Location: Palm Beach County, Florida, United States

Recently have been told I look like Mary Ann from Gilligan's Island. I hadn't heard that in years, but that is a good place to start as to what I look like, although she had a better bod. I have three boys and have been married for 13 years. Born of a Navy family, in Hawaii, one Mom, one Dad, one sister and one brother. The eldest of three children. BS in Applied Mathematics. Consider Pensacola my home town although I moved every 2-3 years of my life growing up. Currently work in the aerospace industry in an engineering position while being a Mom. Of Celtic heritage and very proud of it.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Florida: All About our 'Season'

This is Hurricane Country. If you live in it, know someone who lives in it, know someone who wants to move here or are just curious; pull up a comfy chair because I’m going to give you an education. Why am I an expert? I spent my entire life in the tropics. I know Hurricanes and I know Typhoons. I know Mother Nature and to know her is to know you should fear her wrath. If you choose to skip all this, at the bottom I have my worst fear.

What Hurricanes Give Us
South/Central Florida is sea level. We have no hills or mountains. Those of us who are runners, walkers or cross trainers, die when we exercise anywhere North of Ocala. Those hills are something we are not accustomed to. Because of our sea level altitude, we do not have cellars. If I picked up a shovel and started to dig in my backyard, I WOULD hit water and it wouldn’t take all that long. Those of us on well water, we worry about salt water intrusion. Perhaps that is something everyone worries about, no matter where they are located in the US on well, but for us, it is a very real concern.

With a hurricane, you get everything that Mother Nature can dole out except mudslides and earthquakes. You can’t have a mudslide without hills and give Good Ol’ Mother Nature time, and I’m sure she’ll figure out a way to give us quakes.

We get fires, there are thunderstorms with ‘canes. We have been particularly parched down here, a virtual tinderbox, so lightning scares me. Our fire fighters are busy folks down here during a drought. So when a ‘cane comes through parched-land, it doesn’t matter how much water it’s dumping, a good lightning strike is still scary, especially since you don’t have anyone to put it out. During a ‘cane, there is no calling 911.

Tornados are spawned. Those scare me the most. Tammi referenced them as she was enduring Charley and I didn’t really say anything to her about it while she was going through it, I didn’t want to freak her out more, but it’s the Big T’s (as she calls them) that can be the most deadly. Did I mention we don’t have cellars? We also don’t have sirens telling us one is coming. And you can’t hear them during a ‘cane. I know someone who was hiding in their house during Andrew, their home took a hit by a tornado, they never heard it.

And of course, you get the deadly wind. If your house is not protected properly, you can lose your roof. As long as your house is sealed, you are fine. The minute that seal is broached, you need to do some serious praying. Hence, we have hurricane shutters. If a window is blown out, the wind gets up under your roof and tears it off. I went down to Miami after Andrew as my husband’s kid brother and wife lived down there. I saw it happen all over. Roofs missing, roof debris in other people’s yards, a real mess.

Then there is the rain, storm surges and flooding. It’s just a mess all over.

It is difficult for us to get home owner’s insurance down here. Nobody wants to insure us, but we can find it. It is expensive as hell. I pay $4000 a year for my insurance. There are separate riders to cover ‘canes. In the case of my insurance, my deductible changes if it’s a named storm. No longer is it a $1000 deductible, but now it is 2% of the value of my home. Nice, eh? That’s a lot of money, for the median home in Palm Beach County is over $250,000. That’s a $5000 deductible right there.

It is cheaper in your insurance if we have shutters, but shutters are expensive. We spent $7000 on panel shutters three years ago. They’re nothing fancy. They’re cast aluminum that exceed code for impact and they bolt to my house so wind can’t get under them. They are heavy and a real pain in the neck to put up. I couldn’t do it without a struggle, by myself. If there’s a good wind whipping, it’s like holding on to an aluminum sail. I dread when my husband is out of town and there’s a storm coming. My worst nightmare. When you’re in a house with shutters, you can see NOTHING. It’s like living in a tin can. It’s very creepy and slightly claustrophobic. I could never have been a submariner. No light gets through and it’s an odd feeling knowing that all hell is breaking loose and you have no real sense about what is going on around you.

We have all sorts of items we have to have on hand. Canned food you wouldn’t normally ever think of eating, is now something deemed a necessity. Parmalat milk? Yup. I have it. Chef Boyardee? Yup, cans of it. Vienna Sausages? What kind of meat is that anyway? We have that too. Of course we have gallons and gallons of water, but I know it’s not enough. They say to keep something like 8 gallons per person, per day. Hello? There are 5 people here. That would require 40 gallons for one day. Yeah, right. I have 5-10 and I fill up my bathtubs with water. When our power goes out, we can’t flush our toilets, we have no water since we’re on well water and our pumps don’t work without power. So that water is used for the bathrooms. (Yeah, I'll up that to 20 this week. I'm a little wigged out.)

Now this is an area that really pisses me off. On the TV they were saying, “Tampa. Tampa. Tampa.” I guarantee you that behind the scenes, the guys modeling this on the Cray are yelling, “Not Tampa! Around that, give or take 100 miles!” You cannot model a hurricane 100%, yet that is what the public expects. There are no controls, this is Mother Nature. They can give you an idea. That is all. From that idea, you decide whether you are in the zone or not, and that is what the computer gives you, A ZONE, IN RED. All those people in Ft. Myers and Punta Gorda, they should have been prepared because they were in the PROJECTED ZONE. It is a large swath. Modeling of any kind is not perfect. You are only as good as the data you get and when that data continues to change, then your predictions change. Charley turned early. They could not predict that. Andrew did the same thing.

Lesson learned… when they predict it’s coming, you HAVE to be ready as if you’re in the path. If you’re near the red zone of predictions, you assume you are IN the red zone.

My husband and I were totally prepared except for having put up our shutters. We stayed GLUED to the TV looking for when Charley would make its turn. If it turned any earlier than it did, we would have broken out the shutters and bolted up… Just.In.Case. And we’re located on the other coast.

Those people staying in their trailers… I don’t know what to say. Every time a hurricane comes we get some nutjobs that think they need to have a big frickin’ party and ride it out. That’s just plain dumb in a trailer, and I don’t care what Category it is. We also get those territorial types that refuse to leave their homes when they’ve been told to evacuate. I don’t get it and I never will. I’m not saying they deserved to die, but when people refuse to leave when they’ve been told to evacuate, in particular if they’re in a daggum trailer, I’m going to chalk this one up to Darwin, cold as it is. ‘Nuff said.

And let me touch on evacuation…. What a frickin’ mess. We do not have enough roads that go north. Suddenly you have millions of people trying to get the hell out of dodge, but only a few access roads. I live ‘out west’ for that reason. I won’t get evacuated. I bought shutters to protect us as best I can. Evacuation off of a Peninsula is a damn mess AND, it’s about to get worse. It’s nothing like a big ass hurricane to hit Florida for every new or complacent person to get the ‘Come To Jesus’ and next time , EVERYONE panics and wants to evacuate. Everyone, whether they are in an evacuation zone or not. Yeah, caller, we’re in trouble. Trust me, I get that urge to flee too. It’s scary as hell.

My Worst Fear
Now I’m going to send you over for a second to Castle Argghhh!, where John posted a picture as Charley was crossing the state. Look at that black band to the right of the hurricane. I was lucky enough to fall in there. See that little dot that says, “Belle Glade”? I live just NE of there. Belle Glade… Pahokee… not names you know a lot about, but let me assure you, the people that live there are some of the poorest people in this country. (I said, COUNTRY, not county.) As Palm Beach is the home to the uber wealthy, Belle Glade and Pahokee are the home to the uber Poor. That is where our immigrant farm workers live. Our orange, cane, and vegetable pickers live in little shanty type towns. Dirt poor is not a strong enough word. Squalor comes to mind. This is a place where people think that government subsidized housing in a ghetto is living large. Belle Glade used to be known as the Aids capital of the United States. What the hell is going to happen when a place like that takes a hit? Sure, they have shelters, but when you have nothing but a roof over your head and you lose that… what next?

And this brings me to my worst case scenario and not many are talking about it and I need to do more research, but I am hesitant because I am afraid of what I will find. Lake Okeechobee or as we call it, Lake O. Belle Glade and Pahokee sit right on Lake O. In 1928, the worst hurricane to hit Palm Beach County, killed nearly 2000 and they think as many as 3000 people. They don’t know for sure since bodies were literally thrown in mass graves. After that, in the early ‘30’s, they built the Hoover dike, around the lake. It is a dike, not a dam, however, over the last few decades, the purpose of this dike has changed. It was built originally to protect the people who lived around the Lake, to prevent another 1928 disaster. Since then, it has been used to store water for irrigation, etc. This dike LEAKS. This dike is 143 miles long and 3 stories high. I can’t figure out how far that water will spread when/if the dike blows.

The state is evidently worried as figure they will eventually spend upwards of $234 million over the next few decades. That doesn’t help us this summer, does it, because this is my big worry.

I’m sorry for everyone who got smacked by Charley. I’m sorry for all those who died and for their families. I’m sorry for the loss and devastation caused by Andrew. Now let me say, it is nothing compared to the loss and devastation we will see, if a direct hit comes ashore and a big old ‘cane just sits over Lake O and that dike can’t handle it. I feel certain it can't. I’ve read about the structure. It’s not like when a hurricane would sit over land, it is a lake, and a big damn lake, which means that it would continue to feed a hurricane. All those people in Belle Glade and Pahokee? They would drown if that dike goes. I don’t care where they’re taking shelter. And I think of this EVERY single time we’re about to take a hit. I pray that sucker doesn’t stall over the lake, that it just moves past it, not skipping a beat. We’re more populated now than we were in 1928. In 1928, Palm Beach County had 50,000 residents and now we're over 1.2 million. That’s a lot of people. And honestly, I don’t know how far that water would travel. Even though my husband says Lake O’s water wouldn’t come this far… I’m not so sure.


Blogger Tammi said...

Well shit.

Great job pulling this together. I'll link, we'll get the word out.

Great information. Thanks!

10:10 PM  
Blogger Harvey said...

This should be required reading for everyone who's never been through a hurricane.

9:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Almost half of my family met with some kind of damage from Charley. Thankfully, no one was injured. We can replace a roof ( this time my mother's) but not the people under it. If a serious hurricane ever comes through Atlanta, I will know of it, be prepared or be gone. My stepfather, being a Master Mariner, is glued to the maps, tv and weather radio at the first on-set of any major named storm. We all know about it, where it's going and the moment that it ups in category.

A good read here if you are not familiar with the complete and total devastation a hurricane can bring.


3:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello, you put out very useful information. I just had to add my 2 cents. For those who have never been around hurricanes, you may not to do these couple of items that I have found useful. One: get containers of water and freeze them... days ahead of time. Freezing water heats up your freezer so this is a 'do ahead of time item'. Once done, this water will keep your freezer cold when the power goes out and if the power stays out, give you extra water. Two: if it looks like you really are going to get hit... boil your eggs and put them back in the frig. Boiled eggs last longer. Three: Make sure you tub will keep water in it if you plan on filling it... try this ahead of time... mine leaks. I use plastic containers or plastic trash cans in the tub and fill with water. This is a definite for flushing that toilet. :-) Luckily I have not had to live through a hurricane disaster in my own home. But have lived with them most of my life in Florida and continue to learn tricks as time goes on. Luckily there are people like Bou who post wonderful information on how to help others. Thanks! VW

5:49 PM  

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