No Rainbows after the Storm
It is said that after a storm, one will often see a rainbow, and if you live in Florida, you already know rainbows are very common during its rainy seasons. Thinking back now, there was one particular storm, or should I say cluster of storms, where I do not recall the beautiful rainbows that usually follows.
Florida is a beautiful state. It is the place to be if you are looking for a tropical paradise. Sunny clear skies and warm beaches are just a couple of its many charms. However, every paradise has a serpent, and the serpents in this paradise are the hurricanes that threaten its inhabitants every year from June until November.
During hurricane season, it is typical to hear hurricane preparedness alerts when you turn on the television. The weatherman in every station will remind people hurricane season has begun and gives its viewers tips on how to prepare for a hurricane.
Commercial ads take over the airways with every imaginable sells pitch to get consumers to invest in costly hurricane shutters and the likes. Home improvement stores ads also bombard the airways while they stock up on plywood, generators, portable gas containers, radios, flashlights, and batteries. Grocery stores clutter their isles with bottled water, canned goods, and other items needed in case of a hurricane.
Every year, residents are warned of impending storms and most of the residents do take precautions. But, if you live in Florida for as long as I have, covering up your windows with plywood, anchoring down outdoor items, and standing in long lines at the supermarket, can become very tiring year after year.
The warnings become so common that residents usually are not concerned until the hurricanes are actually near the Florida coasts. Then panic sets in and chaos breaks loose. The stores are depleted of every imaginable item. The lines at the home improvement stores wrap around the isles for what seem hours. Long lines of cars line up at the gas pumps while customers wait to fill up their cars and their portable containers with gas. The grocery stores run out of drinking water and canned foods, and as you drive through the neighborhoods, you can see people hammering away at the plywood that will cover their windows and glass doors.
The streets become deserted, as fewer cars are seen on the road. Dark clouds, wind, and rain intensifies. Bathtubs are filled with water, drinking water and non-perishables are waiting in the pantry, and all the windows are covered; Floridians are prepared (hopefully).
Some will have to evacuate to shelters and some decide to wait it out in their homes. The hurricanes come very close but at the last minute, they turn in another direction and you live to see another hurricane season come and go. Life continues as usual.
However, this was not the case during the hurricane season of 2004. It was one of the roughest seasons in Florida and one of the most deadly and costliest. It was the only time in recorded history that four hurricanes and a tropical storm directly hit Florida. They were named Charley, Frances, Ivan, Jeanne, and Tropical Storm Bonnie. During the 2004 hurricane season, over 3,100 deaths were reported with an estimated damage of well over $50 billion dollars.
This is a true account of how I lived through four hurricanes during the hurricane season of 2004.
I recall it was mid August and I was at work when the storm status changed from hurricane watch to a hurricane warning. Hurricane Charley, a Category 4 storm with 150 mph winds (240 km/h), suddenly made a change in course and took Floridians by surprise. Originally, the storm was heading towards the north eastern part of Florida when it took a turn and headed straight for the southwest coast. Charley was heading my way.
After pleading with my not-so-compliant-thick-headed bosses and convincing them that the storm was indeed going to hit us, I was allowed to leave early to prepare my home for the storm.
My windows and glass door were not boarded up. The one season I should have boarded them, I did not. Time was short and my son was away at college, and everyone I knew was busy preparing for the hurricane. Therefore, because I could not find anyone to help me on such short notice, my home was not boarded up. I prayed this storm would turn away, just as the others did in the past, but it did not.
I prepared as best as I could. Everything that was loose was placed in my garage. I left my car in the driveway next to an old car that needed repairs. I backed the car up to the garage door to keep the door anchored.
The rains intensified as the sky darkened, and a feeling of doom filled the air. “This is it,” I remember thinking as I scrambled to get things ready. Then I looked at the two large trees in my front yard. The trees were at least forty feet high and where almost just as wide. They were old trees and deeply rooted, so I didn’t give it a second thought. Whether my house was strong enough to sustain 150 mph winds was another matter. We would soon find out.
I turned on the television and every channel was broadcasting Charley’s progress. Shelters in the area were listed on the screen as evacuation zones were announced. Then I saw the unimaginable. The cameras were showing people going into shelters with pets, and pets were not allowed in the shelters. Therefore, people would tie their dogs to trees and objects outside the building, in the open, exposed to the elements and deadly flying debris, leaving them completely unprotected.
Enraged I asked myself, what would possess these people to do something like that? I would never leave my pet outside to die in a hurricane! Trust me I would find a way to seek shelter with my pet or at least board them. There are shelters for pets as well.
I waited for the storm to make full impact and then it happened. The electricity was the first thing to go. Living in an area where there is no city water, I relied on well for my water. Without electricity to turn on the well pumps, I had not running water in the house. The telephone died, so I grabbed my cell phone to check on my son but the cell phone would not pick up any signal. I grabbed my battery-operated radio and turned it on.
The house became very dark and I would hear objects hitting the outside walls of my house. Eerie noises filled my home as I heard powerful and mighty winds wanting to tear my roof. I took a quick look out the window before finding a secured area in the house. When I looked out, the sky had changed from a dark gray to a frightening reddish hue. I grabbed my two dogs, a quilt, my radio, a flashlight and my Bible, and moved to a narrow hallway at the end of my house. I closed all the bedroom doors trying to stay away from windows. I opened my Bible and began to read and pray.
The noise from the wind and rain was deafening. The noise became so loud that it was as if a runaway freight train was going through my house. At one point, I thought the house was being ripped at the seams. I held my two dogs tight and cried out to God. Soon my quiet prayers turned into loud cries and supplication; however, they were all drowned by the noise.
I remember thinking “we are going to die.” Then I heard a loud boom coming from the outside. I was shaking from fear. Was it my roof? I was afraid to come out of the hallway to look, so I continued to pray. Then I heard another crashing sound outside as the powerful winds and rain pummeled my home. Thankfully, after a few hours, the noise began to die down as the rain and the wind slowed down.
I turned on the radio again and all I got was static. I managed to gather enough courage to venture out of the hallway. A sigh of relief came out of me when I saw not one window broken, and my roof was still intact. I looked out to my backyard through my sliding glass door and found parts of my well system and the air tanks had been ripped from their place. Debris was laying all over the yard.
Was it was over or was it the eye of the storm? The rain and the wind died down enough for me to allow the dogs out for a couple of minutes. Afraid of what I may find, I cautiously went outside to the front of the house and that is when I saw the results of the storm. I realized then how blessed we were to be alive.
I stood at the front of my house in shock, astounded by what I saw. Hurricane Charley was considered a small storm that moved very quickly, yet Charley was a very powerful and dangerous storm. If it weren’t for the fact that Charley moved quickly, the devastation would have been greater.
People’s roofs and aluminum sheds laid in heaps in the surrounding fields. Garbage and torn shingles littered the streets and land. I looked over to my trees and my mouth fell open. One tree, the larger of the two, had split in several sections. One part of the tree fell away from the house. Another part of the tree was still standing. While the other part fell on the roof over my garage.
The tree had managed to slide down the roof, taking a few shingles with it, denting the garage door, and finally falling on my two cars parked on the driveway. Surprisingly, the roof was not damaged because many of its smaller branches buffered the fall. The old broken down car parked next to my good car, took the brunt of the damage. My good car came out with only a few dents and scratches.
Amazingly, I managed to release my good car from under the fallen tree by cutting just one branch of the tree. The full weight of the branch had fallen on the old car. By cutting off the branch, I was able to free my car and drive it right out from underneath the tree.
The other tree on the other side of the house, the smaller one, split in half. One half was still standing while the other half had fallen on my fence, missing my roof by mere inches.
The next few days were agonizing. Temperatures and humidity rose to suffocating numbers, and mosquitoes multiplied in record numbers. No electricity and no running water made living unbearable.
People were going crazy at the home improvement stores and supermarkets. At one time, I stopped by the local Home Depot to get some PVC pipes and other items to repair the well water system, and the lines at the store were endless. People were inpatient, rude, and even uncompassionate towards others.
As I entered the store, I found an older man, who seemed to have a disability, trying with great difficulty to get into a battery-operated cart for the disabled. The man nearly passed out from the heat right in front of me. Everyone stood around looking and not one person cared or offered to help this man.
Angry with the onlookers, who were strong and healthy looking men just standing around, I walked over to the older man and offered my help. A while later, one woman, who was standing in line flushed and angry, disrespectfully turned to me and called me an idiot when I asked the clerk a question. It took all the self-control I had left to answer her calmly.
I could not believe the tempers, the impatience, and the lack of civility and compassion in people when disaster strikes. Everyone was looking out for themselves. Not one neighbor offered to help when they saw the trees over my house and car. Many just drove by gawking in awe and taking photos of the front of my house as if it was a tourists’ attraction.
Gratefully, I did see many people from other counties, who were not directly affected, come to help the community. Some had come from miles around and carried chainsaws, ice, and other items to help out neighborhoods that were severely hurt by the storm. Again, I was blessed, not only did I survived the storm but also these angels came right over my house to help me cut and remove the fallen trees.
There were nine tornadoes associated with Charley that passed through Florida during that season. Hurricane Charlie’s estimated cost in damages for Florida was $6.7 billion dollars, and it had claimed a total of 10 lives in the US.
Within nine days of Hurricane Charley’s destruction, Hurricane Frances plowed through the Atlantic Ocean as a Category 4 storm. Its next stop was Florida’s east coast. By the time Hurricane Frances reached Florida, it had been reduced to a Category 2 (96-110 mph, km/h 154-177).
This storm moved slower than Charley, allowing millions of Floridians to evacuate their homes. Nonetheless, the storm was larger than the last, and if it picked up strength, the damage would have been more devastating. Once again Southwest Florida prepared for the worse.
Fortunately, Hurricane Frances weakened as it moved slowly over land heading west northwestward towards the panhandle, stopping long enough over the Gulf of Mexico to stir a little more trouble to an already ravaged area.
This time I looked at what remained of the two trees in my front yard, and figured the smaller was of no threat to my house. On the other hand, the larger one, which had already been mostly cleared away by the good Samaritans, had a few branches still standing and two of them leaned dangerously over the house. The limbs were big enough to cause damage to my roof if they broke. My cell phone was working by then, so I called every tree service in the area but no one would come out. Everyone was busy with their own families making preparations for the next hurricane.
Electricity was just beginning to be restored in many areas when Frances hit Florida the first week of September. Immediately, we lost power again. Grocery stores and home improvement stores have had no time to replenish their merchandise, and again I could not find anyone that would help me put up the large heavy plywood on the windows and doors. This took real faith and a whole lot of guts to go through it a second time. I hunkered down again with my two faithful companions in my little hallway, and waited out the storm.
Frances took longer to pass through Florida but the winds and the rain were not as powerful as Charley’s. Thankfully, Frances was reduced to a tropical storm as it passed through Southwest Florida. This time I took no chances and parked my good car across the house in an open field, away from what remained of the tree. The house sustained no damage, but the force of the winds did finally split the tree trunk. Fortunately, the two branches did not fall on the roof, but the winds did break off the side mirrors of my car. The electricity was eventually restored to some areas but many where still struggling from the destruction of the first storm.
Hurricane Frances caused an estimated damage of $9 billion dollars in the US, with the death toll in Florida alone at five. There were 23 tornadoes in Florida associated with Frances. No sooner was Frances out of the way, when Hurricane Ivan begins to poke its ugly angry head.
Moving at a horrifying Category 5 storm (greater than 156 mph, greater than km/h 250), Ivan was leaving a high death toll and a path of destruction in its wake. Three days later after Hurricane Frances leaves, Hurricane Ivan heads towards the Gulf of Mexico, by now it had been reclassified as a Category 3 storm. As the storm neared Florida, I remember shouting “Not again!!” I did not know if my house would survive another hurricane.
I wanted to get in my car and leave the city, far away from the area. There was no time and where would I go? I knew no one on the opposite end, and the roads were dangerous. Once again, people braced themselves for another catastrophe. However, God was merciful and Hurricane Ivan did not zero in on Southwest Florida, and continued on its path towards Alabama.
Nonetheless, Ivan came very close to the southwest coast and we all felt his effects. Ivan caused extensive damage to coastal and inland areas of the United States. The damage this storm cost was estimated at over $7.11 billion dollars, with Florida alone at over $4 billion. The death toll in the US came at 25 deaths, with 14 deaths reported in Florida.
Just when you think the worst is over, a few days later Hurricane Jeanne enters the scene. Jeanne hit the central Florida’s east coast at a Category 3 storm (111-130 mph, km/h 179-209). As Jeanne moved across central Florida, it weakened to a tropical storm while centered near Tampa. Three deaths were reported in Florida. US damages estimates reached $6.9 billion dollars. Thankfully, the southwest coast was not greatly affected.
Nothing was normal for a long, long time. The people that had been evacuated, were not allowed back to their homes for a long while because of the devastation and destruction the hurricanes left. Many manufactured homes and trailer homes were completely destroyed leaving thousands homeless. Many of the older homes could not stand up to the force of the winds and were destroyed. Roads, bridges, and buildings were destroyed and Florida was left in devastation.
Many homes were not built to withstand storms of these magnitudes. In a study done by the University of Florida engineers, the study revealed “…that homes built under the Florida Building Code that became effective in 2002 sustained less damage on average than homes built between 1994 and 2001 under the Standard Building Code. Homes completed before 1994 fared worse.”
This means that many of the homes built prior to 2002, were and are still vulnerable to the ever increasing storms that plague Florida. My house is one of the many homes that were built in the early 90’s, and it was not built to sustain winds over 110 mph. But by the grace of God, my home withstood the forceful and deadly winds the storms brought. It has also survived several twisters throughout the years.
After the devastating 2004 hurricane season, insurance rates skyrocketed, and many people left Florida in fear of experiencing another hurricane. After this, I also felt tempted to leave Florida as well, but I did not. However, something changed in me during this trying time; my faith in God was strengthened. Would I stay around to see another devastating hurricane? My answer to that is, it depends on several things but first I would have to pray for guidance.
I survived the worst hurricane season I have ever experienced, and although it was a tough time for me, I came out alive and well. Unfortunately, the following year brought many devastating hurricanes to the US, such as Hurricane Katrina. Katrina was one of the deadliest and costliest hurricanes that ever hit the US. Damages were estimated at $81 billion, with the death toll at over 1,800. I still cry when I see documentaries of the devastation and the destruction it caused, and how many people and animals suffered and died.
Presently I continue to reside in Florida and to this day, I have not replaced the trees I lost. I am not sure I would want to. The meteorologists are predicting higher than usual storm activity this year and possibly in the future. After seeing all the recent catastrophic natural disasters happening in the US and around the world, it is hard to say if it’s safe to live anywhere anymore. Meanwhile, I continue to pray for everyone’s safety.
Video of Hurricane Charley in Southwest Florida
Video Source: UltimateChase.com
Permission by: Mike Theiss, June 9, 2011