03 September 2009

Frances




On September 5, 2004, J and I endured the wrath of Hurricane Frances.
Thirty-six people lost their lives.
That summer was dubbed "The Mean Season".
The state of Florida took the brunt of four hurricanes.
Charlie, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne.

When Hurricane Frances was forming, FEMA was already letting Floridians on the east coast know, it was going to pack quite a punch.
The Monday before we began packing everything that had any sentimental meaning.
We also made sure that any papers of importance (birth certificates etc.)
were packed together, in a small safe that we could carry with us in the car.


I remember how it felt after we had cleared the property
of anything that could become
a flying missile,
had packed our SUV to the gills,
and loaded beloved pets,
And then J cut the power to our home.
I knew in my heart we would never live there again.

It was a beautiful, sunny Florida day. Hard to imagine that somewhere in the ocean,
a storm was raging that would hang over South Florida for 3 days.

A Hurricane that would cover some 400 miles across!
The size of the eye would span 70 miles, and at landfall
the top wind speed would reach 125 mph.
We headed to a friends home that I worked with many years in the horse business. She had recently added a new roof and siding that were made to withstand hurricane winds.

Although her home was in the path also,
(like most of the east coast of Florida)
it wouldn't hit the
area like it would our county,
one hour away.
Hurricane Frances affected the area for more than 30 hours.

It is hard to understand just what going through a hurricane
is like unless you have experienced it.
I do know now, that if given a choice,
I would choose Hurricane over Tornado. It may sound odd or even morbid.

But a Tornado comes up out of nowhere, giving it's victims no warning.
We had days to prepare and carry out a plan.


I remember speaking to a friend from Indiana on the phone.
She had called just to chit-chat. I explained that I could not talk, as we were
preparing to pack and leave. Her remark was one of laughter.
"You don't have to worry, you don't live on the beach."
We lived 7 miles from the beach.

No one, in south Florida, was exempt from Frances!


Buying supplies was an adventure. From plywood, batteries, water, toilet paper, food that
could be kept in a cooler, canned goods, charcoal, ice, gas, to making sure you had a months
supply of medications. With all the conveniences we have in our lives,
when thrown into a situation of roughing it, it boggles the mind when faced with this kind of situation.
And it's not just your family out hunting for these things.

It is 1,000's of other people hunting for these items also.


We spent the hurricane with my friend, her parents, our 130lb dog, Zeke,
her Jack Russell, Bubba,
13 cats, (hers and ours!) and 3 ferrets.
Makes you want to sing the 12 Days of Christmas doesn't it?

...And a partridge in a pear tree!



On Friday, September 4, we lost power in the early morning. J boarded up the home.

We prepared the garage to be our cooking area with a Coleman stove. We had
five coolers full of ice and bottled water. You learn real quick to ration those
commodities!

That night we ate by candlelight. Listened to the radio with the help of batteries.
This hurricane thing was going to be no big deal. :o
By the next morning the winds were raging. We ate and read. Ate and read.
Ate and...well you get the idea.

By that evening the house shook and rattled.
Being in a home with every window boarded up, and
no ounce of light whatsoever streaming in, is quite unsettling to say the least.
And very, very, hot. In the low nineties that night. Oy.

We used a small Coleman light "in a common area" that we made.
We each had a flashlight. But conserving our batteries was important.

We huddled around the radio to listen to whatever info was given.
The newscasters did a great job of giving a play by play to an audience
that sat in the dark.
As the hurricane made it's way, the man on the radio kept emphasizing,
that when the howling outside ceased, it meant the eye was passing over.
Do not be tempted to step outside. As the eye would pass over,
it bring with it the back end of the hurricane.
This hurricane was moving at 5 mph. It took forever.
And it was the size of Texas.
It eventually made it's way all the way up to Quebec!
And once again the house would sound as if any minute, it
was being lifted off it's foundation.

The eye passed over us at 11:30.

The house stopped shaking and rattling.

The wind ceased. It was absolute quiet outside.

The weather service kept repeating,

"Do not go outside, the Eye of the storm is passing over."

He must have said this 100 times.
The back end of the hurricane is the most deadly.
When the eye passed over, and the raging winds and rain
picked up again, you could literally hear the trees crashing to the ground.
One after another.
And debris flying threw the air, being hurdled onto the house.
We waited until after sunrise to make our way outside.
We were being warned of downed power lines, snakes,
and alligators that had been swept out of swollen canals.
It didn't look like the same neighborhood. There wasn't one home
that didn't sustain major damage. Except my friends!
Not one roof tile or piece of siding was missing.
That pricey remodel she had done with the hurricane proof
exterior was well worth the major bucks spent!
The landscaping was another issue, but of course it didn't matter.
We were all safe.
The hurricane was over. But that was just the beginning of what set out to be
many trying months that followed.
Six million people were without power!
Power companies from all the U.S. were waiting for the signal, that they could
make their way into Florida.
We so take for granted how our entire existence depends upon electricity.
The home phones did not work because the telephone lines were literally gone.
For hundreds of miles.
You couldn't use a cell phone because the cell towers were gone.
You couldn't charge a cell phone because there was no electricity.
Making sure we had enough cash on hand was a must.
Obviously, no banks were open. And ATMs had to have power.
Fuel trucks could not make their way in until the power companies could start their jobs.
Debris was blocking everyone from being able to begin their jobs.
Even as fuel trucks were arriving, they sat parked. Until power could be restored,
allowing gas pumps to work.
The same for grocery stores.
Even days later if they were able to open, using a back-up generator,
there was very little food. Only non-perishables. Nothing fresh.
And you had to pay in cash. Since phone lines and Internet were down
nothing electronic could be processed.
And of course well pumps did not work. Water treatment plants had to be repaired.
(We did not have working toilets!)
Ice and water became a hot commodity.
Each day J and I would make our way
in search of these items.
Taking our coolers with us. If a store said they were expecting a shipment.
We waited. With a hundred other people!
When we did venture out, the National Guard was everywhere.
What an experience to shop in the dark for canned goods with armed soldiers
watching every ones moves.
There was a curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. each night.
Looters ran rampant. Even in the subdivision where we were staying.
J spray painted a piece of ply wood and placed it in the front yard.
"LOOTERS WILL BE SHOT AND QUESTIONED LATER."
You never knew who was lurking in the dark.
We were finally able to return to our home after a week.
Not to stay. Just to survey the damage.
Taking I-95 north, we set out. It was totally free of billboards and interstate signs.
If you had not known the area, there would have been
nothing to guide you as far exits.
Getting off our exit, we waited in a line of cars to show our drivers license to the National Guard. Proof that we had a reason to be in that area.
We were not prepared.
Our road looked like a war zone. Literally.
Homes I had never seen before, set behind beautiful old, oak trees were
now in plain view.
The landscape of this area had been changed forever.
Our home was literally set in the beautiful groves. Down a two mile sand road,
our driveway was a half mile long. Surrounded by hundreds of orange and grapefruit trees.
There was no fruit left on the trees. It was all rotting, laying in ankle deep water.
The stench was unbelievable. The mosquito's were in the thousands.
The house was in ruins.
It took a few days to clear out everything. A mountain of "trash" (what used to be our furnishings etc.) was piled at the end of our driveway.
By keeping in touch with former neighbors we know it took
six months for the trash removal on our road for every ones home.
It took two months for power to be restored and three months for phone service.
Hurricane Ivan hit on September 16, 2004.
Hurricane Jeanne hit September 25, 2004.

The groves at the St. Lucie/Indian River County lines where our home was.


The day after.











The day before. Frances was just getting geared up.








This pic breaks my heart.

















Escaped boats!
I hope they all had insurance!
A familiar scene everywhere. These guys were treated like
Hollywood celebrities! Power companies from all the U.S.
could be seen working day and night.
What a nightmare of job they had, too!


Major frustration.

We waited for five hours for gas.
Only to be turned away because they ran out.

We would sit for hours to get our $10.00 limit!

Just like these folks, we scouted areas daily in search of water.

Disaster relief teams were a God-send!
I cannot say enough about the good works and kindness of these
wonderful people.
The Red Cross fed us a hot meal several times.
Anything that did not come out of a can, tasted like heaven!
This said it all.



We moved to Tennessee the day Hurricane Jeanne was expected to make landfall.
I am happy to be writing this from my front porch in the mountains.

xo,
















































































































































9 comments:

Heart2Heart said...

Misha,

WOW, never living through a Hurricane, and only watching them remnants on TV through what the news portrays of them is nothing compared to what you shared.

I am just thankful you all survived and no one was injured. You were able to move away to Tennessee and begin a much simpler life down on the farm.

Love and Hugs ~ Kat

Elle Bee said...

Misha, that is so stinkin' insane, I can't even think of anything intelligent to say. I am just in awe of what you went through. Your account gave me goosebumps and shivers up my shins. I did not even think of some of the things that happen after a hurricane! And the lack of phone use has me rattled--especially no ability to call 911 in the middle of the night if someone is raiding your home! The empty store shelves looked so erie. I can't imagine shopping next to the National Guardsmen! WOW. What a scary experience. And how heartwrenching to lose your home. I can't even imagine. I'm so glad you were safe. Thanks for sharing this.
Elle

Flat Creek Farm said...

Unbelievable! Months or longer to get your lives back on track post-hurricane... can't even imagine. So glad you survived, and ultimately found your wonderful home in Tennessee! -Tammy

Rural Revival said...

Misha,

What a story. It left me speechless. You relayed your experience so well, I really could get a small sense of what you all must have been going through, and I don't think I had ever considered even half of what possibly could happen before, during or afterwards. I don't think I'll ever get the image of the fruit floating in water out of my mind for a very long time. I always see Indian River grapefruit in our grocery store but never have I put the two together.

It's not often a hurricane makes it up the coast and inland to my area but that one did and I do remember driving to Toronto for a meeting in that storm. Your perspective has put a whole new spin on it for me.

Thanks for sharing your experience with us in such a thought provoking post. I won't forget it.

Be well. ~Andrea~

Cheryl and Carman said...

I have nothing to say but I am shocked! I remember when Florida was hit over and over and over again, but did not see the aftermath...I'm so sorry!!! So glad you and yours were safe!

Lucy said...

This is the most interesting post. I haven't been able to blog or get blogs lately because of computer grief but this morning I could get on. I'm saving this for personal reference. I don't live in hurricane country but have always thought I should be prepared more with food storage than I am. Especially water. I don't have anything on hand. Just daily this and that. I gotta say though...the snakes and alligators would've put me over the edge.

Oz Girl said...

I am sure that wherever you lived in FL was just as gorgeous as the farm you now have in TN... but I sure understand your desire to get away from those nasty hurricanes. And I also would agree with you -- hurricanes are much more reliable than a tornado!

I can't imagine being w/o power that long. The longest since I moved here to KS has been 5 days -- I never experienced that long when I lived in Ohio! 5 days was far too long - I can't imagine weeks!!!

Glad that you and yours were all safe during this storm, and amen to your decision to move to TN. You have such a gorgeous farm! :)

Mary said...

Holy Crap! I am so glad you got outa there. I have never come even remotely close to experiencing anything like that and I hope I never do. My gosh!

Bianca said...

Holu Cow... It's a wonder there were not more fatallities... So glad you were in that great house of your friend. You tell it very well too, gives me a good idea of the situation, although you only know what it's like when you've been through something simular.
That's an experience I can do without. Hurricanes, tornadoes, all kinds of extreme weather; that's one of a few good sides of the Netherlands, we don't have any of those here.
Thank you for sharing (again)