How I’ve Earned and Burned Points Thanks to Hurricane Ian

As a long-time Florida resident, I have several major hurricanes under my belt. Ironically, when I moved here from Belarus, my in-laws told me that our county is normally too far inland to be affected by storms. The last major hurricane to devastate the area was in the sixties, and most folks believed it to be once-in-a-century type event.

That all changed when in 2004 hurricane Charlie hit us with 150 miles/per hour winds. It brought with it unbelievable devastation. In fact, our relatives across the street were in their house when their roof came off. Then we got Irma in 2017. And now, our county was in direct path of hurricane Ian.

In many ways, for us this was the worst hurricane yet. The winds were “only” a bit over 100 miles per hour, but the eye moved slowly, so it felt like this nightmare wasn’t ever going to end. And of course, it hit our area at night. To add insult to the injury, my in-laws’ expensive all-house generator broke down after only two hours. And my in-laws’ house is where we decided to shelter in place.

So, we had no power, no water, and a bunch of annoyed/scared relatives in a very small house. And then water started coming into our bedroom, completely soaking the carpet. In the meantime, we thought that the chimney would for sure come off, based on the sounds we were hearing. Then the whole house would be flooded.

Somehow it held up, though my in-laws will need a new roof. As usual, after a natural disaster, a few unscrupulous individuals decide to take advantage of folks in need. We got a quote of $2800 to put a tarp over a portion of their roof that suffered damage. Instead, my MIL paid $150 for materials, and we had a kind friend help us nail the tarp down. All in all, it took 1.5 hours. But I’m sure many elderly people had no choice but to pay this exorbitant price. Absolutely shameful.

I had no idea what kind of a mess I would find in my own home across the street. To be honest, I wasn’t all that concerned. Nothing could be done until the wind subsided, and me worrying would accomplish nothing. We took all of our important documents with us and would manage no matter what. Plus, we do have home insurance, albeit with high deductible. But that’s what 0% on purchases promo on several of my credit cards is for.

Fortunately, other than several huge trees in the yard, we suffered no loss. My husband got a chainsaw, and we went to work.

We could pay someone $1k to get rid of this beauty, but decided against it. That’s one night in Nayara Tented Camp!

Instead, we cut it down some, though it still looks kind of awful. My cats are currently using it as a shelter from the rain.

Walking outside in the morning after the storm passed was quite surreal. Trees down, shingles everywhere. There were several news helicopters circling in the sky, filming the devastation.

Despite all of this, I had to remind myself how lucky we are compared to folks in Fort Myers area. Things could have been much worse. My family was safe, and that’s all that matters.

That said, this is the first time my husband truly got spooked by a hurricane. He handles IT for a chain of banks and needs to be on site ASAP to restore ATM access, which is why we chose to stick around.

But after this experience, he said we will be leaving town next time. What sealed the deal was finding a metal roof from someone’s shed in my in-laws’ backyard. This storm was truly a monster, and there is no guarantee that the house will hold up during the next hurricane. Family first.

We were very fortunate that relatives next door had a working (regular) generator, so we could connect to them. Otherwise, my in-laws would lose all of their food in the fridge. I had to throw away most of mine, but 50% of the stuff probably needed to be discarded anyway. There were some mystery foods in my freezer from the days gone by.

Our  county had no power, and all the gas stations were closed. In addition, many roads were washed out. Some of our friends were stuck in their houses and had very little gas in their cars. So, my husband and I volunteered to go on a gas-hunting trip to a nearby county. At the same time we would drop off my kids at a relative’s, who graciously offered to keep them for few days.

So, we gathered a bunch of empty cans in the van, and off we went. Unfortunately, finding gas proved to be harder than we thought. We ended up driving an extra hour out of the way and visiting eight gas stations. Finally, we decided that it’s time to cut our losses, otherwise, we would not have enough gas to make it home. And then, miracle of miracles, there it was, a gas station that had GAS!

So, I pulled out my Chase World of Hyatt Visa that had a promo earning 5 points on gas stations, and filled up a bunch of gas cans. Lots of points coming my way soon, y’all.

Man, I felt like dancing for joy, since it meant that several households would be able to have food in the fridge and have running water for another day. That’s the thing with getting through a disaster, you only think in terms of one or two days. No long-term plans, let’s just get through the next 24 hours.

Since it took us longer than expected to find gas, we had to drive home after dark. That was scary. We knew some spots could be washed out, and earlier we passed a few places where poles were leaning over the road.

In fact, earlier in the day, when my husband went to assess the damage at work, he passed over a bridge. This is what it looked like only a few hours later:

Fortunately, we got home safely. By staying busy and running errands during the aftermath, we both felt useful, if super exhausted. We didn’t have time to whine about lack of A/C or internet. I was concerned about my husband who due to work got 2 hours of sleep in 48 hours. But he was a real trooper. Probably adrenaline.

Even my kids understood how fortunate we were compared to others. My sister-in-law gave my son $20 for helping her clean up the yard, something I didn’t think she should have done. But he said he wanted to give it to somebody who suffered a loss due to hurricane.

I figured he would forget about it pretty quickly, but a few days later we gathered with some friends to see how everyone is holding up. One person (who lost her house) came up to me and said that my son keeps on trying to give her $20. He overheard her conversation and astutely surmised that she should be the recipient of his gift! She got tears in her eyes.

One friend, a single mom who lives in a government-sponsored apartment, told me that she really wanted to get out of town until we got power. Since local police department was busy dealing with hurricane’s aftermath, people in her building were openly dealing drugs in the hallways. Several apartments nearby caught on fire and burned down.

As you can imagine, it was a very scary situation for her and her young daughter. She said she wanted to get a hotel in Miami area, where she could visit relatives, but everything was so expensive.

I had very spotty internet via my iPhone, so I checked Hyatt options. For 21k points I could get them three nights in a Hyatt Place, a terrific deal, considering the fact that it would cost $165 per night otherwise. Plus, they would get free breakfast.

It took me a few tries, but I was able to get it reserved. You should have seen the little girl after I told them the good news. She kept on thanking me for helping her visit her grandma whom she hadn’t seen in two years. She was also really looking forward to swimming in a hotel pool, something she rarely gets to do.

I honestly felt like I didn’t deserve all of that praise. I mean, it’s only 21k points total. These points were sitting in my account, with no specific use in mind.  I probably should have gotten them something nicer on the beach. But they seemed really happy and later sent me photos of the little girl smiling in the pool. Best redemption ever, and a memory I will treasure forever.

Despite all the stress and craziness of the last few weeks, what I hope to remember is the kindness of friends and family, who came through for us in the time of need. And I hope that we made things a bit easier for others as well.

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