Here and there... mostly there

August 13, 2004

Hurricane Charley asks"Is anybody blogging this down there?"

Well, yes, I am...

I'm sitting in Sarasota. All of the barrier islands like Longboat Key and Siesta Key have been evacuated. All the mobile homes, RVs and trailer parks are empty. They estimate that some 300,000 people have been moved out of harm's way along the SW Florida coast.

The Florida communities have hurricane evacuation plans, of course. They plot the terrain of the area and match it up with various intensities of hurricanes, thus designating areas that need to be evacuated in the event of a storm. Starting at Category 1, this includes all the beachfront, of course, but also areas around rivers, inlets, and bays.

Evacuation is mandatory. And while the cops are unlikely to ticket people who stay, they are telling them that the police and rescue people aren't going to be expending much effort to save their asses if they get stuck. The Fire Departments are moving all of their equipment off the islands to safety. The cops are leaving too, for their own safety.

I'm in a good place: even with a Cat 5 hurricane (think Floyd or Andrew), my apartment isn't in an evacuation zone. In fact, about a block away is a hurricane shelter. And since I'm on the second floor, I probably don't have to worry about flooding. Assuming, of course, that the roof stays on and the windows don't blow in.

Right now, projections are for the storm to start picking up locally around noon, with winds rising toward 50 mph. Around 8:00pm, though, we should be getting full hurricane force winds of over 74 mph, possibly as high as 115.

There was some dancing around yesterday trying to determine exactly where Charley would make landfall. Sarasota seemed a good bet, but the high-altitude jet stream seems to be playing a role in taking the storm on a more northernly route. While the storm will definitely pass over us, it seems headed straight toward Tampa Bay, about 40 miles north of Sarasota.

That's going to be unpleasant for those who live around the bay... the expected storm surge is 8-14 feet. Shorefront is going to be synonymous with "underwater" by midnight.

This will be my first Florida hurricane. I've been through the brunt of others, but I've always been pretty far inland. I recall Agnes, which hammered the East Coast in 72 and nearly killed my wife-to-be in a movie theater in DC, when the water load on the roof weakened the supports for a multi-ton chandelier that came crashing down into the middle of the cinema. I recall, too, Carol, in 1954--the 14th most economically damagine hurricane in the US--that wreaked havoc in New England. My youngest brother was born during that one.

Having lived along the East Coast for most of my US-based life, I'm well aware of other storms, like the "New England" hurricane of 1938 that smashed Rhode Island and parts of New York (6th most damaging). And another about then that washed away the town of Harper's Ferry, WV, resulting in that place's becoming a national park.

So, a Cat 3 seems exciting, but not life-threatening in my particular circumstances. I expect to feel other impacts, though.

I strongly suspect that electricity will be out, perhaps for as much as several days (anyone know of a hand-crank generator cum broadband modem?). Blogging will probably halt.

Water will be iffy. I'm pretty well prepared, I think, but I noticed that by 4:00 yesterday the supermarkets were out of bottled water. In Florida, bottled water takes an enormous swath of aisle space, even more than breakfast cereals. Completely empty.

Local News announced, at 0030 this morning, that a major Wal-Mart depot store had just received a new shipment of both water and generators and that they'd be open all night. So hurry on down!

Learned a few new things, too...

The water supply systems for the barrier islands are being shut down to prevent damage. And for three days after the storm passes, people will need to boil their drinking water there. While I've experienced the boiling water routine with hurricanes elsewhere, I'm interested to note that this is simply routine for here.

Something that struck me--as a newish FL resident--was the warning to pet owners: Keep your animals indoors after the storm passes. High water tends to push snakes an alligators out of their own habitat and into your own.

Not having a boat, I'm not personally concerned about how to deal with one during a hurricane, but it's interesting anyway. Seems quite a few people live on their boats around here. Some are tying and anchoring their boats and heading to shelters; others are going to try to ride it out and hope their moorings hold. Cruise liners, gambling boats and commercial vessels are leaving Tampa Bay and intended to ride the storm out in deeper waters in the Gulf.

Local airports are shutting down at noon, but the carriers--particularly US Airways--are more cautious. They've simply stopped flying to/from them.

An odd note:

I lived and worked in Thailand in the late 60s, while still a teen. My younger brothers and sister went to school there, at the International School of Bangkok. Seems that group had scheduled a multi-year reunion this weekend, at St. Petersburg Beach. I was planning on driving up tomorrow to join the group, just to see friends from a long time ago.

Not going to happen...

Some of the group flew in to find that the hotel was under evacuation orders. Others flew in to find that the hotels were already empty. The group made a decision to relocate to Orlando, well inland, and hopes to return to St. Pete Beach tomorrow. I don't think so.

My sister got to St. Pete on Thursday and was involved in the efforts to relocate to Orlando. My younger brother flew in last night and, learning that the hotel was closed, made a few calls, rented a car and drove off to Orlando to join them.

If Charley miraculously misses the area, I suppose the show can go on, and I'll drive up tomorrow. Not likely, I fear.

Speaking of the "show going on": It seems that the US Postal Service isn't delivering any mail today and all the post offices are closed. So much for "wind and dark, sleet and hail" I guess. Maybe in the past we just had dumber postmen? Or fewer litigators?

That's all for now. I'll try to keep up an hourly-0r-so posting until the electricity quits.