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Hurricane Charley

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Queen of the Walkabout

Joined: 15 Jan 2004
Articles: 35
Comments: 1
 Posted: 8/24/2004, 7:23 pm

I have returned from Florida and the whole deal there- My parents are well and coping, I helped clean up and now its a waiting game for the insurance company, roofers, tree removal, Florida Power and Light, and the telephone system is just up and running.

Here are my notes on the road......

We live in a great and beautiful country-- I needed to appreciate the beauty to negate the stress--

Las Cruces- crossing the Rio Grande, the playas near Deming, the fields of yellow flowers, rolling green hills of West Texas...
The crumbling neat old buildings of El Paso, the hispanic flair; how lovely Texas is and the flowing streams-- Big Joshua Creek, the Guadalupe, the North Fork; a favorite place name- Hollering Woman Creek near San Antonio. Wonder how it got that name.
Other things-- the confusing interstate exits, you need a map for them at least in Texas-- and La, Ala and Miss don't believe in road signs giving distances- I guess its enough you know where you're at.

Driving soothes me-day 1 I pull into Houston near 11:00pm, about 80mph + on cruise all day, only stops to gas up and bathroom. Eat on the go. I almost fall asleep thru San Antonio--I'm very tired. The Cherokee runs like a champ. Its near perfect conditions to travel, a bit overcast, cool and I do not need to use the air conditioning. Almost 1100+/- miles today.

Up and out the next day- not as early as I like. Drive steadily, beautiful am with mist rising over the Louisiana bayou's--my favorite named Blue Elbow, all the names here. The Vieuxx Carre', Baton Rouge, Grosse Tete, Atchafalaya, Bayou Teche; the state here is one of bridges- the water is everywhere and the interstate a green tunnel with views down the water ways. The water is greenish soup, and the trees drip with spanish moss. Thru New Orleans- the hot sultry hedonistic city I have a past with-- I look down on the national cemetery with its old carved mausoleums.

When I hit I 75 main north/ south artery for this side of Florida things change- Lots of vehicles--Disaster Relief, the RedCross, lots of the tree people- Asplundh and others--, electical contractors, generators on huge semis, a quadrant of green vehicles proclaiming "upholstery cleaners"; glass and window people, and folks just like me, going to find loved ones or going home. Lots of barbecue grills in the back of pickups- it seems like the worlds biggest barbecue- I realize it's to provide something to cook on since there is no power.

Its getting dark and I am disappointed to pull off, but there is no way to navigate the changed landscape at night. I gain a room courtesy of a bunch of national guardsmen. They are just back from Iraq. One quips--"From one disaster to another; at least at this one people aren't shooting at us and we get to serve the people paying our salaries."

I leave early- I have to count the interstate exits once I get close. It is pre dawn, a harbinger of light. All the interstate road signs are down. The tall light poles at the exit are bent over as if some giant hand swatted them. I see the exit come up and take it. I turn off and go a short distance to the street that will take me to my parents subdivision. The Racetrack gas station had all its pumps blown off the islands. They are wrapped in yellow caution tape. I proceed cautiously, the road is clear for the most part, a couple of power poles blown over cause me to do some impromptu swamp 4 wheeling. I can't see much but lots of debris; it seems most buildings are standing, some without roofs. Lots of trees down. All the street signs are over but it seems have been picked up for the most part and placed near the appropriate cross streets. They are hard to read and I go on memory. My parents bought their place here in Port Charlotte in 1986; they were snow birds for a while and now have retired here full time. I have visited here a lot and know my way very well.

I pull into their driveway and park. The house looks ok. The whole area looks not too bad. Older homes built to code here were to withstand 120mph winds, the newer homes post Hurricane Andrew in 92 are built to stand 140mph winds. Most of those look untouched. Winds for Charles were clocked at peak 157mph. My mother comes out to take her morning walk and is surprised and pleased to see me. Then my father comes out. He looks tired and shaken up. He got wacked in the side of the head pulling some of the collapsed metal pool cage out of the pool. He too is glad to see me. They are in their 80's but both active and in pretty good shape. I tour the house. The garage door is warped, they got it up but will not close. Several holes in the roof, shingles off and multiple leaks in the house. One window broken, the living room carpet is wet. The small pool lost its "cage" a fine mesh metal everyone has here to protect from mosquitos and leaf litter. A large tree is in the pool and damaged a corner of the house. In the yard trees are down and some fruit trees laying over.

Its light now and I carry some stuff in from the Jeep. They have nothing to heat water on so I brought two camp stoves and cartridges, a boil water order is on for any tap water usage. I show them how to use them and they are pleased to have hot water and able to heat up food. Thankfully there is some water pressure so toilets can flush and they can take cold showers. I brought some tarps and we use those at the one window and I go up on the roof and patch a couple of holes.

A fact of post disasters--long lines. You cannot call out or in--you have to drive or walk to find out if someone is ok or a business is operating or was blown to smithereens. It takes a while for the big machines of recovery to crank up. Long lines at the insurance company, slow driving in town. Debris, no lights so every one is a four way stop, lots of rubberneckers, recovery vehicles flooding the area, the power company, police, fire rescue, the National Guard. They set up and hand out bottled water and bagged ice. I had brought two coolers of ice, some non perishable food, 6 gallons of water, and a 5 gal Jerry can full of gas. There are no open gas stations, you have to go about 25-30 miles to get some fuel. The big box stores- Home Depot, Sams; run large diesel generators to open partially. We go get a 10 HP generator and load it in the back of the Cherokee. It'll run the refrigerator and some fans.

The Hurricane eye passed over my parents neighborhood, the backside of the storm did the most damage. Local businesses nearer the coast got hammered. Punta Gorda is pretty much destroyed, as are most of the mobile home parks. Driving around to all the places you get an eyefull. Some houses look fine, then next door the house is a shell with everything blown out of it. The power poles are over, some on houses, some on cars, some in the road. You get used to driving over all the power lines. Initially it is estimated 4-5 weeks before the lights are on; later its upgraded to 2 weeks. Some of the power lines are shredded. They will have to rebuild and restring all that wire. The cell towers are down; no cell service; whether its Verizon, AT&T, Nextel, whatever.

My days consist of of working on our roof and our neighbors; picking up shingles in a bucket. I get wicked proficient with a chain saw, drag the tree limbs to the curb. The third day I think a garbage truck appeared, people got out and clapped and cheered. Then a mail truck!!! This is great! We use the Cherokee to pull up and prop the fruit trees and shovel some soil over the exposed roots; maybe they'll make it.

More jobs, cleaning up the small debris and running around. We go to the next small town to the north, Venice, to buy some extra gas cans to keep the generator running, some more tarps, some food, and a couple more fans, and a camp lantern I forgot to bring, I use my headlamp.

The biggest problem now is the friggin heat and humidity. Its' incredible, you sweat all the time even sitting still and shade is no relief. Working on a roof at 97 degress with 98% humidity is not fun, let me tell you. I shouldn't whine, I left that and sit now in air conditioning. These elderly folks have a hard time of it in this heat. We use wet towels and take cold showers. Some go out in their small pools, even though they now resemble swamps with the debris in there.

I walk every morning for an hour. The first day I was just stunned and horrifed by what I saw, by the third day I was numb to it. Some beautiful homes in ruins, lovely old trees torn to shreds. Being a retirement area the folks here are not up to hard labor. Some of them this is all they have. One couple is particularly helpless. She is disabled with a stroke and he is near 90. A younger neighbor goes to help them out. I see some white haired men up on a roof. My parents neighbor went up on his roof the day after the storm and fell off and broke his leg. My heart goes out to all these people; it is difficult to see this hardship.

There is beauty in everything however small it can be. No TV or computer, now neighbors interact and help each other out, reconnecting more. Life is simple, food , shelter, companionship. The wonderful night sky, without the street lights dimming the show, animals seem ok, I see a hawk seize a water snake, a bobcat with large study legs; the frogs like the tree in our pool and ham it up in the evening. The local waterway alligator basks on the bank; he has eluded capture for years and seems to know he is safe in showing himself, he must be 10 feet if he's an inch.

I do as much as I can and would like to stay longer but decide to head back to work. The neighbors are looking out for each other and the places are habitable, unlike some folks nearer the coast. My parents were lucky. They say they'll fix the house up and then sell it. They are unsure if they'll come out west, but they have visited and like Tucson, they also like St. George , Utah. I don't take many pictures; it seems too personal for the suffering I've seen.

At least I know if I quit my day job I could have a future as a long haul trucker. I highly recommend the 2000 Jeep Cherokee-- I punished that thing with long high speed driving and it ran like silk.

It's not over for the people in that gulf coast area, my prayers are with them. I hope I never have to see anything like that again in my lifetime.
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