BLOGGING DURING A HURRICANE
Florida Is Hurricane Central
As I write this article, I am experiencing the ravages of Hurricane Michael that just came ashore and is now playing havoc with the trees all around me. This one will be the fourth hurricane to impact our area since we moved to this country site. It will also be the 9th storm of this magnitude that I have been through. Needless to say, hurricanes have become an integral part of my life.
For some strange reason I seem to find myself centered in areas often impacted by either devastating weather events or geological catastrophes wherever I go. While living in California, it was earthquakes, mudslides, Santa Ana winds, and forest fires. In Arizona it was flash floods and lightning infested storms that destroyed high voltage transformers which exploded right before my eyes. Now, in Florida, it has been hurricanes, water spouts, and rising water levels in streets that provided access to my home.
As a whole, Florida is a state where it is virtually impossible to escape catastrophic weather events. Being nothing more than a giant peninsula, you are always 60 miles or less away from a major body of water no matter where you live. This means that either the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean are not far away. If you live in an area near the coast measured from the edge of the seashore out to an inland distance of 20 miles or so, you are in the highest risk zone for sustaining damage from tropical storms and hurricanes.
From the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane that took over 400 lives, to Ivan that destroyed the I-10 interstate bridge heading into in Pensacola, there have been countless named storms that have done massive amounts of damage. As for the Panhandle itself, this northwestern part of the State seems to function like a big catchers mitt for those type of weather events. The current one that is in the process of destroying the coastal cities below us is a Category 4 monster named Michael, and it might wind up intensifying into at Cat 5 before it is done.
Wake up Calls
I remember my first hurricane which was named Irene, a storm that ripped across central Florida in 1999. As a precautionary measure, I moved all the vehicles over to the far side of the house so I could prevent possible damage from a tall tree along side the driveway. The tree never did go down, but the grass was so saturated with rainwater, I couldn’t get traction with the tires when I tried to move the vehicles. That happened when my wife called from the hospital after visiting with her mom. The wind was blowing so hard she was afraid to drive home. Deep ruts in the lawn were caused by my spinning the tires to creep forward so that I could reach the driveway. It was all I could do to get out and go get her.
The next storms were Jeannie and Francis in 2004. Our home had 7 sliding patio doors with no protective barriers covering them. Deciding to stay and ride each event out, I nervously watched the glass doors bulge in as the high winds threatened to shatter the glass. Our long backyard fence was knocked down and my wife’s Papaya and Mango tress were broken in half. In the aftermath, I had to deal with the flooded street in front of my house and a water level that rose up to within a few feet of our doorstep.
Cat 5 Hurricane Andrew
We were living in Orlando several years before when Hurricane Andrew hit the southern part of the state. With the expectation being that it might make landfall further north from where it actually did came ashore, local stores in Central Florida were cleaned out ahead of time. After the destruction of the Miami metro area was made known, I decided that it was time for me to get involved with the reconstruction process that was sure to follow. We then made plans accordingly.
When we first drove down there, we saw massive twisted steel billboard signs and demolition piles in front yards everywhere we went. Street lights and traffic signals were inoperable. Mobile homes were piled up on top of one another. Stores and hotels were closed everywhere. It was one big mess.
For accommodations, we had an old Travco motor home that was formerly used by Lawrence Welk and his band members for onsite purposes during road shows. I bought a used semi truck trailer to store our furniture in and also make an office out of to handle the paperwork involved for the reconstruction jobs I had going in the area. We stayed on the lot of a damaged house owned by clients of my youngest daughter, Stephanie, who babysat their kids. It was a confining and uncomfortable way to live, but we managed it all the same.
After reconstructing 9 homes, we wanted out of the area. Following a short-term stay at a rural KOA campground, we left and headed west. As for my future considerations, I vowed to never get involved with another hurricane project again. Little did I know at the time, that idea would come back to haunt me 10 years later.
The Katrina Monster Left Me No Choice
Years later, while staying in a Ft. Lauderdale apartment as a second home during the work week, disaster struck again. In 2005, Katrina came in from the Atlantic and went right over the top of us as a category 1 hurricane. Moments after it hit, the power went out and I told my wife I did not want to stay there waiting for the electricity to be restored. So, we got in our Chevy Tahoe and drove to our home in Wellington (near West Palm Beach) while the winds howled around our vehicle. Crazy decision, I guess, but we went ahead and did it anyhow.
The next day, the news on The Weather Channel revealed that this storm was rapidly gaining strength out in the Gulf and was threatening to become a disastrous event when it made landfall. What had us really concerned was that it was moving straight towards my hometown of New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Worried for her safety, I called my sister who lived in the area. I told her she better get out after I became aware that it was rotating at 150 miles per hour a 100 miles out.
After the monster passed, photos of the resultant devastation were on the news every night. Even though I had no more desire to involve myself with storm damaged reconstruction efforts, I knew from the heartbreaking emails I received that I had to go and help my family. This included my brother who also lived in the area with his wife and kids. So I bit the bullet and went up there to do what I could to help them.
When I got there with an associate, I found that all means of communication were sporadic. Fortunately, I had a Nextel walkie-talkie phone that worked okay as a replacement for mobile phones when the cell towers failed to transmit a signal. As for sending text, that messaging option was also kaput and satellite pictures shown on TV were not up to date.
If all that wasn’t enough, Hurricane Wilma hit our house in Florida while I was out of town. My wife called and said the front doors blew open, but she was able to secure them after struggling with the latch bolts. Feeling somewhat helpless through it all, I just couldn’t seem to catch a break, no matter where I went.
Follow Up Events That Ravaged Louisiana Even More
Eventually, we wound up moving there and immersed ourselves in the reconstruction process one more time. A few years later, we were affected by two more significant weather related events. The New Orleans area got hit again in 2008, first with Ike, then followed soon after by Gustav. This time around, I witnessed some interesting scenarios that I had never seen before.
Since I was still making trips south to get personal items and equipment from my recently sold home in Florida, I found myself traveling on the interstate when evacuations were taking place before one of those storms was scheduled to hit. My wife, who was a New Orleans area resident by then, kept me abreast of recent developments on the news and said that contra-flow on the freeways was close to being mandated. East and west routes would both be used as one-way corridors to move fleeing residents more efficiently away from the anticipated center of the storm.
What that meant for me was that if I did not complete my journey in time, I wouldn’t be able to get back into the area. I had just driven some 800 miles from Louisiana to my destination in Florida, loaded my trailer, and now faced the predicament of missing my window of opportunity if I dilly dallied at all. While trying to decide, I wondered if I would have enough energy to make the trip with so little rest under my belt. Notwithstanding, I went ahead and decided to leave before nightfall and headed out. Needless to say, that stressful jaunt was something of an eye opener on the way back.
Entering the state of Mississippi, I found no one in the westbound lane moving along with me because I was the only fool traveling that route. As I entered Louisiana near Slidell, the eastbound lanes were packed with crawling cars and trucks heading out. The only vehicles I eventually saw on my side of the expressway were a group of hurricane hunters heading in for their own bit of discovery.
After completing that arduous and tiresome journey, I got some rest for a few hours but knew I had more responsibilities to take care of as soon as I awoke. As soon as I was conscious once again, I decided to cross the Causeway bridge across Lake Pontchartrain into New Orleans. I wanted to check my construction sites for loose equipment and materials. Again, I was the only one going in that direction.
Upon my arrival on the other side of the lake, I found a situation that was akin to plowing through a ghost town. Every freeway route was vacant and there was no one in sight. That moment in time may have been the best experience I ever had traveling in that area.
Back To Hurricane Plagued Florida
So, after those Louisiana based storms had run their course, there were no more storms that affected us directly until we were days away from completing the purchase of our present home in Northwest Florida in the year of 2016. We had a hurricane threat in the area extend the escrow on our house closing which really helped solve some last minute issues. The seller was threatening to cancel the whole deal because mortgage broker’s mistakes had forced us into our 4th extension and tensions were mounting. The storm threat, by law, required the seller to extend our closing date one more time.
The following year of 2017 saw Irma tear up the central part of Florida. The outer bands reached us and caused a heavy downpour for one full day. We were fortunate enough to miss the damaging winds that got Tallahassee and other cities in trouble.
So, as I said at the beginning, I am creating this article during Hurricane Michael in the year of 2018 which seems to be topping out at 155 miles per hour as I write. Strong winds and heavy rains have knocked out our power, but I have the generator running to keep 2 refrigerators, 1 freezer, 1 TV, and some lights operable. My wife set up an electronic gadget charging station in the master bath to keep our phones active.
What I Have Done To Cope With These Disasters
I guess the main thing I have learned through all this is what I need to do ahead of time before the storm hits. My list includes the following items:
- Getting enough gasoline to last several days for fueling my generator which I run from 9:00 am in the morning until 12:00 am at night. With everyone in bed, the refrigerator will stay cold for the 9 hours that it is without power because the door remains closed during that time and the food stays cold.
- Making sure that batteries for flashlights are plentiful so that we can see our way around in the dark
- Running water in the the bathtub with a plug in the drain and filling it up so that buckets can be used to flush the toilets. If you live in a rural area, your well pump will quit working and stored water will be your only option unless you have a whole house generator keeping it going.
- Bottling up water and storing it in the refrigerator for drinking and cooking.
- Making sure that propane gas tanks are topped off for cooking on the BBQ.
- Have extension chords ready and waiting to plug in the refrigerator and freezer into when run from the generator.
- Placing vehicles out away from trees or structures that may get blown apart.
Since I don’t evacuate as a rule, I can’t advise on supplies you will need for that procedure, but I know you can find appropriate advice online or prepared manuals dedicated for that purpose. Just keep in mind, people have died on evacuation routes for one reason or another, so that choice is not always the best option.
As for updated news and reliable sources of communication, Satellite TV seems adept at sending a strong signal unless there is a lot of lightning overhead. The same can be said for internet service, whether it is satellite based or not. Our internet is not, but I had to remember to run an extension cord to the modem to keep it functional. Both are still working at 4:00 pm in the afternoon as Michael begins to move away from us. It has recently crossed Interstate 10 above Tallahassee. No damage to us so far, but I heard a neighbor was not so fortunate. A tree fell down and crushed the power line to his house.
All I can say as I finish up is good bye Hurricane Michael, and good riddance indeed!
I am requesting that my readers click on the links provided and download a sample read of each book and give a review on Amazon. You will have free access to the first four chapters of each book. My hope is that you will like the story lines enough to obtain either an eBook version or a paperback copy that you can put on your bookshelf as a masterpiece when you are done. FATE STALKS A HERO I: RESURGENCE, FATE STALKS A HERO II:THE FIJI FULCRUM, and THE SAGA OF HERACLES PENOIT. I will be giving excerpts on these works in upcoming blogs to familiarize you the reader with exciting details about the contents of each one. Thank you!