Irma and me
September 6, 2017 7:40 PM   Subscribe

So I have a plane ticket to (and a rental car in) Fort Lauderdale, FL. On Friday. Um.

I'm supposed to arrive in Fort Lauderdale at 6 pm this Friday, and according to my dad, that's a few hours before Hurricane Irma is expected to hit, so it's all good. He said I should switch my ticket to Orlando if I can, though, because I'm going to get stuck in evacuation traffic north from Ft. Lauderdale. I'm on hold now trying to do that, but last night I was on hold with the flight discounter for a full 30 minutes before I gave up so while I'm waiting I thought I'd ask you what you thought I should do.

Why don't I just cancel the trip? That's the obvious thing, and my dad is the plan-ahead guy of the world, so I expected he would say that. He did not. Why? Because he thinks he's dying, and maybe he is. He is 81, has leukemia, and just finished a round of rituximab that did not work. (No word yet what they're going to try next.) He gets confused sometimes, and can't remember stuff, like people's names and other nouns, which is terrifying for him, as he has always been a genius super-brain. My step-mom too is beyond stressed out about my dad, and I think she thinks he's dying also. My sister is dead, my mom is dead, all aunts and uncles are dead too, so apart from my stepmom and my own kids, who are really busy being millennial, I'm it.

So I have to go, even if I have to swim there.

My dad is in Port St. Lucie, about halfway between Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando, on the Atlantic side of Florida. How do I get there? Are there magic words I can tell the flight discounter and the car rental place to get them to switch me to Orlando for NOT a price beyond rubies? If I can't do that, will FLL be underwater when I get there? If they cancel the flight, what then? What happens to my rentacar if my flight gets cancelled? If I fly into FLL and Irma isn't there yet, will I be endangering myself to drive north for two hours (or six or ten, depending who's on the freeway with me)? I don't know the area at all, except the direct route to my dad's from FLL.

Need logisitcal help here, basically. Floridian hurricane vets particularly welcome! Thanks for any advice you can provide!
posted by pH Indicating Socks to Travel & Transportation around Florida (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Yay! I'm flying into Orlando now! But I still have logistical questions, and for bonus points ... what are best practices for visiting possibly-dying people?
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 7:51 PM on September 6, 2017

I do not know the area but I'd get there, get your dad and stepmom, and get them to higher ground. The hurricane is hitting sunday-ish so you might just pull it off. Reports indicate much of south florida is out of fuel, so evacing them out by car might be a problem. I'd contact services where your dad lives and see if they can get him and plus one out, meet them there.

It is a very large hurricane that might crush florida. Proceed carefully.
posted by vrakatar at 8:12 PM on September 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

As gently as possible, I will ask ... do you fear that your dad is *literally* going to die this upcoming weekend? Is he in a hospital or in hospice? Has a doctor or nurse said 'you should come now ... it's time.'? Is there a physician or nurse or social worker that you can speak to about his immediate situation?

If there is still a discussion of "what they're going to try next" then I have to assume that he is expected to make it through the weekend. And in that case, the day before a hurricane is not going to be your last chance to see him.

You do *not* want to try to go anywhere near that area hours before a hurricane. Particularly *this* one, which is basically wider than the entire state of Florida. Orlando is likely to have VERY bad weather too.

#1: the path or speed of the storm could change and it could hit sooner or in a different place. The forecasts aren't certain, especially 2 or 3 days out.

#2: even with a flight change to Orlando, the car rental company is not going to want you to take their car into a hurricane. If they don't cancel your reservation altogether, you will likely face questions about where you are going, and they might refuse to rent to you if they know you are planning to drive to a place where their car is likely to get damaged. And if it does get damaged, you will be responsible for paying for that.

#3: the authorities are likely to have the major roads set to one-way out of town if there's a mandatory evacuation, and you might not be allowed to drive where you want to go, or even within the city to the areas that you're trying to get to.

#4: even if you made it to town and found someplace to hunker down just before the storm hit, you would have no supplies, no storm-proofing, and posisbly no electricity or access to money/food/fuel for multiple days. You emphatically *cannot* roll into town the day before a hurricane and "swing by the Publix" to pick up some water and a few batteries. It just doesn't work that way.

Irma is a *Category 5* storm barreling along over a lot of warm water that's just feeding its fury. It is not to be trifled with.

As a Gulf Coast native who has gone through a number of storms, I would *urge* you to re-think your plan. Ask the airline and car rental company to change your ticket to a later date ... and they probably will do so with no change fee, but shame them on Twitter if you need to in order to get that worked out.

THEN ... figure out what the plan is to get your mom and dad safe. Is your father someplace where other people are responsible for his safety, or is it just your parents living together? Do they have an evacuation plan? If they are determined to ride it out, do they have emergency supplies and a safe place to be? Please turn your attention to making sure that they are safe, and don't think about trying to go *into* the path of the storm.
posted by mccxxiii at 11:13 PM on September 6, 2017 [35 favorites]

We live in the Ft Lauderdale area and are in the process of evacuating. I am typing this from a plane headed to NY that we had to drive up to Orlando to catch.

I would not come.

Getting gas up and down the state is tough. Like shortages everywhere. Traffic is a nightmare. Driving from Fll to Orlando yesterday took us 4.5 hours on random roads instead of 2 hrs 45 it typically takes. And that's DAYS before the storm. . Miami will likely issue a mandatory evacuation soon. That's a lot of people on the road and heading up. Traffic will be at a standstill Friday. And we will likely be experiencing tropical storm winds at that point. You do not want to get stuck on highways. We have friends in Miami that are not leaving today, Thursday morning, because they know one tank of gas won't get them far enough north to make a difference and getting gas is brutal right now.

Port St Lucie is on the coast and current tracks show Irma basically raking the east coast. It is a Cat 5 hurricane right now. It has been at category 5 winds for longer than any other hurricane in history. And it's not just over the Cat 5 threshold which would be 157 mph. It's been running at 185 mph for days.

Please focus on making sure your parents have a good plane. If they want to leave, JetBlue has capped flights out at $99 for no stops and I think $157 for connections. But windows are closing to book. If they are staying make sure they have supplies, storm shutters, etc.

Please do not come. I say that as someone who left even though I live in a new construction house that is built with concrete blocks that have been reinforced with steel and hurricane impact windows that can handle projectiles and hurricane windows without breaking. This is NO JOKE.
posted by polkadot at 4:57 AM on September 7, 2017 [12 favorites]

I am in Palm beach County. Do Not Come. I would be evacuating if I could get enough fuel to get out, but my car only has a range of 240miles and I can't find enough gas cans to carry more with me and I can't guarantee that I will find any on the road. Do not come. There is no water to be had in Palm Beach County (I'm one County north of Ft.Lauderdale). There is no bread. No batteries. Very little fuel. Do not come. Encourage your family to evacuate if they have not shuttered and supplied their home. Do not come. I have lived in Floriduh most of my 40+ years, my dad was a commercial fisherman on the gulf for most of my life- we are accustomed to a little *weather*. I shrugged and put on a raincoat in 2004 when we had 4 storms cross the state. Do not come. This is serious.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 10:30 AM on September 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thanks for your thoughtful responses, but I am going to Florida.

My dad, knowing everything you know, definitely really wants me to come -- and he's not known for being cavalier about safety. Maybe he thinks he's dying now, this week. Or maybe he doesn't have enough money to evacuate, and only if I'm there too will his ego let me help out. Maybe his piece-of-shit car might not be up to a long drive, and he's counting on my rentacar in case they need it. I don't know, but whatever his reasons are, they're compelling enough to him to possibly risk my safety and definitely put me to inconvenience. That's good enough for me.

He and my stepmom live in a house by themselves, which has storm shutters up and all the necessaries laid in. I know gas is an issue, that I should bring cash from California in case the ATMs are empty in Florida, and that I want a paper map in case my phone doesn't work.

Any other tips for sheltering in place, or evacuating if it comes to that?
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 11:34 AM on September 7, 2017

In the Irma MetaTalk thread, cmyk linked to the SLOSH interactive map. You will want to check to see if your dad's house is in a surge zone. You will want to call the rental counter and verify that you will actually have a rental car. Bring a first aid kit and the largest tarp you can fit in your suitcase.

I still think you should not come. I don't know how to put this delicately, but a terminally ill elderly man who is on multiple medications may not be able to make fully reasoned judgments about his or your safety. I urge you to wait until Tuesday when the storm has passed. You will still be in a position to help them during the hardest part- recovery.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 12:14 PM on September 7, 2017 [5 favorites]

SLOSH Interactive Map, with this image applicable to St. Lucie.
posted by WCityMike at 1:30 PM on September 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

By the way, pH Indicating Socks, you should honestly keep in mind that you could conceivably be taking actions right this moment that would lead to your death in some of the worst possible ways to die (drowning; blunt force trauma from flying debris or from your body being blown into unyielding material).

Make any decision with that in mind.
posted by WCityMike at 1:34 PM on September 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

1. Call to confirm your rental car one more time just before you get on the plane, and still be prepared to get to MCO and find out that you don't actually have a car. Sure, you have a reservation, but until you have a set of keys in your hand that's just theoretical. The rental car companies have no reason to want to rent a car to you if you're going to drive it into the storm. Be prepared to lie if they ask you where you are going, and be prepared to pay for damage to the car.

2. Know in advance what your plan will be to get to your family's house from the airport without a car, or be prepared to ride out the storm at the Orlando airport.

3. If you do manage to get a car, don't use the A/C when you drive because you want your gas to last as long as possible. Be prepared to sweat with the windows down. Fill up your tank whenver you get a chance, don't get low.

4. DON'T drive into standing/rushing water that's across the road. "Turn around, don't drown" is both catchy *and* serious.

5. Bring powerbars, peanut butter, any shelf-stable food that you can buy where you live and put in a suitcase. Also bring some of those powder things that you put in water to flavor it, because lukewarm bottled water is *marginally* more tasty if it's got some flavor to it.

6. Bring twice as much of whatever medicine you need. Don't assume that you would be able to get any once you get there. If your father or stepmother takes vital medicine, consider having their prescription called to a pharmacy near you and bring them extras.

7. Bring a pair of sturdy, waterproof boots if you have them (Hunter boots/wellies or such). Also bring extra changes of underwear -- more than you think you will need -- because it's going to be sweaty and miserable with no power/air-con and sometimes a fresh under-layer in the middle of the day will help.

8. Bring as many pocket-sized cellphone chargers as you can carry with you, and make sure they are charged before you leave home. Buy some now if you don't already have them ... I see them in the $5 section of Target. Also get a couple of solar chargers if you can (look for those at a camping store). You need to be prepared to function without electricity, and you will want to be able to keep your phone working.

9. In a flood situation, don't take refuge in the attic without an axe to chop your way out, otherwise you could be trapped in there and drown.

10. Seriously, this trip is not a good idea. You should not go.
posted by mccxxiii at 1:38 PM on September 7, 2017 [12 favorites]

"Angels and ministers of grace, defend [you]."
posted by Fukiyama at 6:16 PM on September 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

flashlights, batteries, an emergency band hand crank radio- we've got one that can hand crank charge a cell phone- water, water, water, food and water. crowbar. flare gun. first aid kit. knife.
posted by vrakatar at 8:17 PM on September 7, 2017

I live in Miami, so I'm fairly attuned to the situation. Assuming your flight actually happens, which is a big assumption, you can probably do this without dying if your parents house is recently and/or well built to the modern Florida building code, the windows are boarded/shuttered, and well outside any surge area. You will be cutting it very close, to the point that you may have to stay in Orlando to wait for the storm to pass if you have trouble getting the car in a timely manner. However, if you get a car that can make it in one tank and it is given to you full, you'll probably have time to get to PSL if the storm slows as expected.

Florida, in our infinite wisdom, has decided there will not be lane reversals, only the use of shoulders as extra travel lanes, so you should be fine heading south from Orlando in terms of traffic/drive time. Obviously, check the traffic with Google Maps/Waze before leaving Orlando. If there is any question about whether you will arrive before the wind, don't go. The NHC site has a time of arrival map that shows when tropical storm force winds are likely to begin to impact particular areas.

Also, try to find gas on the way so you arrive with as much as possible. Look on the GasBuddy website for recent reports, those are usually the stations with gas. Don't wait in line, though, you don't have time for that.

Lastly, take all the supplies you'll need with you, you will not likely find them here. You might, but you can't count on it.

You shouldn't do this, it is a significant risk to yourself and potential rescuers, but if you must, you can prepare things such that you won't likely die in the process. What you can't do is avoid the very uncomfortable aftermath or the inherent trauma of going through a storm that feels like it really might blow the entire building down and you with it.
posted by wierdo at 5:23 AM on September 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

I don't want to be a jerk about this, but I'd like you to live and not do something intensely stupid.

he's not known for being cavalier about safety. Maybe he thinks he's dying now, this week. Or maybe he doesn't have enough money to evacuate,

If your dad is assuming that he may not live through the weekend, he may at some level not be concerned about you or his wife, or may not understand how incredibly serious and deadly Irma is. He may be in a weird mental state from the medication and/or stress related to the disease, the hurricane, or both. There could be a lot of things going on, but regardless - under no circumstances should you go to Florida this weekend. If your dad is dying, he'll die. If he's not dying, he could die in the hurricane. If he survives both, then you should go visit. Visiting during the most severe hurricane we've ever seen is suicidal.

See about changing tickets to get them out to see you and keep them safe through the storm. It is not safe to go to Florida right now, and being within a few hours of Irma making landfall means you're going to be arriving amidst a lot of chaos and bad traffic - the roads will be dangerous because of the level of panic.

If you visit to help and then die there it's going to crush him.
posted by bile and syntax at 7:25 AM on September 8, 2017 [7 favorites]

Whatever you end up doing, please check in back here so we can know how both you and your parents fare. Hoping for the best for all.
posted by BlueBear at 9:04 AM on September 8, 2017 [7 favorites]

If your dad was thinking clearly he would not want his child to risk death to see him. I thought I was dying in January of 2014 - like, I thought I was dying within hours - and I would NOT have wanted my daughter to risk her life to come see me. In fact, all my fears about dying centered around my daughter's safety. That was literally the only thing I was worried about.

There is a thing called "chemo brain". There is also dementia caused by medications. No sane parent would ask their child to do this.

Even if he truly is going to die this weekend, he would not want you to die with him.
posted by MexicanYenta at 9:42 AM on September 8, 2017 [13 favorites]

Please update here when you're safe. I haven't commented because I have no useful information, but I've been following this thread and I'm scared for you.
posted by Weeping_angel at 12:47 PM on September 8, 2017 [5 favorites]

Do you have any idea how many people are trying to get out of Florida right now? Millions. And for good reason. I'm going to be frankly shocked if your flight doesn't get cancelled AND you actually get a rental car on arrival. This is a very bad plan and if you have any other options, any at all, take them. If the situation is such that they're in an area that's likely to be evacuated, and they physically can't get to a shelter without help, and don't have any friends, neighbors, or anyone else who could help, and you're literally the only person who could get them out of their house if it floods, then you do what you have to do I guess. If this is a "I think my dad is dying from cancer this weekend and I want to see him first" trip, do not come. Spend as much time on the phone / skype with him as you can, but it is not worth the very real, likely, and severe risk to your own life to be here right now. I lost my own dad two years ago, so I do understand what you're going through, and not having been able to see him before he died would've killed me emotionally, but this could literally kill you physically. If this is a "my father is in grave physical danger from the hurricane and it might be the storm that kills him, not the cancer, and I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I didn't at least try to protect him" trip, then all the above advice regarding medications and supplies is very valid. BTW, the governor has just announced that anyone in a mandatory evacuation zone who needs help can call 1-800-955-5504 for assistance. That is a much better plan than coming here yourself.
posted by storminator7 at 1:28 PM on September 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Hi everybody -- I'm at my dad's place now. Thanks very much for your concern for me, and your practical suggestions in particular -- which I have acted on (the cell phone chargers, etc.) It's now thought that Port St Lucie may be outside the worst of Irma, which they're saying has shifted towards the west side of Florida. Well, now... we wait. Thanks again!
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 10:02 PM on September 8, 2017 [14 favorites]

Unfortunately, there's still a decent chance it could either track up the east coast (unlikely) or track north/northeast enough to pop out in the Atlantic, or more likely just make it just west of Jacksonville.

There are much worse places to be for this one, though (middle/lower keys, barring a miracle for them)
posted by wierdo at 11:35 PM on September 8, 2017

« Older Cam for puppycam?   |   What's it like living in Beacon, New York? Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments