How do you help family members from afar, when a massive hurricane disrupts their lives?
As Hurricane Irma left Florida — downgraded to a tropical storm, its winds weakened — millions were left without power and began assessing impact, including the extent of flooding in the streets and damage to property.
From Pennsylvania and New Jersey, some of you are reaching out to family who hunkered down. We know people have family, including parents, in the state known for its friendliness to retirees. We want to know: How are you helping? How have you stayed in contact? What was this weekend like for you?
Voorhees: ‘It could be the end of the world, and you can’t let your head go that far.’
Lisa Shiroff was living in Fort Lauderdale with her husband when Hurricane Andrew tore through South Florida in 1992, and she remembers how her parents-in-law would call them from New Jersey, anxiously checking in to see how they were doing.
Now it’s Shiroff and her husband calling from New Jersey, and it’s the in-laws who are at home in South Florida without power and only limited communication.
“It’s nerve-wracking,” said Shiroff, 49, of Voorhees, as she described having only sporadic contact over the weekend. Her in-laws had booked a flight to stay with them, but the flight was canceled; they tried to find a hurricane shelter, but the nearby ones were full, and they were running low on gas. At the last minute — late Saturday night — they managed to find spots at a school serving as a shelter.
Cell service was spotty, she said, and they agreed to stick to text messaging to save power. Shiroff would send a message and hear nothing back for a while. Then she’d get a response: All’s well.
“It was disquieting, to say the least,” she said. “Very sporadic contact is almost more stressful than not knowing.”
When they were in contact, Shiroff said, she’d cover the basics: Are you safe? Are you in a safe place? Do you feel OK?
After the storm passed, the in-laws made it back to their condo, which had been protected by hurricane shutters and appeared undamaged. Still, they had no power, and Shiroff hadn’t heard from them Monday.
All is well, she’s sure — no news is good news. But it’s stressful. Her teenage kids ask how things are. She tries to reassure them and to keep her mind from straying into what-if scenarios.
“You just have to stay calm and cool, and whatever your limitations are, your limitations are, and you have to make your peace with it,” she said. “Otherwise, you’ll drive yourself crazy trying to do something that’s impossible.”
Jenkintown: ‘It’s as much to counter any sense of isolation.’
It was worse last year.
When Hurricane Hermine struck last September, David Ballard said, his wife, Lynn Jones, 59, wasn’t as prepared as she should have been. An art history professor at Florida State University, she learned from that experience — the lack of power, the lack of supplies — and this year stocked up on water, food, flashlights, and batteries, Ballard said.
It was the right thing to do. Ballard, 62, of Jenkintown, said he and his wife knew they might lose contact Sunday night when the power went out, so they weren’t shocked when it happened.
“We looked to rely on telephone service and email service so long as we had cell connectivity and WiFi for her,” Ballard said. “And when that goes down, you’re kind of — you know, what can you do? You’re back in the 20th century.”
During the storm, Ballard said, he kept in fairly regular contact with Jones, exchanging a regular flow of emails and phone calls.
“Let her describe what’s going on and what worries exist, and probably suggesting things when I feel like I have something reasonable to suggest, but I think it’s as much to counter any sense of isolation,” he said. “When something like this is happening, everyone is kind of hunkered down.”
In an age of smartphones, people are used to instant connectivity, Ballard said. When he stopped hearing from his wife Sunday night, Ballard figured the power had gone out. He went to bed, not knowing when he would hear from her next.
She emailed him Monday morning: All was well. Power was restored: Not too large a gap without contact. They had slept through the bulk of the outage.
Now, Jones turns to a different problem, Ballard said: Using up her rations.
West Mount Airy: ‘I’ll just be more relieved if I can communicate with her somehow.’
Lila Bricklin needs a fax machine.
Without one, Bricklin, 61, of West Mount Airy, doesn’t know how to contact her Great-Aunt Frances.
Frances is 97. She’s deaf and lives in a high-rise in Aventura, near Miami, Bricklin said, with a combination phone/fax machine for communication.
“I’ll just be more relieved if I can communicate with her somehow. It’ll be like a miracle if she somehow responds,” Bricklin said Monday afternoon. It’s unclear whether a caretaker is with her aunt, Bricklin said, and she has called the fax number just to hear the grating fax noises. It provides a measure of reassurance — at least something’s still connected, something’s still going through.
An Inquirer reporter sent a fax to her number at Bricklin’s request. “I love you,” it reads in part. “I’ve been thinking of you.”
Bricklin went to college in Florida in the 1970s, so she has friends across the state. With them, she can check in on Facebook. She can see that they’re OK with every post.
With Frances, Bricklin said, she’s not sure what to do. When airports are open, she said, she’ll start talking with other relatives about getting down to Florida. She’s trying to contact local groups who might be able to check in on her aunt.
“It’s a concern, even if she’s in perfect health, you know? She’s deaf,” Bricklin said. “She’s old and she’s deaf.”
For now, Bricklin keeps calling. She hopes someone picks up, can talk to Frances, who reads lips well.
“I would have just been relieved to find out she was OK,” Bricklin said. “I would have held her hand over the phone. And told her that everything’s going to be OK.”