Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hurricane Memories

With the possibility of Hurricane Irene aiming at Florida, though recognizing that it is still early yet and she may change course, I am going to relate some family history regarding hurricanes.

My earliest memory of a hurricane is when my family lived in Jacksonville the first time, in 1951.  We lived on the south side, on Peachtree Street.  My memories of this hurricane are quite vague, as I was only three years old.  But I do recall there was a lot of rain and wind and we stayed inside the house. 

The next hurricane I experienced was Hurricane Dora in 1964.  I was in my senior year in high school, and my mother and I were sharing a house with a nurse my mother worked with.  There were several 60-foot-tall pine trees in the yard, and I remember looking out and seeing them swaying in the winds.  The thought that they could snap and come down on the house was worrisome. Fortunately, they proved flexible enough to bend but not break.

There was some humor, though.  At the height of the storm, when the wind was whipping through and the rain was falling in buckets, there was a commercial for an airline which had just begun serving Jacksonville's airport.  The commercial startled me, then made me laugh out loud, when it began with the phrase, "There's something new in the air over Jacksonville."  Timing is everything.

This was in September, just after the beginning of the school year.  In those days, we didn't go back to school until after Labor Day.  After the storm passed, I drove over to my high school to see if there had been any damage.  Other than a few trees down on the grounds, there did not seem to be any real damage.  We were out of school for a few days, though, because of the interruption of electric service to the area.  One of my classmates later told me her family had been without electricity for two weeks.

When Hurricane David came across us in 1979 I was a registered nurse working at a hospital in downtown Jacksonville.  I shared rides with another nurse, and that evening I was driving.  I picked my co-worker up and we drove into town.  With the winds at that time at 55 miles per hour, I decided not to go across the Mathews Bridge, which is very high and has a rather treacherous metal grille at the top.  Instead I went through the southside and went over the Main Street Bridge.  It has a grille, too, but it is much lower, and I thought the wind might be less.  Later that night we were told that we would all be doing a double shift, as the storm had worsened and the hospital nursing supervisor had called the next shift and told them to stay home rather than get out in it.  We had a "hot rack" room set up, where we could each take turns grabbing a nap during the 16-hour shift. 

For a time in 1999, we thought Hurricane Floyd was coming at us.  We boarded up the house, my husband having installed a system with which we could board up pretty quickly.  But Floyd passed us by and hit North Carolina (which is what Irene may do, too).  I discovered during our boarded-up period, a couple days and nights, that I sleep much better when it is pitch black dark, with no clock dials or moonlight or someone else's outside light filtering in.  So now I use a sleep mask.

In 2004, we got brushed by a few storms, as Florida got smacked and smacked again.  We suffered enough damage that we got payment from our insurance company to replace our roof, after it was all over.  It wasn't until November that the insurance adjuster got to us to assess the damage, and the roofing companies in Florida were so busy, we did not get ours done until February.  We called upon an established and well-known company in Jacksonville, recommended by friends who are very picky in such matters.  They did a great job.  I called that hurricane season the "Big Wind Tour" of 2004.

We have friends living in Lake Wales, and my husband got a big laugh when he saw a National Geographic cover with a satellite photo of Florida covered by the tracks of four of 2004's hurricanes -- all of them intersecting over Polk County, where Lake Wales is located.  My husband scanned the photo, placed a target at the intersection with the words "you are here," and sent it for her to use as wallpaper on her computer.

That's what's called Florida humor.

So we sit and watch once more, and prepare.  I bought more bottled water today, and tomorrow my husband and I are going to place new foam tape on the outside window sills preparatory to putting up the boards, if we need to.  We have a Coleman stove, flashlights and battery-powered lanterns, radios, and other supplies.  I'll make sure I have all my medications current, and we'll fill the cars' gas tanks.  And with any luck, Irene will turn and head out to sea, not bothering Florida or North Carolina or any other part of the inhabited land masses.

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