A hurricane of enormous proportions just passed through our area.
Hurricane Irma threatened to hit the Tampa Bay area directly as a dangerous and deadly Category 4. The Tampa Bay are doesn’t get hit very often by hurricanes. This is because the city faces the Gulf to the west, and the prevailing east-to-west trade winds at this latitude make it uncommon for a storm to make a direct hit on the west coast of Florida from the Gulf. We haven’t had a major hurricane hit us since 1946, when a Category 1 ‘cane made a direct hit here.
All of this made for a very stressful and unpredictable week. We were simultaneously trying prepare for total destruction of our homes and community while trying to work as normal. We were stressed, tired, and emotionally drained. For an entire week, we struggled with our stomachs in knots, not knowing what to expect come Sunday.
Many folks on our team fled the area, flying and driving and getting as far as possible. Others stayed behind, boarding up windows and doors at their homes. We gave folks the option to work or not, knowing that everyone deals with fear and uncertainty differently. Some of us welcomed the respite that comes with doing work we love; others were singularly focused on preparing our families and homes for the storm. As a group, we decided to offer our office, a literal concrete fortress, as shelter to employees and their friends and family. We provided shelter to 26 humans, 8 dogs, 11 cats, 2 guinea pigs and a rabbit. This was not a selfless or generous act; this was very much because we also needed the shelter for our own loved ones. We couldn’t turn anyone away.
We were prepared for the worst. Everyone who came brought coolers with the contents of their refrigerators. Jugs of water. Flashlights and lanterns and airbeds. We had kennels and cribs and card games. We were ready. As the winds started whipping and rain battering, we all took turns taking the dogs out as often as possible before the storm got so strong they’d finally be stuck inside until it passed. We heated up food and mixed drinks and lived as one big weird family for almost 24 hours. The office was strong, almost silent inside as the storm intensified throughout the night. We watched the trees whipping out our front doors, but otherwise there was very little indication that the weather outside was anything but pleasant. It was an eery ignorance that put as at ease. In the morning, we awoke to sunny skies, and our power still on. We’d ridden through the entire storm with WIFI and cold AC which, it turns out, was an anomaly for our area. Almost everyone had lost power throughout the night. We wandered out to assess damage at our homes, packed up our belongings, and put the office back together.
Today, you can hardly tell that we had a storm shelter here. We’ve got a few refugees who needed power, WIFI and AC to get some work done using extra desks. We’ve got half of our staff here working, with the rest making their way back to the area or cleaning up the damage at their homes. We let them decide when they’re ready. We’ve had a lot of people reaching out to say how wonderful it is that we’ve offered so much to our employees and the community throughout this time, and while I appreciate the kind words, I don’t know that there was another option. Compassion, empathy, patience, and sharing resources — especially in times of crisis and uncertainty — those are just the nature of humanity. Of being people-first. Of doing the right thing. I’ve seen the very best in people throughout the past few days, in restaurant owners offering the last of their food and alcohol, or free coffee. In neighbors helping each other remove trees and yard debris from their yards. In small businesses offering charging stations and clean water. In humans sharing their scarce resources and spaces with others. This is what we do, when we need to do it. I hope a little bit of this come-togetherness sticks around for a while.