Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Surviving Frances

Yep. I'm back. Survived Frances. Still no power (they say it may be another week) or phones.

How, you might ask, am I blogging? My employer rented a conference room in a local hotel that has power, since our office is also powerless. So I'm sitting here, after work, blogging. My employer doesn't mind -- a fringe benefit. Also, I brought my two dogs here. The heat at home was really affecting Good Old Boy, the retriever whose health has been suffering. Coworkers have been great, watching the dogs while I ate supper, etc.

Here's what I would have logged the rest of the weekend, if I coulda:

Sunday, approximately 2 a.m.

The noise wakes me up -- the wind is beating on the windows like the balled-up fists of a monster who wants in. I wonder if I should move into another room, since my bedroom faces east, where the wind is coming from.

How futile my efforts to tape the windows seem now. If Frances wants to send glass flying everywhere, she surely can. I doubt she'd even notice the tape.

I lie in bed, waiting for the sound of breaking glass.

Sunday, 5 a.m.

I'm awakened again, this time by the light in the living room flickering. It fades almost to nothingness. Rebounds. Fades again.

"Please stay on," I beg.

The light resurges, only to die, this time completely and finally.

Sunday, 7:30 a.m.

The winds have died down a bit. I barely crack the kitchen window, sending a blast of air through the room, then assemble the gas camp-stove, bring a pot of water to boil, and pour it through the grounds in a coffee basket to make a pot of hot coffee, then close the window. While the water is heating, I put batteries in the radio.

The radio reports Frances is moving slowly. Frances is wobbling. Frances is zigging north, now south. Frances made landfall as a "high" Category 2 hurricane, in the darkness. She is creeping across the Florida peninsula, moseying, taking her time, a diva who enjoys keeping everyone waiting. She is fickle and temperamental.

Thank God she wasn't a Category 4 storm.

Jack the Brat has lost interest in Frances. He plays kitten games, stretched out on his back, bouncing a little cloth toy on his feet like a seal tossing a rubber ball.

Imagine Puss 'N Boots (the Shrek 2 version), speaking in campiest Antonio Banderas tones:
"'Urricane? I muck your 'urricane. I play weez my toyz. I don't care about no stinkin' 'urricanez."

A little while later, Frances is throwing more punches, and Jack is hiding under the bed. Alongside him in hiding is his trusty cohort, Elvis, a large black-and-white tuxedo cat.

Sunday, 2 p.m.

What's this on my ceiling? I shine the flashlight on the area for a better look. Two narrow streaks of moisture. Oh, great. (Monday, I check the roof, and Frances had partially succeeded in prying up part of the flashing to the roof vents.)

The radio is my companion, my link to the outside world this day. I listen to a couple of different stations, getting updates on Frances' position, community responses, and callers' questions.

I keep hearing cracking sounds around the neighborhood, the sound of trees breaking, as tropical-storm winds continue. The top of a tall pine in my yard broke during the night. Somehow, it manages to keep its tenuous hold on the tree through all the wind.

Sunday, 4 p.m.

In one of the lulls, I go out into the yard with the dogs again. They're too scared to go out by themselves -- they seem to think my standing over them while they do their business will keep them safe.

I look toward the well, which used to be in the back corner of the yard, and wonder where it is. Then I realize a neighbor's tree has come across the fence and hidden the well.

The wind starts to kick again, and all three of us run for the shelter of the house.

Monday afternoon

Two coworkers come by to check on me. The main roads are pretty passable now, they say. I decide to make a run myself, gathering information for the newspaper. The appeal of riding around in my car with the air-conditioner blasting is not lost on me, either. My Australian shepherd, The Best Dog in the World (Betsy), road-trip lover, comes with me.

We may not have electricity (and thus, air-conditioning and refrigeration) restored here for another week. Has the power company decided to wait and see what Hurricane Ivan does before bothering with more repairs?

I had been feeling a bit sorry for myself before this trek, with tree damage, roof damage, no power, no phone — but no longer. My town literally looked like a bomb had gone off over it.

I saw the source of yesterday's cracking sounds. Tree after tree in my neighborhood was broken in half.

It strikes me that Providence has been at work, in this storm, as in Charley. So many huge trees that could have fallen on houses and injured or killed people fell away from homes, instead. It's too much to be coincidence.

Still, trees had exploded all over roads, houses, power lines. Several streets in my neighborhood are blocked by huge, downed oaks. At one intersection, someone, I'm not sure if man, or more likely, Mother Nature, had taken downed power lines and looped them over other power lines, so they were off the road.

People stand in their driveways here and there, trying to catch a cell phone signal. Others are piling up yard waste by the roadside. The buzz of chain saws fill the air.

You know it's a disaster in Central Florida when the convenience stores are closed, and many of them are.

Downtown, a restaurant's awning is torn apart. Business signs are blasted apart. Fascia and siding are ripped from buildings. Broken trees deface the university’s campus.

The grocery stores and the Marts are open and busy, but have no ice -- a hot commodity when there's nothing else to keep perishables from spoiling.

The southbound traffic on the main drag is nonstop with people returning to check their homes. A long line winds around McDonald's, where the drive-through is open. In fact, every open restaurant is doing great business. So is every operating gas station.

At a little apartment complex, a group of neighbors sit outside, relaxing and talking, as chicken and meat sizzle on the grill.

"You might as well get it all out of the refrigerator and cooked, before it spoils," they explain. It's much more pleasant outside, in the breeze, than inside sweltering buildings, too.

They have the right spirit. A little thing like a hurricane won't keep them down.

I go home and get the porch furniture and grill out of the garage, and the nearly-thawed steak out of the freezer.

I'm grateful damage to my home is minimal, and we're all safe.

Now we'll have to watch Ivan.


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