squabbles and planning and the trifles of life crammed in proximity, we still have it.

And I will never take that lightly again.

Kelly Coon is the editor and a writer for Blue Ocean Brain, a micro-learning tech company, and a young-adult-fiction author. On Twitter @KellyCoon106, Instagram and Facebook.

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Article Irma changed paths, and this Tampa mom is still glad her family fled. And forever grateful. compiled by Original article here

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