Sep 2nd, 2004

Storm Stories

As Hurricane Frances bears down on the South Florida coast, giving weathermen* no clue as to where she'll make landfall, I'd like to share some of my family's hurricane history.

1935- Or '34, by the time my father told me this story, he couldn't remember the date. It was the big monster that destroyed the overseas railroad (Flagler's Folly) to the Keys. It was the height of the depression, and there were veterans working on the building the overseas highway. My father was a teenager, and he was recruited in the aftermath of the storm (coincidentally, a Labor Day storm)to help with the clean up. He told me it was horrible. "We were pulling the bodies out of the trees." He always took hurricanes seriously.

1948 or 49 - My brother was a baby, and my parents lived in a little apartment in downtown Stuart. They had to evacuate during the storm. When they came back, the window over my brother's crib had been broken, the lace curtain torn to shreds, neatly braided and a knot tied in the end. By the storm winds. We still have it.

1964 or 65 - My brother goes out after a storm with his buddy on the buddy's motorcycle. They hit debris. My brother destroys his kneecap and is in a hip cast for months. It was the only time he ever got an "A" in phys.ed. He was handing out towels. I'd laugh more, but the only time I ever got an "A" in phys.ed. was the semester I broke a toe and handed out towels. I got the last laugh, though. I later had to have my shoulder repaired due to sports injury.

1969 - I am in marine science summer camp on Big Pine Key. Hurricane Camille passes by Key West on its way to making history and landfall. The camp is almost evacuated, but Camille moves south and west of the Keys. We spend the night in the mess hall. It was great...for us, not so great for Mississippi.

1979 - Still another Labor Day storm, Hurricane David was due to come up the Miami River when I went to bed. I was living in an apartment in the Gables, and had been in a major car wreck the day before. There was nothing, absolutely nothing, I could do to protect myself. I couldn't even put tape on the windows. I just went to bed and hoped for the best. When I woke up, the sun was shining and there were just a couple of tree limbs down. I thought maybe it was the eye of the storm. But no. David had made a sudden, unpredicted turn to the north, scraped the coast, and came ashore in my hometown of Stuart. My friend's parents lost 8 feet of yard from behind their seawall due to storm surge up the St. Lucie River.

1992 - Hurricane Andrew. We were renting a townhouse in what would become known as the devestation zone. The trees on my street were all at a 45 degree angle the next morning. The church around the corner had exploded. The building on the corner had one wall sheared off and desks sticking out of the holes. The 18 wheelers at the moving company were on their sides. The brand new Lincoln Towncar that had been parked in our complex for safety became the Crushed Lincoln Cafe, where we all met and had communal meals for a week or so until the power came back on. I went to work the next day, after the storm hit, and brought ice and water back to my neighbors every day. I also went to Homestead 3 days after the storm, to photograph the delivery of a mobile medical unit to the tent city. The tent city that was next to where the mobile home park had been, up until 3 days prior.

Today, the RLA and I put up the shutters, took in the patio furniture, moved all loose plants against the fences, made sure our hurricane supplies were topped off, bought a couple extra packs of cigarettes, and generally made sure we were ready for the worst. Or as ready as we can be.

These things are monsters, even the little ones, and anyone who lives in Florida and doesn't take them seriously is a fool.
* Sometimes, you DO need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.