Ten years ago today Hurricane Charley struck the western coast of south Florida with winds in excess of 135 mph and 6 hours later barreled its way up into Orlando with winds of 100 mph when it hit our neighborhood.
Back in August of 2004 I was blogging under the nom de plume of The Masked Blogger and what you will read below are the blog posts I made before, during, and after Charley hit. For clarity, Blog Girl is my wife Cindy, Blog Princess is my daughter and Blog Cave is our home.
Fair warning, this is a long post since it covers a time period of several days. Photos are at the end if you just want to skip my prose and get right to the good stuff.
August 12, 2004 – 7:45pm
I knew I’d be spending a good portion of today getting ready for the arrival of Hurricane Charley. I spent all of this morning getting Blog Girl’s candle making factory moved in off the screened porch to the dining room and moving everything that was staying on the screened porch over to the corner closest to the house in case the rain and winds are strong enough to blow things around. I also moved anything in the back yard that could become airborne into my already overflowing shed. I will probably be killed by the cascade of items flowing out of the shed when I open the door.
I still have to secure things in Blog Girl’s “Secret Garden” at the front of the house, but I will most likely wait until either later today or tomorrow morning after we get a better idea of the actual path of the storm. Originally it was projected a little to the east of us, then it was projected to come right over us and now it is projected to the west of us, so if we’re just going to end up with some rain and winds of 30-40 MPH by the time it gets here, then I’m not going to move everything in her little garden.
While I was stowing things away this morning, Blog Princess was out trying to get some supplies for her home and she graciously picked up some spare batteries and drinking water for Blog Girl and I. As was expected, most shelves were low or empty and the checkout lines were long. She spent about 2 hours doing what would normally take 10 minutes. What’s wrong with these people that they wait until the last minute? Heh heh.
Schools in the area have announced they will be closed on Friday, which will keep the kids home with their parents and open up the schools, which double as shelters, to be available if needed. Now they have to make up the day on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
Anyway, it’s looking like it won’t be as bad for us as they were originally projecting. I think we’re pretty well set on emergency supplies and if the power goes out; well as Blog Girl says we’ve got lots of candles and lots of books to read.
August 13, 2004 – 2:57pm
This Is Not A Drill
I’m going to try and wait until the last possible minute to post this and turn off the computer before lightning arrives and/or we lose our power.
It’s a little after noon here and the constantly wavering path of Hurricane Charley now seems to now be one which will take it closer to us than we previously thought. Even an indirect path will see us enduring a predicted 5-7 inches of rain minimum and at least tropical storm strength winds in the 70 MPH range. We’re already at the edge of the tornado warning zone and we’ll soon be in that zone as the outer edges of the storm move closer to us.
I spent this morning removing the remainder of loose items (potted plants, sculptures, etc) in Blog Girl’s Secret Garden and the birdbath and a few potted plants in the back yard left from the work I did yesterday. I also ran up to the store and picked up a few more food items and put gas in the BlogMobile. Blog Girl had to go into her office and is expected to leave there around 1 PM. Local law enforcement agencies are asking everyone to try and be off the roads by 2pm when the leading winds and rains are expected to begin appearing in our area.
Landfall is expected in the Sarasota area around 6pm or so and we’ll be feeling the effects of the outer bands of Charley by that time, with the eye of the storm expected to be here at approximately 11PM tonight. Our home is in a flood zone and I have been trying to get sandbags for the back area of the house, but with no luck. Orange County isn’t just handing out sandbags like Osceola County is; instead they are requiring a public works inspector to come to your home and ascertain that you indeed need the bags. That would be fine except they closed their office at noon, so calls requesting an inspection are not answered. I’ve put a few big bedspreads and blankets by the back French Doors and I hope that if they’re needed they will absorb enough water to keep it from flooding our new wood floor.
I’m also worried about some decorative wood beams we have in the front of the house over Blog Girl’s Secret Garden and attached to our roof. The wood has begun rotting and we’ve been waiting until we had more money to remove the bad wood and replace it. If the winds get strong enough here, I may not have to worry about removing it myself. I just hope it doesn’t tear part of the roof off or send any of the beams crashing through our bedroom windows. I thought about going ahead and removing it now, but I have no place left to safely store the beams and leaving them loose on the ground seems more dangerous than leaving them attached and hoping the wind is either not as strong as they predict or that it will blow through them.
I was laughing with Blog Girl last night as I recalled the first hurricane I can remember when I was a child and living in Hialeah, Florida. I thought it was pretty cool, but of course kids never realize what their parents have to do in these kinds of situations or the possibility of danger in these kinds of storms. When the eye passed over us, my dad took me outside into the front yard as he picked up debris and resecured anything that had loosened. It was so calm and eerie for about 10 minutes and then you could feel the wind begin to pick up and rain began falling again as the backside of the hurricane made it’s way over us and we got back inside the house. At one point we were sitting on the floor of the kitchen with the power out and candles burning as we listened to the wind and the rain pounding the awnings that covered out windows. We had a door at the back of the kitchen that led to the utility room and from there to our garage. In the dim flickering of the candlelight, it suddenly seemed that a small dark shadow moved quickly along the back wall of the kitchen. I think my father turned on a flashlight and the beam of it’s light illuminated a rat that was scurrying along the edge of the wall and following the baseboard as it turned toward us because of the cabinets. The presence of the light seemed to draw the rat toward us, and my father in particular, as it suddenly charged toward my dad’s feet. I still laugh to this day when I remember how dad began dancing from foot to foot while at the same time trying to back up from the advancing rodent. Later either I or my mom held the flashlight while dad used a broom to force the rat back out the door to the utility room.
It’s 1:35 PM and they just officially upgraded Charley to a category 4 hurricane with winds of 145 MPH.
It’s 2:45 and we just started getting pounded with rain and wind. We’ve pulled in the bird and squirrel feeders that we left out until the last minute for the animals to get food before they go to ground or wherever they go.
I hear thunder so it’s time to shut down here. See you on the other side of the storm.
August 17, 2004
A Force Of Nature, Part I
As I begin to write this it is 6:10 PM on Saturday August 14th, a little more than 24 hours since we first began to feel the effects of Hurricane Charley here in the Blog Cave. Our power was restored about 2 1/2 hours ago and what a welcome event that was! We do not have cable TV or cable access to the Internet yet, so we are still depending on the battery powered radio to get news. I’ll be writing this as I’m able at different times and posting it as soon as we have Internet access restored.
Beginning at 3PM yesterday we began to experience intermittent periods of rain, wind and then calmness as the outer bands of Charley reached out to embrace us in it’s violent grip. Blog Girl and I had moved some food along with pillows and blankets and flashlights into the hallway of the cave, which is the innermost portion of our home, placed candles throughout the rest of the cave, then sat down on the couch in front of the TV with other flashlights near at hand and read books while we left the TV on to observe the continuous coverage of Charley’s relentless march across the state.
At 9:02PM, as the worst of the storm began to reach our area, we lost our cable TV signal and then 5 minutes later we lost power to the cave, Outside, rain was being driven like nails by winds that were reaching speeds of approximately 35 MPH. That would prove to actually be the least of the storm.
For the next 30 minutes or so the winds increased in strength as I patrolled the doors and windows from the inside with a flashlight constantly in my hand. Blog Girl asked me to come to the hallway, but I wanted to be ready to move if I needed to in order to patch a broken window or broken door. But at about 9:39 we suddenly heard the tell-tale sound that reminds you of a train roaring down the track and knew a tornado was nearby. Blog Girl began begging me to come to the hallway and I was more than ready to find the safest point in the house at that moment. Hurricanes don’t bother me, but hurricanes don’t pick you up off the ground and take you airborne. We listened for a good 3 or 4 minutes to the sound as it increased in volume and heard something “thumping” on the roof. I literally was ready to see the roof lift in the air above us as we listened to it groan and creak and thump.
And then the roaring stopped.
The roar was replaced by the familiar howl of the wind and the sound of rain beating down. I moved out to the back porch area first and shined my flashlight through the glass of the French Doors. I was actually surprised to see the screen room was still there and none the worse for the pounding it had and was taking. Then I ran to the front of the house and shined the flashlight through our bedroom windows to see how the wood beams out front were holding up. Everything looked good except for some trellises we had rose bushes growing through that had been torn loose from where I had nailed them. I could see the big elm tree out by the street and it’s branches were whipping back and forth as the wind seemed to be trying to tear them from the trunk, but they stubbornly held on as the eye wall of the hurricane assaulted them.
About 10 minutes later. the eye of the hurricane was directly over us. As the wind decreased in speed and the rain diminished to a light sprinkle, we left the shelter of our home to inspect, as best we could in the dark with our flashlights, the damage that had been done so far to the house.
I have to interrupt my writing at this point to welcome our friends, George and Caroline, who have come to visit with us this Saturday evening at our invitation in order to provide some small respite for them in the air-conditioned comfort of our home. They, along with Carsten and Rebecca who were also invited but have remained at home this evening, still do not have power in their homes.
It’s Sunday afternoon, August 15th, about 2:00PM in the afternoon now as I continue writing. Blog Girl bought a 13″ color TV with an antenna this morning while she was out making the rounds checking on family and friends, so now we can see news on channels that are available over the air.
We made our way outside through the flooded porch area to the backyard in the dark, with the wind barely moving and the rain lightly drizzling, while we trained our flashlights on the ground to guide our steps. Everywhere we looked we saw roofing shingles scattered across the ground, some floating in the water that was standing in the yard. I turned toward the house and directed my light to the roof where I could see patches of shingle-less areas all across the back part of the roof. The tree in the backyard had been pushed slightly toward the screen enclosure by the force of the wind and it’s roots could be seen bulging under the grass where they had been pulled toward the surface but it had not been uprooted. I hoped that would remain the case when the backside of Charley arrived in the next few minutes. The rose bushes on the side and back section of the fence had been pulled away from where we had tied them and were bent over as if in silent supplication to the powerful winds that had forced them into subjugation. What was absolutely amazing to me was that, despite the fierce wind and pounding rain, the screen porch appeared to be in excellent shape. I had truly expected to at least see torn screens or bent metal, but that was not the case.
We walked back through the house to the front door and went out into the front yard to continue our inspection. Again, shingles were scattered all across the ground. Some ours and some not. I’m sure some of ours were in yards further down the block, if not miles away. Shining my flashlight on the front roof, I could see again patches of it that had no shingles, especially along the ridge line, but it was not as bad as the back roof. In Blog Girl’s Secret Garden some of the trellises that the rose bushes were growing on had been loosened and her 8 foot tall Bougainvillea on the outside edge had been smashed flat to the ground. Again amazingly, the decorative wood beams I had been worried about were looking no worse for wear. One branch about 6 feet in length had been blown out of the tree that sits near the street in front of our house and had landed, fortunately, behind Blog Girl’s car on the driveway and then had blown into our mailbox post and wedged itself there. I left it in place in the hopes that it would not blow about or become airborne during the remainder of the storm.
Slowly, the calm began to give way to the increasing winds and rain and we knew it was time to return inside to ride out the rest of Charley. I took the ladder and climbed up into the attic to inspect the roof from the inside and see if there were any places where water was leaking through because the shingles were missing, but thankfully I could find none. As we sat on the couch in the dark and listened to the wind and rain, we were saying our “Woe is me’s” about the shingles. Boy would that tune change in a hurry!
More tomorrow, including pictures.
August 18, 2004
A Force Of Nature, Part II
It’s Monday afternoon, August 16th about 4:00PM as I write this. Yesterday afternoon Carsten and Rebecca stopped by and enjoyed the comfort of the air-conditioning for a little while and last night George and Caroline did the same. Neither of their homes had power at the time and still do not have power as of this writing. We still have no cable TV, but we did watch “The Italian Job” on DVD with George and Caroline. It made things seem somewhat normal.
The eye of the hurricane passed over us and after about 30 minutes or so the worst of the backside of Charley had passed as well. There was a slight drizzle of rain and no wind. It was time to leave the cave to re-inspect the outside. Blog Girl and I also wanted to walk through the neighborhood to see if anyone needed any help or was hurt. We took our flashlights and headed out.
After looking over the exterior of the Blog Cave and finding only a small amount of additional damage, we began making our way down the middle and side of the street that leads into our neighborhood, trying to navigate the normally familiar street in the pitch black of an area with no power and only our flashlights to illuminate our way. It was quite a surprise, as we shined the flashlight on the ground in front of us, to suddenly see the 8 foot high underside of a tree’s root system loom out of the darkness in front of us as the outer edges of the flashlight beam at first dimly lit it then brought it more into focus when the brighter part of the light was shone on it. We stood there with our mouths gaping for a moment, then followed the line of the trunk with our lights to see that the tree had fallen into a front yard, barely missing the house it used to grace with its shade.
As we walked around the uprooted base, we began to hear other voices drifting out of the darkness and saw other beams of light dancing around. As we began to fall within the illumination of each other’s flashlight beams, Blog Girl and I would call out asking if they were all right or was anyone hurt or did anyone need help. Fortunately, all those walking around were unhurt. We came upon a second uprooted tree, this one blocking the street. It would turn out to be the first of nine trees blocking the street that leads into our neighborhood. Later we would discover more trees blocking each of the side streets as well. Here’s a drawing (Sorry guys, can’t find that old file to include) I did showing where the trees had fallen across the streets throughout our neighborhood, blocking anyone from driving in or out of the area. As you can see, we only have one way in or out of the neighborhood. I’m thinking that any self-respecting Blog Cave needs a tunnel for just this reason.
We came to another uprooted and fallen tree, this one was huge, that had fallen across the front of a house, smashed the roof and blocked the driveway and front sidewalk. I climbed across the trunk and through the branches and limbs, while Blog Girl’s voice in the darkness kept urging me to be careful, until I finally reached the front door of the house. I knocked on the door and then when there was no answer, pounded on the door and was just about to try to open it when their next door neighbor called out that the occupants had left before the storm hit. I would meet the young couple the next morning when they returned while several of us were cutting, chopping and sawing up the trees that blocked the street.
For about the next hour we just climbed over or walked around fallen trees throughout the neighborhood, weaving our way from street to sidewalk to yards as we knocked on doors or checked with people we came across in the night and tried to make sure that no one was hurt or needed some kind of help. Our area suffered a lot of property damage, but fortunately no one was hurt or killed.
We returned to the cave at about midnight, tired but still on that adrenaline high that Charley had brought. Both of us were feeling a little ashamed that we had complained about a few shingles missing after we had seen the devastation that Charley had visited upon our neighbors. Now we kept saying over and over how fortunate we had been. That feeling would be multiplied many times over the next day. We opened up the windows since the rain had stopped and tried to get some kind of cool breeze in the house, laid down on our bed and tried to sleep. It was almost impossible and we both ended up fitfully dozing off and on the rest of the night.
At 6:30 in the morning, as the sun’s rays were beginning to peek above the horizon, we slipped on our shoes and socks and went outside to assess the damage to the Blog Cave and our neighborhood in the light of day.
We walked out of the cave and into the light of Saturday morning to survey the damage done to the Blog Cave’s exterior and the neighborhood. It was still disconcerting to see the damage of the missing shingles, but not as much as the night before. We walked on the main street into our neighborhood as we left the area and then came back into the neighborhood walking the side streets on the way back to the Blog Cave, taking pictures along the way. The destruction is massive through our area.
After we returned to the cave, Blog Girl was outside in the front street and came back and told me that several people along the street were trying to clear a path down the street so that at least one vehicle at a time could leave or enter the neighborhood. It was a good idea since we had no inkling of how long it would be before the city sent crews in to clear the way. Soon there were about a third of the people from the street (including women and children who helped pull the pieces to the side of the street) out there with hand saws, axes and chainsaws, breaking the massive trunks and branches into manageable sized chunks we could move out of the way, either by brute manpower or by tying to a truck and pulling out of the way. After about 3 hours, we had our vehicle-wide path down the three block long street that leads in and out of our neighborhood.
Later in the day, Blog Girl and I took food to her parent’s house to store in their freezer, since my father-in-law had a gas-powered generator to run the freezer, and stopped by Amber’s apartment to get food out of her freezer and store there as well. Driving was difficult as most traffic lights were either out or just weren’t there, blown to the ground and smashed. Streets were blocked by fallen trees or power lines, necessitating long, roundabout routes to your destination. Law enforcement agencies were urging people to remain off the roads, but of course some people (like us) needed to check on loved ones or do things like get food to places where there was some kind of power. Human nature being what it is, most people were courteous at first, but became impatient and belligerent as the heat of the day wore on and frustration mounted over the lack of those things you take for granted every day.
Here at the Blog Cave, we were SO very fortunate. None of our family or friends were injured or killed. Our home and the homes of family members and friends suffered only minor damage. We got our power back fairly soon, especially compared to some, and life is beginning to return to normal.
It’s Tuesday afternoon, August 17th about 4:30PM as I write this. I spent Monday morning and this morning helping helping my father-in-law start to clear the fallen branches that filled his backyard. When I got home today from helping over there I found that we had our cable TV and Internet access back again. Oh Happy Day! Unfortunately, at this writing, several of our friends still do not have power. We have opened our home and invited them to take a hot shower or sleep in the comfort of air-conditioning.