On Friday July 16, 2021, I was awakened at 3:30 a.m. by the wailing of a klaxon horn and the following words:
“May I have your attention please. An emergency has been reported in the building. While this report is being verified, please leave the building using the exit stairways – do not use the elevators, use the stairways only; do not use the elevators, use the stairways only.“
First a little history of how I got to this point: Joanna and I moved to Florida in 1998 with the idea that I’d work for a few years and then retire – the plan was working. We bought a home in Tampa; I worked full-time for a year and then gradually slipped into full retirement after working part-time for several more. In 2010, Joanna passed away. The house we shared suddenly became too big and too quiet. I sold it and moved to Tampa’s downtown. I lived on Harbour Island, which sits across a small channel south of downtown, for the first 5 years and then moved into an apartment on the 30th floor of The Element (photo below), a high-rise in Tampa’s arts district. I like the location of the Element, but also like to move every 5 or so years. About 8 months ago, I moved from the 30th floor (marked with a yellow X in photo below) to a unit on the 8th floor – I got the change of scenery that I desired, but kept the location. Enough history and back to that rude awakening.
I looked out at the street below and saw all manner of emergency vehicles and tenants milling about. I threw on some clothes, went into the kitchen and started to exit the unit. As I walked to the door, I realized I was standing on some very soggy carpet. My 8th floor unit has direct access to the garage and, as such, it has a private hallway between the actual unit and the garage. As I passed through that hallway, I noticed about a half inch of water covering the tiled floor. As I entered the stairwell, I saw and heard water rushing down from the upper floors – a literal waterfall! I quickly took the eight flights down and out of the building.
I spoke to several tenants on the street. I learned that those on the 27th and 12th floors seemed to be more severely impacted than I. I later learned that the building water-handling equipment, whether it be pumps or pipes or mains carrying the water, had failed on those two floors. One tenant told me she stepped off her bed into water several inches deep and watched her shoes floating in her bedroom! Another tenant shared a video of water pouring out of his kitchen’s overhead light fixtures.
Probably not the smartest thing in the world: I decided to re-enter the building and climb up the relatively short 8 flights. I did this mainly to see if there was more damage to my unit; to get as much of my personal items away from the water as I could and to gather some items if we had to abandon ship. I learned that floors above 27 were not impacted. What if I hadn’t moved from the 30th to the 8th?
I spent a bit of time lowering the water level in the hallway by sopping up the water with towels; wringing them out into a bucket and dumping it in a garage drain. I made a pretty good dent in getting the level below the door threshold into the unit. I moved items to “high ground” that I thought might become damaged by more water.
Soon the droning message “May I have your attention please. An emergency…” was interrupted by a real person saying: “For any tenants remaining in the building, by order of the Fire Marshal you must evacuate the building immediately.” I hurriedly packed a bag and left the building.
The building was closed indefinitely that morning. The management company had made arrangements for rooms at several hotels for the 500 of us displaced souls. Fortunately, my daughter and her family live close by, so I was able to take shelter with them.
“Soaking in the Element” (as seen at top of this post) was the headline on an article in the local paper the next morning (photo below). Click to read full 7/17/21 Tampa Bay Times article.
Sunday evening we received an email from management that said in part: “…our priority continues to be getting our elevators up and running …We also understand that given the start of the work week, you may need to access items in your apartment. Our team will be onsite this week to escort and assist you.” Eager to see inside my unit and to retrieve things I’d need if this evacuation was to drag on, I decided to check it out the next day.
Upon arrival, I was paired up with an “escort”. The rationale for the escort was to maintain security of the building since most units were unlocked to give workers easy access. They didn’t want anyone (including us tenants) entering the units that weren’t theirs. With the elevators out-of-commission, it was a climb to the 8th floor. I met several others on their way up/down from some of the higher units – happy that I wasn’t still living on the 30th!
I was pleasantly surprised to see the water had not advanced any further than when I left on Friday. Additionally, the soaked carpet had been removed, along with several stretches of baseboard. Scattered about were many fans and dehumidifiers to dry things out.
Finally, on Monday July 26 (10 days after being evacuated!) we received word that it was safe to return home. I was told work was still in progress in my unit – some painting remained and carpet replacement was incomplete. I assured them I’d be happy to work around their schedules. I just wanted in! Below is a photo from an article in the local paper about our return. My 8th floor unit is marked with a yellow X. Click to read the full 7/27/21 Tampa Bay Times article.
At first I thought I’d title this post 10 Days a Homeless Man. Then upon reflection, I felt it would be disingenuous. We have many truly homeless people here in the downtown area. The reasons they are in that situation are complex – addiction, job loss, and mental health are probably top issues. I was not homeless; I was merely Locked Out of Home For 10 Days and got to spend some quality time with my family. But it sure is great to be home again!