Hurricane Irma, in hindsight, a reality check of the best kind
Hurricane Irma proved to be a reality check of the best kind for all of us at Twin Oaks RV Park.
So, back in early September, I was planning a very innocuous, fun-inspired week filling in for our wonderful resident manager Lisa at Twin Oaks. Lisa had long-ago requested a week off to throw her parents a 50th anniversary party – in Missouri – September 5-12. I replied, ‘Sure! I can cover for you … we’re not that busy!” I called my dad, who lives with my mom in a retirement community in Perry to let him know that I would be able to get in a couple of rounds of golf with him breaking in my ‘new’ clubs. I was also planning a few landscaping and organizing projects around Twin Oaks. It was going to be a very relaxing, enjoyable week. And then Cat 5 Hurricane Irma reared her ugly head for a week-long visit to the U.S., wreaking havoc, confusion and panic to the good folks in Florida trying to escape, including my sister who fled Miami with her family and dogs for safe haven at our parents house – and all of us here in Georgia trying our darn best to do what we could for all of them.
I have to admit, we were in no way prepared for the onslaught of RVers and others seeking refuge from this storm, which although diminished, was still a tropical storm when it reached Twin Oaks. Day 1 we were fully booked and turning away people about every 5 minutes. Quite literally, the phone did not stop ringing as Hurricane Irma brought fear and trepidation to Floridians in her path. We had to bring in our part-time helper, Heather to simply cover the phones and pick up the trash. She ended up working a full-time schedule and I honestly don’t know what I would’ve done without her. Heather is a rock and having worked with us for over three years, can tell what needs to be done and when. She jumped in with both feet, even after having to put her dog to sleep that morning. She fought back tears and powered through with us – leaving me with no words to express my sympathy and gratitude.
We had all hands on deck. Lisa’s husband and co-manager, Mike had been putting the new metal roof on the showerhouse he has been renovating and was under pressure to get that project done before the rain came. With the help of his very good friend Joe, who along with his terrific wife Martha, is spending several months with us, they were able to get the last of the screws in as the first drops fell. A miracle for sure – lest we probably would have had a lot of damage to that showerhouse.
The afternoon Hurricane Irma had her scheduled visit to Twin Oaks, as Mike and Joe were frantically installing the roof, several wonderful full-time campers at Twin Oaks–Tammy, Michael, Dee and Rich– jumped all in and started picking up anything and everything that wasn’t nailed down: Umbrellas, chairs, tables, decorations, lights, toys, grills, etc., They piled the collected stuff in Michael’s truck and neatly stored it in the group hall, as our weekend group had all checked out a day early in order to open sites for hurricane victims. On top of that, they helped Mike and Joe pick up piles of construction debris which they all hurriedly tossed in a newly-delivered construction dumpster. I couldn’t be more thankful for these fabulous people and have no way to ever repay them. I hope they just know how wonderful they are and I pray that the universe pays them back in spades for their cheerful, enormous help in getting us ready for “Aunt Irma”.
And then the rigs started rolling in. On a good day at Twin Oaks, we check in maybe 12-15 rigs. We were taking in over 30 a day, and fielding hundreds of phone calls with reservations, cancellations and questions. Those that came were mostly new customers who have never stayed with us before and nearly all of them were a joy to have in the park. But being unfamiliar with their location and having no experience staying at our little park, or appreciation for how hard we were working, a few people did behave less than impressively. We understood their panic and tried our best to accommodate their requests, but we have a very small staff and surely we missed the mark here and there. All we can ask for is forgiveness, just like the forgiveness we extended to those few folks who were a little more upset or demanding than most.
We also had a few guests who weren’t exactly truthful about what, who or how many they had on board, including the one guest who failed to mention when they pulled in at 11:00 p.m. that they had quite a number of chickens in their horse trailer, which they claimed was just full of dogs and ‘valuable personal property’. Of course, everyone figured this out at 5:30 am… you simply can’t hide a rooster! Aside from the laughs, it was a very trying time – one I have never personally experienced and hope to never experience again. People would arrive, stay a day or two, then hear the news that the storm was heading our way, so they would cancel or leave out and head west – like a flock of birds. Then, sadly for them, the storm headed west as well. Hearing this, more would call or come in. Hurricane Irma was not predictable in the least – not even to the weather forecasters.
Hurricane Irma was a nightmarish scene at its height. Gas stations ran out of gas. Lines for the restrooms at the gas station across the highway were out to the road. We had lines of people coming from the highway asking (sometimes demanding) to use our restrooms. There were people who insisted on just staying in their cars scattered about, having arrived in the middle of the night. Accidents were all around on the highway. Horrifically, there was a fatal accident right here at our exit that was being used as a detour off I-75, which broke our hearts indescribably. The wrath of Hurricane Irma at its peak was not to be dealt with lightly but we hunkered down to the best of our ability and found a space for anyone looking for refuge and a place to brace for the storm.
But the storm has passed in every way. We have cleaned up the park to where you almost can’t tell that merely one week ago, it was nearly in chaos. Although we had one tree on the neighboring property that uprooted, and a few larger branches that fell, we sustained no damage to any building or RV, largely due to the fact that my very wise husband John had about 80 trees removed earlier this year. We also only lost our power for a total of about 20 minutes with a few surges here and there, which was a saving grace. In the end, the aftermath was simply thousands of tiny branches full of leaves scattered all over the park. Mike and Joe forged an ingenious two-men-on-a-golf-cart-with-blowers method of cleaning up those twigs. It worked like a charm! These two ‘know things’ for sure! We are so very grateful for them both.
All of our regular guests will be so happy to know that Lisa is back in the saddle, taking your reservations and settling you in, including the enormous second wave of people heading back to their homes to assess the damage. And I’m back at work in Atlanta with a newfound appreciation for what this woman does to keep Twin Oaks rolling along every single day. You da best my girl!
There’s nothing like a hurricane innocuously named Irma to remind you of who you appreciate and love. I know this has been a ramble but I guess this post is simply an expression of my gratefulness and love for our Twin Oaks family. I can’t put into words how much each of you mean to us. To think that John and I never had to ‘find’ Lisa and Mike – that you were already here – and to think that Heather just stopped in that one day, resume in hand with her cheerful can-do attitude – and to think that somehow people like Joe, Martha, Tammy, Michael, Dee and Rich and others now and before them have all somehow found their way to our little place in the middle of Georgia, well, it just makes a person believe in fate. I love you all and I’m so very proud of my Twin Oaks family!
With love, Sue