Enough of Hurricanes

Enough of Hurricanes

I think we have had enough of hurricanes.

Hurricane Harvey.  Hurricane Irma.  Hurricane Jose.  And Katia, who lived for a short time in the Gulf of Mexico before the Mexican Earthquake upstaged her.

When I wrote my last post, I didn’t seriously think that another tropical event could rival the intensity of damage that Hurricane Harvey wrought.  But our state definitely got a taste of Nature’s Fury with Hurricane Irma.  Florida once again has stolen the spotlight in a most unflattering way.

Luckily, our immediate family escaped harm.  Lots of water filled the roads and the retention pond in our neighborhood, but the roof and walls withstood the winds, and the water stayed low enough to pose no threat to our home, though it crept halfway up the fence.  We lost power for about ten hours and waited in the pitch dark of plywood-covered windows, while the winds howled outside from midnight until noon.

The next hours were still very gusty and a flash flood advisory was in effect till 6 or so.  We listened to an old boom box radio from the early 90’s.  We hadn’t put batteries in it for twenty years.  We still have no internet or cable as I write this, but those are indeed first world problems.  {Update: Just got internet late Tuesday night!}

Watching from a Distance

Going through a hurricane, even at a safe distance, if there is such a thing, is terrifying.  My stomach has been in a knot for a week. During that time, Irma lumbered slowly and hesitantly toward our shore, coyly refusing to give up the secret of when she would turn North, and thus giving us Floridians the hollow hope that she might not, after all.

With the magic of television and instantaneous communication, we got to watch the entire drama unfold in real time.  Each island nation, swallowed up and spat out by a category five storm.  The coast of Cuba, scraped by a category four.  And it was eerie, the silence, during the moments when it was actually making landfall, the absence of pictures or sound.  Because it was too dangerous to report, too dangerous to even be there.  Worst of all were the eyewitness reports of brave or foolhardy or simply unfortunate souls, who stayed behind to watch and endure and match their mettle against a heartless ravenous beast.  The peril was so great, it felt as if we were listening to ghosts.

It’s hard to watch the news and know what’s coming, but at least we were forewarned.  There was time to collect the canned goods, the flashlights, the candles, to fill the cars with gas.  There was time to make sure the entire family was safe and together.  We had power right up to the worst of the storm, so we can’t complain.  Not even for lack of digital entertainment. We can’t complain, when many, many people from the Caribbean to Georgia, and even in our home town, have lost everything.

Not to mention what happened with Harvey.

This Way or That?

We thought we were more or less out of the path of the storm.  It had waffled, while skirting Cuba, before slamming the Keys and Marco Island.  It vacillated over whether it would veer northwest or northeast, or simply split Florida right down the middle.  Slowly, we came to the realization that we were all going to get hit, no matter what.  The storm was larger than the state itself.  The question was, how hard.

This uncertainty did not lessen my anxiety one bit.  Having lived in the state for nearly forty years, I have friends and relatives in every part. How could I, in wanting to spare my own area, wish that the storm go over my high school buddies in Ft Lauderdale, or my college friends in St Pete, or my brothers- and sisters-in- law in North Central Florida and the Panhandle?

As it turned out, it was my parents who were in the line of fire.

Up Close and Personal

Because of this, my most eagerly-awaited text message, as my weather app reported the approach of the storm toward central Florida from the Southeast coast, was the one from my sister. She and my brother, in a spirit of selfless concern, had flown in from their Mid-Atlantic and Californian homes last minute, so that my elderly parents would not have to brave the storm alone.  Not knowing, of course, that Central Florida would be right in the eye of a major storm.  Again.  Remember Charley?

During that sleepless night, when, here to the north, the winds had just begun to moan and whistle, it more than once occurred to me, that I could lose my entire childhood nuclear family in a windy instant. Thankfully, though, they, too, were spared.  They lost only power.  And the boasting rights of a well-manicured yard.

Hitting Home

Hours later, we felt barely the periphery of a much-weakened Hurricane Irma.  But even that was enough to knock us out.

St Augustine streets, again, went under water.  Downtown Jacksonville flooded.  The river that bisects our town lapped far over its banks, filling creeks and retention ponds to their brim and beyond, with record-setting water levels.  Some neighborhoods are still underwater. Tornadoes ripped the face off some buildings, and snapped trees in a long line. Some beaches communities are still closed, or under curfew.  Power outages, though half of what their numbers once were, are widespread.  At least one abandoned beach home, pummeled and scraped of its sandy foundation last year by Matthew, simply toppled into the sea.

Far from Normal

It’s actually been harder to stay on an even keel after the storm.  Trying to keep the kids busy, trying to pretend that things are normal.  Not that anyone is ready to get back to homeschooling yet.  We’re exhausted, just from the effort of getting ready, the effort of anxiously waiting for the storm to pass, the effort of watching the news and feeling the “there, but for the grace of God, go I” survivor’s guilt.  Everyone is irritable and has cabin fever.

Outside our walls, sections of the city are still under water or bathed in mud.   All the public schools and universities are closed till Thursday, at least.  Most businesses are closed, till their cleanup is finished, throwing out mounds of wasted product.  Businesses that in summer are normally hermetically sealed to hoard the cold, are throwing open their doors to let in the hot and sticky, but fresh, air. Other businesses are closed for good.  Never mind the trees through roofs, the water filling living rooms, the rescues, the smell of the river.  A lot of people are still stuck in shelters.

It’s not normal.

The kids must have seen the expression on my face.  As I listened to the radio reports in the candle-lit house.  Or as we hooked up the anachronistic antenna, once the power, after several comings and goings, decided to stay on.  As we watched with horror and sympathy, while our hard-working, local news crews brought us scenes of devastation, ruin, and loss.  As we finally got visual confirmation of what we had, up to that point, only heard. As I peeped out to keep an eye on the rising water.

The news outlets still tell us to stay put if we can: there may still be live wires, deep water, and other treacherous conditions. Dangers around every bend, even on a balmy day like today.

On Tuesday, I read a news report saying that parts of I-4, the main artery from east to west Florida, were washed out.  It just sounded incomprehensible.  Like the earlier report, before the storm, that Disney World had closed (but, to its credit, not its hotels).  Impossible to imagine, for someone who has lived a life in Florida.

There is a beautiful section of I-4, before you get close to Orlando, heading east from the ocean, where it takes you right by the mouth of the St Johns River.  There is a lake to your left and the river flowing from it to your right, and it has a scenic Old Florida feel to it, a vision of marshland and wading birds, with a hint of alligators and turtles lurking beneath the glassy surface.  I look forward to that point in the journey, to that break from the concrete and the barricades and the endless commercialism of I-4.   I hope that is not where the road washed out.

Speaking of barricades, they reported on the news that, in Jacksonville, barricades and traffic cones were removed from all the construction zones before the storm, because they could become projectiles.  Imagine driving through a naked construction zone.  I also heard that there was an incident on an “off” ramp, where a driver drove straight into deep floodwater, in the night or after the storm, when all the signs were gone.

Afterwards

After the storm, of course, you check in with your friends and relatives, as best you can.  Without power, there is little you can do except call or text, assuming you still have a cell phone and it is not damaged by the flood. The cell towers did ok in our area, so we, personally, never lost that connection.  Of course, we were concerned we might not be able to recharge the phones, with no power.

We also have a land line, just in case.  Lots of lines came down, though, so even a landline does not guarantee unfettered communication.  Plus, you have to remember phone numbers.  And a land line is no use at all, if you have to leave your home because of damage or threat of flooding.

If the cable or satellite is damaged, anything connected to the internet, like Facebook or instant messaging, is gone.  Loss of the internet cuts off access to information.  If you had no radio, and had no antenna to get at least local TV, you would have a hard time knowing what was happening.  A hard time knowing when it was safe to leave your house, or when it was unsafe to stay in it.

If you do reach your friends, and they are in trouble, again, there isn’t much you can do.  Life suddenly becomes very local.  Immediately after the storm, in order to keep roads clear for the first responders and prevent avoidable accidents, you are urged to remain in place.  Unless of course you are in a flash flood zone, in which case you must leave for higher ground.

Trying to get out in the first days after a storm, is not easy.  Being able to drive anywhere, without obstacles in the way, is no longer something you can take for granted. The roads are often blocked, or littered with debris.  The signals are not operational.  Signs have been blown away.  Standing water and live wires are a potential hazard. Even if you could make it through, there is no guarantee that there will be gas available for you, when your tank runs dry.

Your trip may also require more gas than you expected.   Detours around hazards, gas wasted waiting in line.  The St Johns River flood will soon be followed by a flood of Florida residents coming back to inspect their own private devastations further south.   Thursday before the storm, our highways north resembled parking lots.  All those who left then will soon be heading south.

Looking Forward

In a few weeks, it will all feel normal again, I know.  The sun will shine, the roads will be clear and fast, and most businesses will be back to work.  Heroic emergency crews are, as we speak, saving people, and fixing and clearing roads, and controlling the flow of water back to the river basin where it belongs. Celebrities are raising much needed funds from compassionate people everywhere.  Ordinary locals are doing what needs to be done to re-open their businesses, clean up their neighborhoods, and get on with their lives. Together, they will undoubtedly succeed in making it appear beautiful again, a Paradise.  As if nothing ever happened.

But there is a sense of tragedy in the air, nonetheless.  The images hang like a veil before our eyes.

The islands, swept clean of all humanizing debris.  The moving water, flowing into Naples and Ft Myers, through streets I have walked on a sunny day.  Reporters, bracing themselves against trees, ducking to lower their center of gravity against the biting winds, ankle-deep in water from Biscayne Bay.  The aluminum, that once sheltered a gas station, now lying, curled and twisted, blocks away.  The moist eyes of the proud homeowner, as he tours his twice-drowned bay front property, and shows us the natural cistern lurking beneath the floorboards.  The mighty oak, laid low.

I think we have had enough of hurricanes.

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The foregoing is merely my opinion. Feel free to comment or correct me below!