If I die in this (I wont), but if I do... tell people I went saving manatees, not the truth that I was drinking bourbon. - My Aunt
"If I die in this (I won't), but if I do, tell people I went saving manatees, not the truth that I was drinking bourbon." - My aunt Stefano Fiorentio / Getty Images

Hurricane Irma, the most powerful storm ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean, was not going to hit Tampa. Hurricanes rarely hit the Tampa Bay area—the last major one was in 1921. But that changed over the weekend when Irma decided Tampa was overdue for a beating. "We have for 90 years avoided this day," Tampa's mayor said in a news conference, "but I think our day has come."

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While Irma's turn towards Florida's west coast was surprising and terrifying, my family's response to the storm was stubbornly Floridian. I'm from the Saint Petersburg area, where the storm was forecasted to hit the hardest. But even though some of my family lives in Zone A evacuation zones, none of them were leaving. (My grandma: "We just installed new tiling which meets all the strongest codes to withstand hurricanes.")


I got my aunt on the phone to walk me through their impending doom.

PRE-IRMA

Can I quote you?
Okay, but remember my fake name should be Esmeralda or Frieda or something.

What about "Aunt D"?
Uh. Okay. Rather snoozy but fine.

You can be Esmeralda.
Yay!

How's it going? It's coming right for you now, yeah?
Yes. No generators, water, gas, bread, flashlights, batteries, or hope left.

Uh... and none of you evacuated?
We'll be fine. People outside of Florida don't get that if you wanted to evacuate you would have needed to leave the state by last Tuesday. We didn't even know it was coming for Tampa until Friday night.

But people have properly commenced with panicking. At this point stop signs in Pinellas County are "optional" as I haven't seen anyone stop at one yet. The only real sounds around here are the sounds of sirens, as people keep getting into accidents, and the sound of circular saws cutting wood for boarding up. We've all run out of sand bags. My mom said yesterday she was driving to tennis and all the fancy folks were stealing the sand from the sand traps at the golf course! She said they looked really guilty.

Who's all in your house?
Your uncle, the kids, my mom, dad, the grandparents... but my mom is teetering on the edge, so I'm thinking we all might need to get very drunk in order to be around each other. Shit's getting real over here. And if one more person calls Mar-a-Lago the "Winter White House" I will SCREAM. It isn't even a nice club. It's tacky!

What's it like outside?
Well, vegan food was the last to go at the grocery store—thank God. Why do people even buy milk? Also, everyone is talking about "Florida Strong." It's ridiculous! #FloridaStrong!? Floridians are usually intoxicated and we have an exceptionally high tolerance for gators. That's the only thing strong about us.

Oh, and our neighbor came over and said, 'We know you're all liberals, but just so you know, [neighbor's husband] is packing.' Which, in a way, is comforting. Cuz while the gators are scary, I'm more concerned about the looters ridin' in on the gators.

[Someone knocks on the door.]
Gotta go. We'll talk soon. It won't hit until Sunday night.

A text comes in from my mother:

We're okay. I'm pretty stressed out and tired. We have mandatory evacuation starting today. We're staying. I don't want to, but it's too late now. We have iced tea. There's also Facebook. You should watch my Facebook Live videos.

Mom & Me for Halloween circa early 2000s
Me (left) & Mom (right) for Halloween circa early 2000s. Mom was one of the original Hooters girls in Clearwater. CB

IRMA

[To my aunt] I heard hurricane winds just started?
We just got an Emergency Alert to take shelter immediately and I promptly ran to get my rain jacket to go outside. Actually, we all did. Manatees are getting stranded in the river because the storm sucks up all the water. If I die in this (I won't), but if I do, tell people I went saving manatees, not the truth that I was drinking bourbon.

Will do.
The neighbors have joined us on the porch. I'm wearing a camo hat and it has a built-in flashlight. It makes me feel very "Florida." Our reception is bad, but love you, little darlin'.

TODAY

[Aunt Esmeralda]: We lived. We are powerless but have no damage to speak of. At this point, it's been 38 hours without power. The entire county is starting to smell rather ripe. And school doesn't reopen until the 18th. Oh, I'm in the car right now, but look at this car next to me:

Keeping the does in check.
Keeping the does in check.

Gross. Are people being weirder than normal?
Yes and no. Yesterday morning my neighbor, a human piece of garbage who has been warned numerous times by police, continued to yet again throw all the branches of trees that flew into his yard over the fence into our yard. I had a verbal altercation with this colossal dick bag and got it on video.

Can I....
No, I will not send you the video as everyone has lost their minds and the amount of expletives from myself alone would deem it unwatchable. But let me just say this: Nobody tells me to go inside, motherfucker! And now my neighbor knows that.

Anyhow, you better hope we get to take a shower soon because I smell disgusting.

...

[Calling my mom:] Are you still out of power, too?
We're still out. I'm sweating balls. It's going to be a hot bitch today.

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Can I quote you on that?
Of course you can.

You moved back to Florida only a couple months ago. Do you regret it?
NO! I am so happy I moved back to Florida. The sunshine always makes me smile....

A typical night in Saint Petersburg.
A typical night in Saint Petersburg. Grandpa's Facebook

...

[To my aunt Esmeralda:] My mom says she loves living in Florida. Do you still love living in Florida?
I do NOT love living here but the ocean is my favorite thing ever, and no one looks at you funny for always being in flip flops.

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