Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Well, it's summer, and that means HURRICANE SEASON! I used to think it was just a chance for the merchants to make money in the off-season, by scaring us natives into buying batteries, tarps and bottled water. Ever since 2004 when Charley hit, we take it all a bit more seriously. At first it seemed to be a non-event like so many others. It wasn't but a Category 2, and it was headed north of us anyway. Then, on August 13th, as we sat down to lunch and some sports, the weather man broke in to breathlessly announce that Charley had veered south and was coming in too close for comfort. About the time we absorbed that news, he added that it was upgraded to a Cat 3. My hubby and older sons headed to the garage to prepare plywood for the windows, and while they were out there Charley was upgraded to Cat 4! Yikes, this was getting serious! They put the plywood sheet over the last window in a fine, sharp rain, like needles on the skin, and then the electricity went off. Hurricane Charley blew sideways to the house, and a wooded lot beside us spared us quite a bit, but we watched out the front door as tree tops swirled in circles, all around one way, back around the other, SNAP - and the whole top of the tree crashed to the ground. Then the wind veered around straight at the house and we rushed to shut the door and put towels under it to keep the rain from blowing under - it veered again and we watched some more.
By evening it was all over. Everyone in the neighborhood emerged wide-eyed from their houses, checking to see that others were ok, comparing notes and looking at all the trees that had either snapped off, or come completely up by the roots. My mother's lavender jacaranda tree had fallen over as if a giant hand had laid it gently down, brushing her front door at the top and a vehicle on each side, harming nothing. Other neighbors weren't so lucky, but no one was injured at least. That night we lit a whole lot of candles and played poker to take our minds off the stifling heat, listening to the concert the happy frogs were giving in the cow pasture out back. The next day everyone got busy, people all over town helping each other clean up yards, distribute ice and water, and tending to each other's needs. We cooked up the food out of the freezer so it wouldn't spoil, sweltering over a camp stove with baggies of ice on our heads. After a couple of days, our electricity was restored, but others waited weeks, and those on wells had not water either. Blue tarps sprouted on roofs like mushrooms. Most of the traffic lights were out, so everyone had to drive very carefully, using the four-way-stop method. Before anyone could recover fully, within the next month, three more hurricanes hit Florida. Then the next year, Wilma hit and we had to put on a new roof after that one. No hurricanes have hit us since, unless you count the winds of change in the insurance industry that hit us hard following the storms! But I no longer look on preparation as an unnecessary hassle. If we don't need the things we've stockpiled, someone else is bound to. When that happens, we all donate gladly, our sincere empathy mixed with relief that we were spared.