Tuesday, September 28, 2004

A Jolt from Jeanne

Somebody up there likes me…version 3.0
The devastation wrought by Jeanne in my town was greater than that of Charley and Frances combined.
In sum, 37,000 cubic yards of debris were removed from the area for Charley and Frances. The estimates for Jeanne alone are 40,000.
The ground is so soaked that the shallow rooted trees have nothing to hold them. Water oaks, laurel oaks, pine, magnolias uprooted on every corner.
From 5 AM Sunday morning until 3 PM that afternoon (ten solid hours) the wind varied from whistling to howling nonstop. It is the most frightened I have ever been. The rain was greater than the other two added together.
A neighbor’s 35 year old huge water oak was uprooted and landed mostly in my yard…wiping out many of my crepe myrtles, destroying a large section of my seven foot ligustrum hedge, and countless ornamentals. Since it missed both our homes, it goes down as a lucky break.
His final 35-year-old water oak is about to go as the roots are above ground…it is leaning my way as well.
I lost many limbs and branches…none of massive variety.
My largest scare was a thirty-foot laurel oak that was swaying back and forth during the heavy winds. After my neighbor’s tree fell, my tree became the first one up from the lake---no more buffer.
I was beyond fortunate to get to another neighbor who is in the tree trimming business that night and tell him my tale of woe. Even with all the emergency situations he and his crews had to address, he had a full crew at my house first thing Monday morning to remove the tree. His diagnosis was that the root ball was about burst thru and the tree would have probably hit the house. I could not have been luckier.
I was without power for only twenty-nine hours…another blessing.
With my neighbor’s trees and my oak gone, sun is available where it has not been seen in a decade. That is true of the entire town. Before Charley this place was a tree sanctuary…shade everywhere with very mature trees of every description…a veritable Eden.
Driving around now it looks like a war zone, and when I first got out and about clean up had been going on for at least half a day.
From the prep time before Charley until Jeanne’s final outer band cleared out, the Orlando area has been on hurricane alert or enduring a hurricane for seven weeks---endlessly. It has been grueling, exhausting, fatiguing, trying and wearisome. The entire populace is feeling the effects of all the stress and anxiety…during World War I they called it shell shock…during WWII it was known as battle fatigue…it is the same sort of thing here.
I travel up and the streets passing out bottled water to all the clean up and electric company personnel. They are amazing…most from other states. Today alone, I passed water out to crews from New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Kentucky. They are up before dawn and work past dark and never complain. One crew has been away from home for twenty-seven days---were half way home when they were called back.
I wish the local TV stations would do stories on these guys…I think we all know what the destruction of the beaches look like, we know what smashed trailer parks look like---we do not need to see the same sensationalized shots ad infinitum. Not when there are a couple thousand workers from out of state helping to restore our lives who have a positive and uplifting story to tell.
The Orlando area has taken on three powerhouse hurricanes and I feel it is God’s way of telling me to move to Chapel Hill. I think I will take the hint. This is too high a price to pay for paradise. I have been spared the worst, but do not be surprised when my address becomes nobizinnc@aol.com.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

The Fury of Frances in Central Florida

Somebody Up There Likes Me---Version 2.0
Once again my immediate area and I were spared the greatest fury from Frances.
From the time we were assured that Central Florida would get hit, until we learned Frances finally departed yesterday, a week had passed.
It approached slowly, moved tediously over the area and was most reluctant to go. Even after it moved into the Gulf of Mexico, the Orlando area continued to receive feeder band full of gusty winds and fierce rains.
It was easily the most anxiety filled week of my life ---and I experienced my initial hurricane in 1960.
I lost power for less than 24 hours, never lost the phone and got cable back in about two days.
Major damage was about fifteen to twenty feet of the top of my tallest oak (35-40 years old) were sheared off. It looked like a toothpick broken in half. It completely blocked my driveway…far better than going the other way and striking the house.
So I was trapped on Sunday as Frances was with us all day.
One neighbor took her daughter and rode it out in a more secure location. I was in charge of walking her dog…while walking the dog Monday morning I bumped into another neighbor whose wonderful forty year old spreading water oak was uprooted (and snapping the power lines). He was gassing up his generator. As I left, he said he would be right over with his chain saw to help me clear the driveway. Truly a Good Samaritan.
At 61, it is not time for me to learn the ins and outs of a chain saw…so what would have taken me all day was done in an hour.
Although Charley had cleared out a lot of trees in the community, Frances attacked a few more of the most outstanding oaks, some of National Park quality. The long soaking rains weakened the ground and the shallow root systems were no matched for the winds that came and went for 36 to 48 hours.
Services were restored very quickly in my opinion. The first responders and emergency people had their Charley game plan and improved it. They learned a lot and got it right immediately this time.
I also feel the public was more than willing to heed the warnings this time---with Charley so fresh in the memory.
Looters and curfew violators in Orange County went directly the 33rd Street Jail…and I hope they have a long residency.
Fortuitously, the stories of good fellowship and neighborliness far outnumber the tales of the miscreants and bottom feeders.
This time, however, I have been approached by drive by tree removal scammers lurking thru the neighborhood. They disappeared when I requested to see their contractor’s license and asked if they would mind waiting while I checked with the local police department to see if their credentials checked out.
This was not a fun time and everyone I know is worn out mentally from the apprehension, trepidation and fear that spread out over the extended week.
Now we must be on guard for Ivan…and that one is two or three days away from a halfway decent estimate of where it will make landfall. If Ivan hits Orlando, I think I shall move to Chapel Hill.
It is a major blessing that I was kept from the worst Frances had to offer and I am grateful beyond words. I prayed, knocked on wood and crossed my fingers…and will continue to do so.
And now I am off to get my Xanax refilled.