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Irma Evacuation Part 1

Before I even begin, I have to preface this with the fact that this is an evacuation story, not a hurricane story. There is some real devastation happening in the state of Florida right now–not to mention Houston’s residual heartache after Harvey–and ours is more of a flee-the-scene-turned-wild-adventure that, yes, involves some anxiety, inconvenience and a few tears, but it ends okay. I mean, our frantic exit landed us in a Georgia lake house where we’ve been sipping coffee watching the news at a very comfortable temperature (FALL!) for the past five days which is more than my friends who stayed back home can say right now and certainly nothing compared to those whose homes were destroyed this past weekend. So, we’re good. Our home was spared. The pool cage is ruined, and there’s a broken window and crap blown everywhere in the garage, but that’s less than what I expected. Our home itself is intact, and once the power is back on, roads are cleared and gas stations are restocked, we will make our way back to where this all began…in my kitchen last Friday morning when I lost my shit.

Maybe it was when I woke up to check the latest projections on how Irma was shifting and watched Jim Cantore take his finger through the map on the screen and practically draw the exact route from my favorite beach to our house.

“It could change,” Brett said calmly, “Nobody can really predict this.”


Or maybe it was all my friends who, a day earlier, assured me they too were riding it out–I could count on them–and then I woke up to find out they all escaped and left me in the middle of the night. So, yeah. The trauma of childhood rapture nightmares revisited.

“Oh my God, Brett. We’re the only ones left. We’re those people you see on the news when everyone says “WHY DID THEY STAY?”

“We’re going to be fine. Stop panicking,” he said. But it got to a point where we have very different comfort levels with–oh, I don’t know–CATEGORY 5 HURRICANES COMING RIGHT AT US.

While I knew Brett would be safe (he studied elevation maps, had a plan with my dad and his dad along with a shelter back-up plan), I couldn’t take worrying anymore, not to mention the idea of riding through the storm with three scared kids, one of whom is terrified of storms. In fact, Nella’s little school friend’s mom called me after the hurricane and said that during the storm, her daughter said, “But Mom, is Nella okay? She’s really scared when there’s a storm at school.” Friday morning, I was picturing those horrible dreams I’ve had of who will grab which kid in an emergency, and I finally decided entertaining it all was insane when I still had time to get out. We knew there were gas shortage issues and mass exodus traffic, but Friday morning the news reports were telling people, “The time is NOW. Get out.” Thankfully, my wonderful mother-in-law (lucky to have two of them–this is Brett’s dad’s wife) was equally anxious and uncomfortable and offered to come with me and the kids. So we hugged the boys who were holding down the fort (and our dogs!), and left early Friday morning with no plan or destination. It was surreal–packing my kids’ baby books and keepsakes, running through the house knowing time was running out, throwing things in bags, reassuring the kids everything was fine. Also, I’m a bit dramatic, so I shine in these moments. Like, I threw out the term “evacuation” as much as I could that morning for effect.

Hotels were booked all over Florida, and there wasn’t really a city free from Irma’s wrath, so we just kept driving north, tracking gas availability on gas apps and stopping whenever we could to top off our tank. We drove for 19 hours straight amid this eerie scene–all these cars headed north with the south traffic practically non-existent but for an occasional parade of National Guard trucks.

So many of you reached out on Instagram, offering your homes. Good Lord, it was comforting–so much love in this community. I had reached out to a few friends who I knew would take us in, but shortly after we crossed the Georgia line, my cousin texted me that her best friend who I met once when I was in college offered her empty lake house in Blairsville, Georgia for us to stay as long as we needed–the kindest gesture we will never forget. So we kept driving north until 3:00 a.m. when we landed in the driveway of the home that’s been the most wonderful retreat for us this week.

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And then we waited, calling back home and tracking the storm every second until we knew it was time. And when it was? Well, let’s just say Sunday is a day we won’t soon forget. “It was unreal,” Brett says of the winds. “The house was shaking, and at one point the sliding glass doors literally bowed in. That’s when we ran.” The worst winds on the east wall of the eye lasted for about an hour, and during that time, we watched the news live (so weird to see national news talking about your neighborhood during a time like that) and made as many calls to the men back home as we could. And yeah, it was a little scary.

(the kids’ baby clothes quilt–the first thing I put in my car when I knew we were evacuating) photo print 1_zpsjkjbhkjv.jpg

Our people are safe. Our house survived (“It’s just a house,” I told myself many times), our friends’ houses survived, and though our town looks like a war zone, we are so thankful that what could’ve happened didn’t (our town didn’t get the surge that was expected, praise be). But for many people, it did happen, and my heart breaks for so many losses I’ve seen on the news these past few weeks due to the hurricanes. There’s a lot to be done to rebuild both Florida and Houston, and it’s going to take time. I’ve felt so helpless being away, but I’ve done what I can from where we are–donating to the Red Cross, families that have been hit harder than us (my friend and fellow D.S. family, the Eichers, lost so much in Harvey) and registered with Volunteer Florida to help when we get home (if you live in Florida, it’s quick and easy to register).

And the rest? Well, we ride the storm in our own way, searching for adventures and memorable moments on this crazy adventure.

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We’ve tucked away so many stories and look forward to a big family get together when we get home where we all get to share our hurricane stories and laugh (that time we got pulled over at 2 a.m. after 18 hours of driving) and hug and feel grateful.

The best part in all of this is witnessing the incredible human spirit of togetherness and love and support. The little town we’re staying in is full of evacuees–Florida license plates as far as the eye can see, and everywhere we go, people are so welcoming. I checked out at a little shop the other day, and the store owner–in her southern drawl–said, “Honey, we’re glad you’re here. We’re glad we can make ya’ll feel safe away from home.” And it makes me want to hug the entire state of Georgia.

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There are still massive power outages at home (our house has no power, but Brett’s at his dad’s with a generator), the roads are impassable in many places, the water and sewage systems are a mess, and school’s been canceled at least until next Wednesday (we’ll have to make it up this summer). So we’re waiting until we know it’s a good time to go home. Inconvenient? Yes. But, man, have we ever had fun on the journey. The memories we’ve made will be tucked in a special place, retold for years to come.

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And our friends who’ve been so generous to let us use their place?

 photo print 60_zpsta2o8xrg.jpgThey just happen to have the coolest house ever, and even went so far as to bring a big bin of old toys their kids used to play with for my kids to enjoy.

 photo print 14_zpsstv72vtq.jpgWe listen to records all day–Bing Crosby and Count Basie–and have fallen into a little Irma routine with memories I know my kids will cherish.

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We make lemonade…that’s what we do. And when you’re given the Georgia mountains, a lake, a beautiful home and a lot of love, you can make some damn good lemonade.

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Thank you for all your sweet comments and love this past week…we really are okay, so you can send some of that love to those who really need it by donating to the Red Cross or help my friend, Lisa.

More from Blairsville, Georgia soon.

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Leave a Comment
  1. So glad you are safe! What an adventure (19 hours?!)! If you’re stuck away from hone, this house seems like a pretty magical place to be stuck. Lots of love!

  2. Wow, Kelle. I’m so saddened by everything that’s happening in our world right now. There’s so much hate, violence, devastation but such a display of what we’re really made of. So much giving, so much help & love & support. I have no doubt that we’ll survive. What I love about your story is that, despite the fears & nerves &, no doubt, the terror of saying goodbye to your life & loves in Florida…you go forth with an open heart & belief in all that is good & look at where you’ve ended up. Karma, baby. You get what you give. xoxo

  3. Hey Kelle….I live in Cape Coral, just north of you. Let me tell you what….I started panicking way before Friday….tears, lots of tears, begging my Significant Other to leave, but he, like Brett, has a higher tolerance for impending doom than I do. He refused.
    I didn’t know where to go…I heard the nightmare stories of bumper to bumper traffic on 75, and no gas, and I was afraid to get caught in that alone. So, I lost my window to “evacuate.”
    On Friday night as I was LOSING. MY.SHIT over here, he agreed to go to Orlando, to his daughters house. Not the greatest choice, but better than staying in Cape Coral, so we thought. Reluctantly I left my 90 year old mother behind in her assisted living facility, praying that I had made the right decision. I felt a little bit like Sophie in Sophie’s Choice.
    We rode out the storm, without ever losing power. When the eyewall came over us, the noise was semi deafening, and I sat there wide eyed, praying the large oak trees would not fall down on their house. They didn’t.

    That night I was convinced that my cute little house in Cape Coral would be swallowed up in a surge of salt water and that I would be homeless. And somehow I was at peace with that. Unlike you, I never took the time to grab up those priceless treasures…pictures, memories, etc. I left with three pairs of pants, four shirts, three bras and ten, that’s right, TEN pairs of underwear. (What’s up with that, right?). I figured if that’s all I had left to my name after Irma, I was okay with long as everyone I loved got out alive.
    Miraculously Cape Coral fared well. My house was unscathed. The worse thing was I had to throw out all the food in the fridge due to the power outage. My mother also survived and actually argued with me that there was no hurricane! Ah, to be 90 and unaware of the wrath of MOther Nature!
    We are so grateful but also so so sad for all the other folks that lost everything.

    This has been eye opening for me and maybe even a life changer. I saw the good and the ugly in people. I’m so glad Brett and your Dad and all your loved ones came out okay.

    Thanks for sharing your story and allowing me to share mine.

  4. please don’t donate to the Red Cross – barely any of their earnings go to assist victims, but rather to their CEO

  5. so happy you all are safe!

  6. We live on the Texas Gulf Coast And We had to evacuate for Hurricane Rita and just endured all the 50 glorious inches of rain that Hurricane Harvey brought us!! During Rita…. As bad as we hated all the destruction at home, the town we evacuated to was amazing. We spent 11 days there. Waiting for power and fuel to be restored at home!!! There were 4 families that all went together-turned into a mini vacay. I’m sorry for anyone that endures a hurricane- I have family in Florida and being from the Houston area, we’ve had our share of them along with rain, tornadoes and flooding that comes with them. We’ve been blessed to make it through without losing our homes and always ready to roll up our sleeves and start working to help those we can. Know that you and your family have been in our prayers… Safe travels back home.

  7. What a blessing to have this little lakeside cabin to tuck up into! And yes, what a topsy-turvy adventure this life is. We just never know … So glad you all are ok, and am continuing to hold all of the hurricane suffering regions in my prayers.

  8. Thanks for the update! So glad you are safe! We donated to Red Cross…My husband’s company matched what everyone donated!

    Still here…praying for all in Houston and Florida!

    Love, From Wisconsin

  9. I’m so happy to hear you all are safe and your house is in pretty good shape! I was worried about you and your family! Funny how you can worry about people you’ve never met. <3

    • I couldn’t agree with Linda more! I have been wondering about you all week. Actually got teary eyed knowing that you are all OK!!

  10. Glad you guys are safe! Your pictures make me so nostalgic for GA I grew up there and I miss it so bad. Love that Georgia clay!

    This was a great post I love to see the memories you make for your kids wherever you go. Also I want to be the friend with the lake house whenever someone needs it one day. :)

  11. Mary from Seal Beach, CA says:

    SO happy that you did this post! Thank you for reassuring your readers that you and your family and home are well. The cabin looks heavenly.

  12. Houstonian here! After everything we’ve been through here, when I saw Irma coming I ached for Florida. I didn’t want anyone to suffer what we have just suffered. I prayed for Florida. For the family i have there. For the friends there. And I thought about the few Instagram people I know from there- you, Heidi, and Naomi. Thankfully Naomi included me in a group message and kept me and a few other girls informed during the storm. Between her, my cousin in Orlando, another cousin in Jacksonville, and another cousin in Tampa- I was able to keep up with everything along with TWC. I’m so upset about the devastation there but you’re right- the way it’s brought our country together…the way we have rallied…the way we have/will rebuild…it’s amazing. It’s beautiful. It’s the silver lining.

  13. I’m just a random blog reader on the other side of the planet, but I’ve been reading your blog for years now, and I was worried for you when I saw where the storm was headed. It’s so good to hear that you and your family are okay!

  14. I’m so glad you are all okay. Over here in the UK I was glued to the news watching the biggest hurricane I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t stop thinking of your family and Heidis. Xxx

  15. Another random reader from the UK… I’m relieved to hear you’re all safe and your home not too badly trashed. I’ve been praying for you all, by name. Hope you can soon return home and in the meantime enjoy a vacation in that borrowed home in Georgia. It looks very attractive. With good wishes. xx

  16. Holly allen says:

    So glad y’all are safe! I was really worried about your husband and dad as I watched the news. I’ve been following you for years and it’s funny how it feels like you are family! I’ve enjoyed seeing how you are making this a sweet adventure with your kiddos. You are a great mom, Kelle!

  17. I am so grateful you are safe and that kind and generous people were able to shelter you and your family. A horrible storm but you are right — it’s just a house, as they say. And it came through. I know a lot of us were on pins and needles with family and friends in the area. I’m glad your story has a heartwarming and happy ending. (Rick and I would have had that same preliminary discussion you had!)

  18. So glad Blairsville has been good to you! We are proud of our community. While you are here you should definitely take the kids to Vogel State Park. They can earn junior ranger badges! Helton Creek Falls is also a gorgeous place to visit. Hope you are able to get back to your home soo.

  19. Elspeth gRant says:

    Kelly, we here in Houston send our love and prayers to Florida. Harvey was terrifying but in terms of wind but probably nothing like Irma (although the frequent tornado warnings coupled with the 51-inch deluge still make me shudder). Our family survived with just two rooms taking on water, so buckled hardwoods are nothing compared to the devastation our state and your state has suffered. We’ve been out sorting clothes and toys at distribution centers so folks can pick up what they need easily. I’ve been disheartened by the fact that some people see this as an opportunity to dump broken and unusable items – I even found garage sale price stickers on random toy parts. Hope that doesn’t happen where you are. Praying for your recovery!

  20. Carrie davis says:

    Kelle, So glad that you and your family are safe. What a great way to make a scary time fun. I’m from Montana, smack in the middle of all of the wild fires. Today we finally have rain and some freedom from the heavy smoke filled air. We’re opposite sides of the states and both living with the opposite of extreme conditions. Many evacuations in our usual beautiful state.

    I have followed your blog for years as I have a 16 year old daughter with DS. I always enjoy reading it. For lack of a much bigger and better word…it’s just damn good! You give me perspective, laughs, tears and great ideas.

    Love from Montana…Carrie

  21. I’m so relieved to read your blog today!…I’ve been worried about your family- along with the rest of Florida & Texas & the Northwest that’s been on fire most of the summer. I’ve been watching this page to see that you’re alright since you’re the only people I “know” in Florida. Thank the Lord you’ve come thru just fine…Hope you can get home soon if you’re not already.
    Blessings to you all!

  22. I’m so glad you are all safe and well. And Nella with her ribbon wand is just too sweet!
    Safe travels home when you get to that- and in the meantime hope you continue enjoying fall in Georgia.

  23. Christi Scharnhorst says:

    I’m like 5 years behind on your blog (where I’m reading it is almost Thanksgiving and you’re pregnant with your little boy), but I couldn’t help wonder about you with Irma hitting Naples. So glad you and your family are safe. Love and peace!

  24. Donated!! Thank you for the go fund me link.
    My daughter and son In law just got back from helping people demo homes Houston. They shared many photos and stories and we are all so glad to do a small part to help in such a personal way.

  25. This is so beautiful but WAIT! Please DON’T tell people to give to the Red Cross! Those donations barely reach the people you are trying to help –

    Please help your followers push they kindness towards charities that actually help people!

  26. We live in Jupiter, Florida but have a place on Lake Nottely in Blairsville, Georgia. Many people from south Florida have been vacationing there for years and it is a beautiful spot. Glad your family found safety there. We stayed for the hurricaine but didn’t get as much as your area but it is still scary. We have lived in south Florida all our lives but it is still unsettling once the weathermen start talking about the winds, rains, devastation etc. It is difficult to leave, and difficult to stay as the storms are so unpredictable. Hope you have a safe trip back to south Florida. Glad you missed the power outages.

  27. I’m so glad you all are safe and your house fared pretty much okay. That’s a great lake house you landed in. What generous people to offer it!

  28. Hey, Lady K – glad you are all safe. Hope you get back to your home soon. Thinking of all those affected.

  29. Oh wow – what y’all have been through, I can’t imagine. But love that you’re grateful for the beautiful adventures along the way. And so thrilled that you got to go to my favorite place on ALL the earth! I was married on Crane Creek Vineyards – I hope you’ve had a chance to visit! We usually try to go up every year around our anniversary in October. We have a trip up there next weekend and I’m super excited. Can I ask you… where is that creek and apple orchard y’all found? This is our first time taking the kids and those look like wonderful spots. And does your friend ever rent out their cabin? It looks amazing! I’d totally rent it. We’re staying in a cute place near the vineyard but on the lake would be so fun too! Chatuge or Nottely?

  30. I’ve been watching your insta-stories and I’m so glad you guys are out safe and making all of these wonderful memories. I hope power is restored you’re able to get back home soon.

    Fall always triggers my “we must do all the things!” inner voice, but unlike you, I never seem to make all the things happen! Planning ahead is not one of my strong suits. Have you ever considered making calender including when you plan to start different traditions and seasonal actives throughout the month? (like the Martha Stewart calender in Living)? my kiddos are 4 and 6 time to get it together before the magic runs out!!

  31. Marjorie Dineen says:

    Hope that you have been able to return to your home by now. I am sure you will be so happy to be altogether as a family now.

  32. Thank God you are all safe. Hoping that you could get back home soon. The lake house looks so nice.

  33. You have made this into such an adventure for the kids – much better memories than you might have had! Blairsville will miss you – and who will start the book club now?

  34. When this all started, I told Husband, “that’s where Kelle Hampton lives!” To which I received a bewildered look even though years ago he bought me “Bloom” for my birthday. Duh, she’s one of my fave bloggers. Glad to hear you are safe. :)

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