— -- As Hurricane Irma approached Florida last week, Tampa Bay resident Jessica Brightman decided to join her parents at their home in Naples, Florida, to ride it out.
The hurricane was expected wreak havoc largely on the state's east coast. But on Saturday, a hitch in her plan emerged: Naples was projected to be in Irma's path.
Still, the family had prepared for Irma. The windows of their home were boarded up, and the cupboards were stocked with food, bottled water and other supplies.
They changed their plans at the last minute, however. Brightman's mother was worried about the storm surge, so the two of them headed to one of the city's shelters before the crux of the storm hit Sunday, while Brightman's father stayed at home with the dogs.
"I agreed to go with her to a shelter to help calm her nerves during the hurricane," Brightman, who works at the University of South Florida in Tampa, explained. "I knew my dad wasn't going to go with us, and I knew that he would be able to handle himself during anything, but there is always still that little bit of fear in the back of your mind that anything could happen."
Brightman documented her story for ABC News. Her diary, below, has been regularly updated.
Early Saturday afternoon
Even with all the hurricane monitoring, storms can still be very unpredictable and getting in the car just driving from place to place trying to avoid the storm only causes more chaos. Naples is an evacuation zone, but at this point it's better to stay and shelter in place rather than driving around to different emergency shelters that are all at capacity. Some parts of Collier County are even going to be under a tornado watch as well, so you're either combating the wind or the water or both.
It has definitely been a long week, with a high-anxiety weekend ahead. And it does not help to have friends and family who live in a different state calling you to give "shoulda-coulda-woulda" advice. There are numerous factors that must be taken into consideration when preparing for a hurricane and/or evacuating, and that extra stress is the last thing Floridians need at the moment.
At this point it's just a long waiting game for Irma to show up and pass through the state.
Late Saturday afternoon
Everyone in Naples has either gone off the roads and evacuated, or sheltered in place. And it's all just a waiting game now.
In Naples we are shuttered up and just waiting for the storm to come through and ride it out and see how it goes. A lot of the neighborhood has left. It's pretty empty and quiet down here but we're just waiting for Irma.
Saturday 6 p.m.
The rain starts...
Saturday 9 p.m.
Because of the threat of the storm surge my mom was getting too nervous, so she had us go to a shelter. It's definitely an odd feeling knowing that only your most important valuables/possessions (aside from family) are with you in a backpack because of the unknown of what's to come. Here's to a long 24-36 hours ahead! I wonder how many books I'll get through...
Sunday 9 a.m.
In all my years of living in Florida, this is the first time we've ever left the house for a hurricane and gone to a shelter. So we're trying to make the best of it by pretending it's indoor camping, or I'm really just on one of my 24-hour international flights and I need to kill some time.
Some people are gathering outside to get some fresh air before the storm really rolls in.
Sunday 12 p.m.
A sneak peek inside this shelter. Power for the lights is run by generator at this point, and the winds are picking up.
People have been very friendly and helpful to their new "neighbors." It's just so sad the unpredictability of what's about to happen to my hometown of Naples and Tampa Bay, a place I've called home for more than a decade.
Sunday 2:30 p.m.
While at the shelter, Brightman is making friends with the other families.
A couple sitting next to us has a 19-month-old daughter who is adorable and has been providing a distraction to pass the time. Some people have been walking laps around the shelter, not sure if it's out of boredom or nerves or both.
Brightman said she and her mother "kept tabs" on her father for as long as they could from the shelter.
Right as the outer bands of the storm were starting to hit we spoke to him and he said a palm tree had gone down in the front yard and a big ficus tree took down a pole bringing all the power lines down with it. Other than that things were still OK at the house, but we also knew that he'd be out of power from that point on and only enough battery on his cell for who knows how long.
Sunday, 9:30 p.m.
This was a last-minute resort shelter for the city, so they were not prepared with beds and food. Individuals had to bring their own blankets, snacks, water, etc. Some came with nothing, so others have been sharing and making do.
We brought our own pillows and multiple blankets and all the necessary items including water and snacks. I even brought baby wipes because I knew showers wouldn't be much of an option this weekend.
She said her mother gave one of their blankets to an elderly couple that came with nothing.
Cell towers are down so really no service going in or out with messages and calls. It's hard getting in touch with family and friends still in Naples.
We'll be at the shelter tonight as well because the roads aren't safe to drive on right now. [The Sheriff's Office] will start to do checks at 7 a.m. [tomorrow] for downed power lines, etc.
Some people chose to leave the shelter at around 8 p.m. against the advice of the sheriff.
People are definitely getting antsy around the shelter, but it's better to be safe than sorry with pitch black roads and who knows how much water on them.
Monday, 2 a.m.
At this point my mom and I haven't really slept. People at the shelter are starting to get really testy with each other, and you can feel the mood shifting. We both sat outside for the next few hours for some fresh air and to figure out what the next plan would be.
Monday, 5:30 a.m.
We started packing up our stuff because we decided that, as soon as the sun was up, we were going to try to drive back to downtown Naples (as far as we could drive because we had no idea about any possible flooding yet). Our cell phones were either dead or without service and, at this point, we hadn't spoken to my dad in 12-15 hours.
As soon as we got our bags outside to put in the car (which had no damage - phew!), the fire alarm went off at the shelter and we were not about to go back in to figure out why. We got in the car and decided to just drive as carefully as we could to as far as we could.
We made it a few miles and the further south we got, the more and more debris was on the road. And when I say debris I mean whole trees and signs and more were in the road. Because it was still pitch black out, we decided to pull into a hotel parking lot and wait for the sun to break.
Monday, 7 a.m.
When we got to my neighborhood we were surprised (and extremely relieved) that there was no flooding due to storm surge like they warned on the news. However, there were trees everywhere and many roads were blocked. I zig-zagged my way around debris, sometimes driving over it, because we just really wanted to get home and make sure my dad and the house was safe.
Good news to report: Dad and the dogs are all unharmed and the house was undamaged! Literally the only thing was one lost roof shingle. The neighborhood really took a beating though.
Her parents' house had no power and no cell service.
The timing of this storm was also horrible because it was around September 11. My uncle was killed on Flight 11, and so my grandmother was in absolute hysteria the whole time leading up to the hurricane and then being unable to reach my mom afterwards with the lack of cell service. The thought of her losing another child was unbearable and her anxiety was inconsolable.
Tuesday: Final reflections
With still no power in Naples, I decided to drive back to my home in St. Pete hoping for the best. Gratefully, there was no damage to my home here either and I do have power. I took my first hot water shower in days, which was amazing. It's the little things in life.
Looking back on this week, in all of the hurricanes I've lived through before, I have never experienced and felt more distress and impending doom/disaster from people in Florida before. The tension and stress and mass hysteria was at an all time high, and you could feel it everywhere you went and with everyone you spoke to about the storm. It was also interesting to witness how quickly people's attitudes change when faced with fear and put under stress -- how quickly they can go from a friendly "let's help everyone" attitude to then snapping at each other and fighting over gas or other supplies.
I'm saddened by the devastation Hurricane Irma caused in other areas of Florida and in the Caribbean, but I'm grateful that Naples did better than anticipated. While I was driving back to St. Pete, half of my trip I was driving next to a fleet of Texas State Police trucks and boats who had come down ready to help. Even though their state just went through a natural disaster, they were still prepared to help Florida as needed. Now is our turn to give back and help all those affected by Irma.
I've also come to the conclusion that next hurricane season, I'm just going to book an extended holiday away from this area and not have to think of the words hurricane or storm surge again.