In times of desperation, people sometimes need to resort to drastic measures to survive. Edward Obediah Sweat can certainly relate to this more than most, it seems, as he took to Facebook to share some much-needed advice with the people of Florida in 2017. And when America was hit by a slew of devastating events in the fall of that year, his tip about water-filled trash bags turned out to be crucial.
Although Sweat now resides close to Barker, Texas, he has connections to the Lone Star State. Before the man’s retirement, you see, he had previously worked at a police station in Jacksonville, Florida, as a Master Patrolman. And no doubt given the former officer’s prior links to the region, he wanted to share some advice with the people who were living there in September 2017.
Just one month before Sweat’s Facebook post, a massive natural disaster had thrown the state of Texas into turmoil. The last notable hurricane to hit American shores had come back in 2005, when Hurricane Wilma had devastated Florida. The arrival of Hurricane Harvey in 2017, however, signaled the end of this hiatus.
Yet although Harvey grew from a tropical wave into a full-fledged storm on August 17, 2017, the squall only affected a few areas of the Caribbean before it began to weaken two days later. And meteorologists downgraded the storm back to a tropical wave when it appeared outside of Colombia. Just a few days on from that, though, the situation completely changed.
After developing into a tropical storm again on August 24, experts upgraded Harvey’s status to a hurricane that same day. They classified the storm as a Category 4, and the people of Texas no doubt began to prepare themselves for the dangerous conditions that they would soon face. They didn’t have long to wait, either; the hurricane made landfall on the evening of August 25.
Over the next few days, Hurricane Harvey threw the state into disarray. Winds as fast as 130 mph whipped through Texas, and the storm had dropped close to 30 trillion gallons of rainfall in the Lone Star State by the end of the first weekend. Unfortunately for the local residents, though, the devastation didn’t end there.
You see, while Harvey’s status reverted back to a tropical storm on August 26, the situation hadn’t markedly improved. Portions of the state were flooded, for instance, and although the winds had lost much of their power, they were still hitting speeds of around 40 mph. But Harvey hadn’t quite finished yet. The storm hit land one last time on August 30 in the Texan city of Port Arthur. Harvey managed to cross state boundaries, too, bringing floods to Cameron in Louisiana.
Following a hellish week or so, then, Hurricane Harvey finally dispersed on September 2, 2017 – leaving carnage in its wake. The storm had caused so much damage, in fact, that an estimated $125 billion bill had been racked up in the space of a few days. This hefty total makes Harvey one of the most expensive hurricanes on record in America – along with 2005’s devastating Katrina.
Just a few days before Harvey’s dissipation, Houston’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, had spoken about the city’s response to the storm. During an interview with National Public Radio (NPR), Turner was asked if he had felt that he and the local residents had been ready for the hurricane. “Oh, absolutely [we were prepared],” he said.
“We prepared leading up to [Hurricane Harvey],” Turner continued. “We encouraged all Houstonians to go and make sure that they have enough food, enough water, medication and supplies for a four or five-day event. And by and large, that’s exactly what they did. So, I’m very proud of Houstonians.”
Turner subsequently added, “This was a storm that really no one knew which direction it was going to take. But the best thing was for people to hunker down and then be prepared.” And afterwards, the mayor was questioned about what would be done during the following days, which drew another detailed response.
Unsurprisingly, some aspects of Turner’s strategy took priority over others. “Well, the plan is number one to provide shelter for those who are no longer able to stay in their homes,” the politician told NPR. “And we’re doing that. It’s to make sure that we rescue any individuals who are in homes or in apartments who have been significantly inconvenienced.”
At this point, Turner mentioned a future stage of the city’s agenda. “[We will also] make sure that we provide a suitable transition, so that once this storm passes, we can put people in the best position to restart their lives and move forward in this city,” the mayor added.
A few days later, Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, opened up about the scale of Hurricane Harvey’s damage. While the storm had dissipated at that point, you see, some areas of the state were still flooded – and the conditions in Beaumont were particularly worrying. And so, the politician laid bare the challenges ahead.
“As the waters recede in Houston, of course they’re still rising over in Beaumont,” Abbott told Good Morning America in September 2017. “So, we are having to, first of all, deal with the aftermath of the receding waters in Houston while also [dealing] with the emergency of rescuing people in the Beaumont, Texas, area.”
And Abbott didn’t mince his words when discussing what was going to happen next, either. “This is going to be a massive, massive cleanup process,” he said. “People need to understand that this is not going to be a short-term project. This is going to be a multi-year project for Texas to be able to dig [itself] out of this catastrophe.”
However, as the people of Texas were attempting to put their lives back together, another storm was brewing over the Atlantic Ocean: Irma. Although Irma was only a tropical wave on August 30, 2017, the meteorological phenomenon’s status quickly changed. In less than 24 hours, in fact, the squall developed into a hurricane.
Over the next few days, Hurricane Irma’s ferocity continued to grow – with winds increasing from 110 mph to 145 mph. At this stage, then, both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands were put on alert, and the massive storm started to close in. And on September 5 Irma was classified as a Category 5 hurricane.
At this point, Hurricane Irma’s fierce winds were already reaching speeds of 175 mph. But incredibly, the conditions only got worse. When the storm whipped by Puerto Rico on the evening of September 6, for instance, its blistering winds were traveling at velocities of 185 mph. And the hurricane showed no signs of stopping, either.
When morning finally came, the residents of Florida found themselves on red alert as Hurricane Irma continued on its path of destruction. And on the evening of September 8, the storm also reached Cuba’s shores – leading to the next big development. While Irma coursed through Cuba, you see, experts downgraded the storm to a Category 4 hurricane.
However, while the winds had significantly decreased, they were still reaching speeds of around 125 mph. And the people of Florida were busy readying themselves, as the storm was set to hit them on the morning of September 10. After 12 years without a hurricane, America was about to face its second in as many weeks.
In the lead-up to Hurricane Irma’s arrival in Florida, a number of residents looked to fortify their homes in an attempt to weather the coming conditions. Local emergency services handed out over 200,000 sandbags to Floridians, for instance, to help stop any water from seeping through gaps in their doors. Despite these efforts, though, one person in particular didn’t believe that the locals were actually ready for what they were about to face.
Craig Fugate, formerly of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, pointed out the flaws of relying on sandbags. “This is a lot of work, a lot of time and a lot of prep,” he told the Tampa Bay Times in September 2017. “Just putting a few sandbags in front of your door – if you’re talking more than just a couple inches of water – it isn’t going to stop it.”
Fugate then went on to offer residents some advice while also maintaining his previous stance on sandbags. “To do it most effectively, you’ve got to completely seal off all the ways that water can get into your foundation and through the ground floor,” he continued. “What the average person needs is far beyond the number of bags that you’re going to get from most of these centers.”
And while those living in concrete houses apparently had better chances of defending themselves, Fugate had some bad news for people in wooden homes. “With wood, [sandbags are] not going to help much,” he told the newspaper. “The minute that water gets over, around or through those sandbags, then those sandbags aren’t going to fix much.”
Then, Fugate offered some final words of wisdom to Floridians ahead of Hurricane Irma’s arrival, saying, “Stack stuff as high as you can, take your papers, pack your bags and be ready to evacuate.” The ex-FEMA employee added, “If you need to evacuate, don’t waste your time putting out sandbags.”
Despite Fugate’s forceful message, a former Florida resident had some alternative advice for the locals. Yes, Texas-based Edward Obediah Sweat took to Facebook after Hurricane Harvey had turned Texas upside down to offer a bit of help. Few could’ve predicted, though, just how unique his trick would be.
“To my Florida friends and family,” Sweat wrote on Facebook in September 2017. “[Here are] some things that I learned about hurricane damage management. Plastic bags filled with [a third of] water make good substitutes for sandbags at doorways.” And along with this nugget of survival information, the former Jacksonville resident also revealed a few more tips in his post.
“Paint cans or five gallon buckets can support and elevate your furniture if you are going to get water in your house,” Sweat continued. “Wear clothes to bed. Nothing looks worse than seeing people on the news in waterlogged nightgowns and boxer shorts. Plus, it is helpful [when you’re] slogging through the water at night,” he reasoned.
After this, Sweat made a serious point regarding the plugs and sockets around people’s homes. “If you get water up to your electrical outlets, or you evacuate, trip the main breaker,” he cautioned. “A volunteer was electrocuted and died here walking in knee-deep water due to [the] power being on at a house he was going to check on.”
What’s more, Sweat added some last crucial pieces of advice before finishing his informative social media post. “Wear hard-soled shoes and gloves if you wade in water,” the Texas resident wrote on Facebook. Then, he added, “Use duct tape to seal your garage door to the floor to prevent water intrusion.”
Sweat also wrote in his post, “Everyone should have an I.D., a whistle and a flashlight on them once the rain comes. Have a queen- or king-sized white, flat sheet to signal for help from boats and helicopters. Map out a couple of escape paths, [and] leave [your house] before these become flooded.”
Sweat’s Facebook post provoked a big response on social media as online users thanked him for his hurricane tips. In fact, the message earned more than 170,000 shares at one point – alongside a decent amount of appreciative comments. And one particular response stood out from all the rest.
“[I’m] beginning to be concerned,” wrote one Facebook user when talking about Hurricane Irma. “We live in Murray Hill in an area that doesn’t drain very well at all. The plastic bag idea is a GOOD one. Thanks, pal. Hoping and praying. Wish us luck.” And it seemed that Floridians needed all the luck that they could get. After all, plenty of damage was caused following the storm’s landfall on September 10, 2017.
Over the course of the next 24 hours, Hurricane Irma moved across the state before hitting the city of Tampa, FL, on September 11. At this point, the hurricane was reclassified as a Category 1 storm – but it didn’t stop moving. And as a result, the Sunshine State wasn’t the only region that was affected by Irma.
Yes, even though Irma was technically no longer a hurricane, certain parts of South Carolina and Georgia suffered greatly as a result of the storm. But finally, following a nightmarish few days, the hurricane dispersed on September 13, 2017, bringing much of the chaos to an end. The cleanup had only just begun, though.
In total, then, Hurricane Irma caused over $50 billion worth of damage – with only four other storms on record inflicting worse on American soil. And in addition to this sobering figure, more than 130 people lost their lives during the period. Due to Irma’s incredibly strong winds, it proved to be one of the most powerful hurricanes in living memory.
And while the local residents attempted to get their lives back on track, the governor of Florida at the time, Rick Scott, spoke about the hard work ahead. The Florida Keys in particular had suffered plenty of damage from the hurricane – and the politician had seen some of this destruction firsthand during a plane ride. “I know for our entire state – but especially the Keys – it’s going to be a long road,” he told The News-Press in September 2017.
“I know everyone wants to get back to normal,” Scott continued. “I know everyone wants to get started, but you’ve got to be patient. We’ve got to get the first responders to the Keys. We’ve got to get water going again.” And that wasn’t all. He finished by saying, “We’ve got to get electricity going again. We’ve got to get sewers going again. It’s going to take a lot of time.”
As America continued to recover from the devastation of Harvey and Irma, another deadly storm emerged. Hurricane Maria swept through several islands in the Atlantic Ocean in September 2017 before affecting parts of North Carolina at the tail end of the month. And for those who were waiting out the storm in the Old North State, Edward Obediah Sweat’s tips may have been life-savers.