Wow. I’ve just been through a hurricane!
Thankfully, we live far enough southward on the Gulf Coast of Florida to have been spared major damage from Hurricane Charley as it roared overhead. We actually made out really well compared to the city just 40 minutes north of us. And just a bit beyond that, in Punta Gorda, there’s total devastation. Homes destroyed, people killed. We’re talking about a Hurricane Andrew-style aftermath here. (Andrew was the infamous Category 5 storm that cut through the state in 1992, killing dozens and destroying many billions of dollars worth of property.)
This whole thing came up incredibly fast, didn’t even look like it was going to severely impact Florida until two days before, and left no one with any clue it was going to hit Punta Gorda until about three hours before the fact. Originally, Charley was forecast to make landfall in Tampa, but it didn’t happen. Instead, it veered east and took out southwest Florida directly. Tampa felt next to nothing.
Charlotte County got hit the worst. Their entire infrastructure is wiped out. Punta Gorda no longer has fire crews, a police force, an airport or hospitals—literally, the buildings for all of the above were destroyed. The hangars at the airport were flattened, and some unoccupied single-engine planes were actually propelled down the runway—like they were taking off—by the winds of the storm until they all piled up on top of each other in one big heap of twisted metal wreckage.
Cars were flipped over into piles at new car dealers, signs were uprooted and blown down, and peoples’ boats ended up in other peoples’ front yards. One poor dude tried to take cover in his house, was beaned with a flying microwave and then had his refrigerator fall on him when he tried to hide behind it. He lived, fortunately.
A little further south, down where we live, not much happened. We had winds reaching 65 miles an hour and a good amount of rain, but very little damage. Right outside our home, some of our small trees and hedges were blown over, but not much else—our screens are intact, and even the doormat stayed put. (I admit I forgot to bring it in.) The hurricane shutters that came with our house may not have saved us from any direct damage, but they sure were great to have—without them, if anything had come flying at our windows, we could have had major problems. Those shutters are stamped with information that they’re built to withstand the impact of a 120 MPH “missile,” which obviously does not mean of the ordnance variety, but something like a clay pot—such as the ones the idiot neighbors across the street left outside to get broken—certainly counts.
As the storm was coming in, my wife and I were watching it all unfold on TV. There truly are some stupid people down here (but then, I’ve made that abundantly clear in my previous posts, haven’t I?). The news crew went down to the beach to check it out and saw a whole bunch of people fumbling around down there, all geeked about the big storm coming. The entire city government and emergency crews were evacuating from the coastal areas so they shouted at the people to get out as well, while they still could. A surfer babe walked up to the camera and said “This sucks, the waves aren’t even that good. This is really nothing special.” Shortly afterwards, one of the other surfers was slammed against the pier by a big wave and had to be pulled to safety by a firefighter. Retards!
I got a good laugh out of another beachgoer. About an hour later, as things were really getting crazy, the same reporter was down near the beach about ready to get the hell out, and as they were leaving they saw a surfer guy coming down to the beach with his board. “Excuse me, but what are you doing here?” asked the reporter. The surfer dude responded, “I was planning on going out there, but the wind is just too fucking strong, man!” The reporter shoved him away, grumbling, “Sorry, thanks.” Hahahaha! Live, uncensored TV!
The power went out yesterday afternoon around 3:30, just as the storm’s feeder bands came swirling in, and did not return until 8:30 p.m. Fortunately, we were some of the very first in the region to get power back, as we took a short drive up to my parents’ house to survey the property and noticed that just a quarter mile away from our house, everything was still pitch black. The power went out again this afternoon, which unfortunately trapped us ouside of our house for a time, but it’s now back on—hopefully for good. Cable (and therefore cable Internet) took a bit longer, but was back on by noon today. We never lost water or phones, which was good. Cell phone service always sucks, propbably because Verizon is just utter horse shit, but it really went to hell during the storm and is still pretty lousy. A cell tower probably collapsed somewhere. Some of the local radio stations had their antennae and dishes blow away, and only a few stations were left able to broadcast after Charley went by. It was kinda creepy, driving through our blacked-out community last night with only one or two channels cutting through all the static on the radio.
Now starts the big cleanup operation. The folks in Charlotte County have their work cut out for them. Even though there was not much damage to speak of down here, we’ve got lots to do. My wife and I spent the afternoon taking the hurricane shutters down and putting some of our stuff back outside, then tomorrow I’m going down to my parents’ house in the morning to remove their shutters. This is long and tedious work, not overly strenuous but certainly exhausting due to the fact that the heat index down here is 110+ degrees and you feel like collapsing after just a couple hours of working out in the sun.
Absurdly, there are two more tropical storms already forming in the east Atlantic, and one is forcasted to take the same initial track that Charley just did. So, we’ll definitely be keeping an eye on those. Since I’ve been in Florida I’ve witnessed a lot of lax attitudes regarding hurricanes, but I doubt I’ll be seeing those attitudes again—at least for a while. Charley was a big wake-up call for us down here. The SWFL region hasn’t had a major storm hit since Hurricane Donna in 1960, so I think a lot of current residents just figured it could never happen. Well, surprise! It just did.
After I put some of the patio furnitue back outside tonight, I’m going to play a celebratory game of Doom—which I haven’t had time for since last Monday. Woohoo! Demons and hellions, here I come!