Diary Of A Hurricane

Frank Mann, Jr.

© Copyright 2004 by Frank Mann, Jr.


Photo of a sand spit off Ft. Myers.  Photo (c) 2003 by Richard Loller.

Fort Myers, Florida
Wednesday, August 8, 2004

We've seen on the news for a few days that two tropical storms, Bonnie and Charley, were probably going to become hurricanes and would probably hit Florida. We hear that a lot down here but the last hurricane to hit Fort Myers was Donna in 1960 so I'm not really worried. Bonnie is headed for the panhandle so she's definitely no problem. But all the news guys are now saying that Charley is headed for Southwest Florida and will definitely, probably, almost certainly, unless something changes, make landfall Friday afternoon. These things never go where they're supposed to, though, so no need to worry. I tell my wife Deirdre about the first "Fort" at Punta Rasa (at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee river) being destroyed by a Hurricane in 1873 and how they rebuilt the Fort 20 miles up river in a much safer place away from the coast at what is now downtown Fort Myers. The Fort and ensuing town have survived every storm since so there's no need to worry.

Still, Deirdre breaks out the hurricane kit and I get instructions to buy more batteries and water. I also decide that it probably wouldn't hurt to stop by cousin Ted's warehouse and steal a few pieces of plywood just in case we decide to board up the sliding glass doors facing the mouth of our canal and the river. Of course, though, the pick up truck battery is dead and won't take a jump. So, off to the auto parts store for a new battery. Back home and while standing in the driveway, wearing my best dirty gym shorts, installing my Titan IV, 875 cranking amps new battery, a local TV news van stops in our front yard. They get out and tell me they are looking for people who live on the water to interview about preparations they are making for the coming storm. "Sure”, I say, “I’m granting interviews today. Can I put on a shirt first?".

They set up on my new deck (which they think is very cool) and shoot lots of footage of me and our canal and the river in the background. I'm pretty nonchalant and tell them my wife's worried but I've lived here for 42 years and seen these things come and go. The hurricane's still 2 days away and they never go where there supposed to. No need to worry but I'll probably get some batteries and water to keep my wife happy. That night on the news, no footage of my interview but they showed several shots of our dock and the view of the river from whence the potentially lethal storm surge would come. Upstaged by the scenery! Oh well, I've been on TV before, guess my 15 minutes was all used up.

I finish installing the new battery but dealing with the media has worn me out so I take a nap instead of getting plywood. We'll watch the news tonight and see what's happening. I'll get the plywood tomorrow if we really need it.

The weather guys that night seem more certain than ever that Charley is going to cross Cuba and then start turning north east right for us. OK. Maybe we should make some preparations. I make a list of things to do tomorrow and start thinking about how much of it I can get the kids to do. I sleep soundly in air-conditioned comfort that night.

Thursday 8/12

I rise early, as usual, eat a breakfast of lots of bacon and eggs (Deirdre and I started the Atkins diet a week ago) and set out on my errands. By noon I'm back with the plywood but now the news guys are saying the eye of the storm will probably pass to the west of us in the Gulf and make land fall 100 miles north in Tampa. I go ahead and get more propane for the grill and make a stop at the hardware store for batteries and lamp oil. But this thing's headed to Tampa, no need to miss my afternoon nap.

A.N. (after nap) the news guys seem to be on TV nonstop on all channels now. Charley's still probably, almost certainly, supposed to likely hit Tampa but its going to pass close to us and probably, most likely, unless something changes, be a category 2 hurricane by Friday afternoon when it arrives in Florida. All right, I'll board up some of the windows and take down the hanging plants. Category 2 winds (96 -110 mph) don't worry me too much in our concrete block house but they're predicting an 8 - 12 foot storm surge where we live if it passes close by. Our house is almost 10 feet above the river. I call Deirdre and tell her to stop by the thrift store and grab lots of pillowcases to use for sand bags, just in case. There's still lots of patio furniture to move inside and things to tie down but if Charley's coming it won't be here till mid afternoon Friday. Lots of time tomorrow morning to put things away and batten down the hatches. I decide to barbeque lots of meat (love that Atkins).

Our friends Tom and Tiffany both work at the Hospitals and have been called in for emergency duty starting at 11:00 pm and lasting until the "crisis situation" is over. They have four kids between them: Tom's 11 year old son Brandon, and 8 year old twin girls Jessica and Jordan, and Tiffany's 10 year old daughter Kasey. They get dropped off at our house at 9:30. With our two daughters, Haley, 12, and Melanie, 11, we now have quite a crowd; it’s me and Brandon in a house with 6 women and 3 dogs. At least they left Tom and Tiff's 2 dogs at their house.

We eventually get all the kids bedded down. Deirdre and I watch the non-stop hurricane news and finally go to sleep for our last night in air-conditioned comfort. I don't sleep very well because Charley's headed to Tampa…and these things never go where they're supposed to.

Friday the 13th

We wake to news that Charley has taken a "jog" to the East and is now headed directly to Fort Myers. Looking at the radar on TV, Deirdre proclaims, "Its not headed to Fort Myers, it's headed directly at our house!” I have to admit, it does look that way. Still, it’s only a category 1 and even if it becomes a category 2 we'll be fine. But, we probably need to get busy doing all the things I meant to do in the last two days.

I've learned the best way to manage 6 kids is to give them jobs and keep them busy, the more physically demanding the work the better. I put all the kids on sand bag duty and then head to Deep Lagoon marina 10 minutes away where our boat is out of the water on blocks in a lot with 50 other boats. No way to tie it down but I want to take off the $1200 Bimini top we just had installed two weeks ago so it doesn't get blown away and/or ripped to shreds.

Back home and the kids are almost finished filling 14 sand bags. The bags are very heavy so, being the manly and considerate sort I am, I switch the kids to lawn furniture duty and start hauling the sand bags up the steps to line the base of our sliding glass doors. Fortunately, two of the kids are being difficult and not pulling their fair share with the furniture so I switch them back to sand bag duty while I supervise. While the kids are dragging sand bags up the stairs I get busy tying down my grill (it may be a life saver if the power goes out) and boarding up more windows.

At 11:00 am local weather is deceptively calm but Charley is still heading right for us, due to arrive in 3 or 4 hours. It’s only a category 2, but strengthening rapidly. Hmmm, category 2 is one thing but being in the path of a category 3 or 4 would make me very nervous. One thing that’s making me particularly nervous is our patio roof. One reason the TV guys thought our deck was so cool was because I’ve opened up the view by replacing three of the aluminum polls holding up the roof with two wooden posts wider apart. Now I’ve installed those posts such that, unless you lean against them real hard, they won’t move side to side. But, there’s not much holding them down to the concrete and not much holding the aluminum roof down to them. Guess I better get my concrete drill bit and start drilling some holes for anchor bolts. Not quite sure how I’m going to secure the tops but I’ll think of something.

Noon, and all of a sudden Charley is now a category 3 hurricane (winds 111- 130 mph) and gaining strength over the warm Gulf waters. The national hurricane center in Miami is saying the Easterly turn earlier in the morning was just a wobble and it was still headed for Tampa but our local weather guys are telling us they had all consulted and agreed it was no wobble, it was a turn and Charley was coming to Fort Myers. Deirdre and I decide to clean out the pantry and fill it with blankets and pillows as a safe room. We put all the kids inside to make sure we all fit. We explain what's going on and how important it is for them to immediately run to the pantry when we tell them and not argue about being in the middle of a play station game. I promise we'll have a drill in a few minutes.

Nick Thompson stops by to see if we need help with anything. He's on his way to the house a few blocks away he's been watching for friends while they're in Europe. I tell him we're in pretty good shape and offer him a beer. He’s got lots in the car along with some bourbon and asks if I need any. I tell him I just started Atkins and can't drink. "Frank, category 4 hurricane…you can have a drink". Sage advice but I still have lots to do.

12:45: Intermittent rain and its getting pretty windy outside. The patio posts are as secure as they’re going to get. Charley's now a strong category 3. We change plans and decided we should use the master bathroom as the safe room since it has the added advantage of being a bathroom. With 6 kids that may be critical. I head out to board up the last 2 windows and Deirdre starts drilling the kids on the new plan. I'm half way done when Deirdre comes outside and tells me Charley's been upgraded to a category 4 (winds 131 - 155 mph). My brother Ian is on the phone. He and his family have already gone to my parent's house in Alva 25 miles in land. They're all urging us to come join them. Category 4! To hell with the windows, load up the kids and dogs, we're going to Alva.

Fifteen minutes later we've got 6 kids, 3 dogs, sleeping bags, pillows and as many munchies and water bottles as we can grab loaded in the Chrysler mini-van and the Ford Expedition headed to Alva via Tom and Tiff's to pick up the other 2 dogs. Traffic is very light because all the smart people left hours ago. Rain is starting to come down hard and frequent wind gusts shake the car. After 40 minutes of semi-perilous driving we arrive at the farm in Alva. Dad and Ian have cleaned out 2 spots in the barn next to the tractor for our cars. We unload all the kids and gear and then secure our 3 big dogs with Ian's dog in the barn. The two little dogs fit in a carry on bag so they get to go in the house with the humans. Thirty seconds later as Dad, Ian and I are making our way through the rain back to the house we hear a bang and turn to see that the dogs have busted out the bottom panel of the barn door and are headed for the river. Ian and I catch the dogs while Dad boards up their escape hatch. A few minutes later, we're finally safe and dry inside my parent’s 2 bedroom house…6 adults, 8 kids (including a toddler) and 2 longhaired Chihuahuas. The storm outside is coming; the storm inside has arrived.

As the kids stream through the house Mom starts picking up all the crystal. She’s not worried about a category 4 hurricane ripping the roof off and destroying everything inside. But, 8 kids rampaging through the house knocking over crystal she’s spent 40 years collecting is a truly scary thought. Better safe than sorry.

Dad’s walking around outside in his baseball cap and poncho over his T-shirt and shorts, calm and collective as ever, picking up a last few things. Friends from church brought their 50-foot yacht up river yesterday and tied up at Mom and Dad’s dock. Dad heads down to double check the mooring lines one more time. There’s a 30-foot sailboat anchored 40 yards to the left inside the oxbow created by the small island just off shore. I can see two people walking around the deck. I hope they’re double-checking their mooring lines.

After spending a few minutes staking out some territory on the living room floor for our gear we turn our attention to the radar screen on TV. It’s about 2:30 and Charley has taken a slight turn to the North. That’s good news for our house but Fort Myers Beach is already taking a pounding and its not looking good for Sanibel and Captiva Islands.

My parent’s house sits only about 50 yards from the banks of the Caloosahatchee River but its up river from the WP Franklin locks, which will buffer all but the most extreme storm surge. We’re 40 or 50 miles from where the eye of the hurricane seems to be passing but we’re still starting to get sustained winds of 40 to 50 mph. The glass doors and floor to ceiling windows covering the entire southern side of the house (of course, Charley’s coming from the South) usually offer a beautiful view of the river. Right now they’re offering a front row seat view of near hurricane force winds. Dad’s a pretty smart guy and he lived through Hurricane Donna so if he didn’t think he need to board up all that glass I guess I won’t worry about it and just enjoy the show.

By the time we got there, the entire front yard was already littered with broken branches. More are being added every few seconds now. The young coconut palms right outside the window are bending at almost a 90-degree angle. The 60 foot tall Norfolk Island pine right next to the dock is whipping around and getting bald on the South side from all the branches snapping off. And the 2 twenty-five foot tall cypress trees twist and bend with more flexibility than any solid pieces of wood are supposed to have. We’re all mesmerized by the storm, especially my one-year-old niece Kennedy who keeps running to the glass windows only to have Mom Sheila grab her and go stand behind the kitchen counter, again.

CRASH!!! What the hell was that? The Barbecue grill just got blown off the back of the deck. Glad I tied mine down but it doesn’t seem like a good time to mention that to Dad.

The kids all are pretty calm, actually so are the adults. Charley’s “slight” Northerly turn is probably going to make a significant difference for us since we’re relatively far East. Jessica, Jordan, Haley, Brandon and my nephew Campbell have all found games to play; Kasey and Melanie are taking a nap (I’m so proud). Still, it’s pretty blustery outside. Rain comes down in bursts then nearly stops but the wind seems constantly increasing. Trees are bending more than ever and the Norfolk Island pine has only a few branches left on the backside of the top half. You can see through the giant oak tree in the middle of the yard because so many of its large branches are now scattered across the lawn. None of us can take our eyes off the scene outside. Suddenly another CRASH!!, much louder than the last. We all jump at least a foot. I’m certain a huge branch has slammed through a window. “Sorry, sorry, its just me” Mom says as she bends over to pick up the large wooden bowl she dropped on the tile floor. “Don’t do that anymore”, says Dad.

Every one calms down and we return our attention to the storm and the TV radar. Charley is now passing almost directly over upper Captiva Island. Cabbage Key just north east of Captiva, one of my favorite places to get a cheeseburger in paradise, seems to be in big trouble. The next small island, Useppa, where we have reserved a cottage for our anniversary in two weeks, might not be there much longer. Although our house likely will be spared, its clear other places we know and love, and many places others know and love and live in will not be so lucky.

The eye is well past us now but the radar shows several lines of severe thunderstorms in the bands of the hurricane still headed are way. Without warning or flicker the power goes out. There’s still plenty of light but no more radar to show us what’s coming. We turn on the battery-powered radio as Mom starts setting out her candles for later.

A few more burst of heavy wind and rain but we seem to be through the worst of it. Its 6:00 pm and even though its still rainy and windy, I’m ready to head home. The kids took up all the good nap spots and I need to rest. Deirdre’s not so sure we should hit the open road just yet. All right, we’ll wait a little longer.

Ian calls his house and confirms that they have no power when the answering machine fails to pick up. He and Sheila are planning to stay at the farm tonight but Ian wants to go into town to check out their house. It’s a good excuse for me to tell Deirdre that we should leave now too so we can caravan into town. She’s worried about debris in the road but I assure her I’m an accomplished four wheeler and Ian’s truck and my Expedition can handle what ever we encounter. “But what about my mini van?” she asks. I pretend not to hear as I’m loading vehicles. We have voice mail so can’t call to see if our answering machine is on but I’m hoping against hope that we still have power, even though we’re only 4 blocks from my brother’s house. If we don’t have power I want to get home while there’s still some light so I can at least unboard some of the windows. We’re headed to town.

Ten minutes from the farm and we’re in a torrential down pour. It was calm and barely drizzling when we left. Our cell phones were working too. They're not now so I can’t call or radio Deirdre to assure her all is well. I’m sure she’s cursing me for making us leave the comfort and safety of the farm. Fortunately, the rain slows after a few minutes. We’ve already seen several large trees blown over and the closer we get to town the worse things seem to get. As we drive over the Hwy 31 bridge over the Caloosahatchee I look down at the marina and see a few boats still tied up…but I can’t see any of the docks, they’re all completely under water. Every few yards now someone in the car says “wow, look at that”! No buildings completely destroyed but awnings ripped off, roof tiles missing, trailers tipped over and lots of big trees blown over, some broken off at the base, others with roots ripped up sticking high into the air. No traffic lights working anywhere. Fortunately, all the smart people are still inside so traffic is light.

As we cross US41 on the Colonial Blvd overpass I notice a few streetlights on to the South, nothing lit to the North. Still, I have a glimmer of hope that our house is in a small magical pocket that didn’t lose power. As we continue down Colonial we pass the Fort Myers cemetery, a well manicured place with twenty-five or more giant oaks and other trees. Half of them are blown over with 20-foot tall roots sticking up in the air. It’s an amazing sight.

We continue a few more blocks then turn on McGregor. No homes or buildings seem too badly damaged but lots billboards and other signs are down and tree branches and debris are everywhere. We turn into the first entrance to our neighborhood and are immediately stopped by a large oak tree lying across the entire road, no way around. I back up and head to the other entrance, fortunately its open. The rain has stopped and the sky is actually starting to clear. Several people are walking around the neighborhood, many headed down to the river. After seeing (or rather not seeing) the docks at the 31 Marina, I’m a bit anxious about how high the river is in front of our house. Deirdre is right behind me and stops to roll down her window to talk to one of our neighbors who asks “have you seen your house?”. She asks in a way that sends a wave of panic and anxiety through Deirdre but one more turn in the road reveals our house still standing, undamaged, with the river waters no where near. I exhale.

Though our house is still standing, it appears no one in the neighborhood has power. I need to get busy taking down plywood so we can open some windows. Though its fairly cool right now, I know Florida. It’s going to be hot tonight after the storm has completely passed.

First I make a quick walk around inspection of the outside of the house while Deirdre inspects the inside. One of the 4 x 8 plastic campaign signs I used to build a storage shed in our side yard is laying in the front yard and three big limbs in our acacia tree are broken off. There are several smaller branches and lots of leaves and other debris in the yard but nothing else seems to be knocked over or blown away. Even the aluminum patio roof is still there, which I quickly point out to the kids, who don’t seem at all impressed with the results of my obviously highly competent last minute engineering. They’re much more interested in the foot of water covering the lower level of our concrete dock and only want to know if they can go swimming. I say no at first but soon relent. There are other kids running all over the place, skim boarding across yards and stomping through every puddle they see. One is even wading through the fast moving, full drainage ditch leading into a 36-inch storm drain easily big enough to swallow him whole. I decide I’d rather have the kids swimming in our newly formed cement pond than getting sucked into a storm drain while I’m not looking.

Inside everything looks pretty good. There’s a small water leak over the kitchen that will need fixing but all the water fell on the floor and didn’t damage anything else. Surprisingly, our phone still has a dial tone (my very smart wife had an old fashioned regular phone in her hurricane kit that doesn’t need electricity to work). Deirdre calls to check our voice mail and gets a message from the security company telling her a door alarm and motion sensor alarm inside her store have gone off. She spends the next 30 minutes on the phone talking to the security company trying to find out what’s really happening. Meanwhile, the kids are going crazy. They’ve been cooped up for hours and it seems almost like a carnival outside. Neighbors are walking all around, surveying damage, comparing notes and stories; kids are running everywhere. Mr. Gadd from across the street comes over to offer us avocados from his blown over avocado tree.

Deirdre is getting increasingly frustrated with the alarm people and can’t decide if she really needs to go check the store. I’m afraid she’s going to kill the next kid that screams “Mom, Mom, look at this!!!” while she’s trying to talk on the phone.

Before I can take down the plywood over the back sliding glass doors I have to move the 14 sand bags. They’re still very heavy and there’s no chance of getting the kids to help. I’m starting to lose my cool with them too. Its like they’re all on a massive sugar high. Surviving their first hurricane has wound them up tight and they’re cutting loose with a furry, running everywhere and screaming like banshees. Finally, Deirdre looses it and starts screaming back at the kids. That puts me over the edge and I join in. “Everybody! Out of the water! Shut up! Get inside, dry off, sit down and be quiet!”. Six kids reluctantly file in the back door and look at us like we just killed their dogs. A few try to protest but quickly see by the look in Deirdre’s eyes and the veins bulging in my neck that that would be a bad idea.

After several calls Deirdre finally figures out that the alarm is at the office and not the store but still can’t decide if she needs to go check in person. She decides to check the rest of the phone messages first. There’s one from her office manager, Audrey, telling us that she’s been to the office to check it out. No power but everything’s ok. What a relief, we don’t need to go to the office. I only wish we’d listened to Audrey’s message 30 minutes ago…the kids might still be swimming.

We straighten up around the house for a while and all enjoy a nutritious dinner of whatever junk food and leftovers we find in our dark refrigerator. Category 4 hurricane…I’m sure Dr. Atkins will understand. Deirdre breaks out a dozen of the candles left over from our wedding (we seem to have hundreds) and spreads them around the house. About 9:30 we start herding the kids to bed. They’re actually pretty tired so go with out much of a fight. Deirdre and I listen to the radio a while longer and learn that the barrier islands got hit very hard. Most of Lee County is with out power. Numerous homes in Charlotte County have been destroyed and several large buildings, including at least one of the hospitals and one hurricane shelter, had their roofs ripped off and sustained significant structural damage. We’ve got a roof over our heads, food in our bellies and our children are safe in their beds. All in all we’re pretty darn lucky. Then I remember the heat.

Bone sucking heat. I’ve been laying in bed for an hour or so now. On the bed would be more accurate, on top of all the covers. Still it’s hot. The bedspread’s starting to get damp from my sweat. There’s actually a pleasant breeze outside but our windows direct what little of it they seem to be letting in across the foot of our bed only. To make the night even more unbearable, our neighbor, Jimmy Orr, directly opposite our bedroom sliding glass doors is running his generator. I don’t know which is bothering me more: my jealousy or the incessant ROAR of the motor. I get up and walk around the room a few times rubbing my aching legs. I didn’t realize until I lay down but I did a great deal of manual labor today. It’s true what they say about your body falling apart after 40. I’m sore everywhere.

I try laying across the foot of the bed in a desperate attempt to suck up some more of the meager breeze. My wife doesn’t think much of me lying on her feet; they’re pretty uncomfortable anyhow. I walk outside in search of relief. The breeze is much stronger on the patio but my choices are a concrete slab or wooden deck planks for a bed. We got a new mattress 2 weeks ago and just 5 days ago gave away our old mattress to a friend. I’m kicking myself now. I decide to try lying on top of the hot tub. The vinyl encased Styrofoam lid is reasonably comfortable and will support my considerable mass if I stay near the edge. I’m afraid, though, that I’ll fall a sleep, roll to the center and crash through. I’m not sure why that worries me because with the never ending ROAR of Jimmy’s generator nobody could ever fall asleep.

Back inside for more pacing. Deirdre usually sleeps in flannels and a parka under six blankets so she thinks the temperature is perfect. I’m sure I’ve been more miserable sometime in my life but right now I can’t remember when. I lay down again and, finally, exhaustion wins out and I drift off for a horrible nights sleep in un-air-conditioned discomfort.

Saturday 8/14

It’s still hot but at least there’s a slight breeze on the patio and deck this morning. I use the side burner on my gas grill for the first time ever to cook bacon and eggs. Still struggling mightily to stay on the Atkins but I’d kill for an ice cold Coke this morning.

Jimmy Orr, the neighbor I was cursing last night because of his extra loud generator, stops by mid morning to let us know he and his son Taylor are leaving that afternoon for a cruise they booked months ago. He asks if we’d like to borrow his generator while they’re gone. What a saint! If Deirdre and I ever have a son we’re naming him Jimmy. “Well if you’re sure you wouldn’t mind, we could sure use it”, I humbly reply. “Not at all, no sense it sitting in my garage while we’re gone. Just be sure to check the oil occasionally”, he says. “I’ll check it every hour, I swear. Thanks a ton”.

I can’t get the generator till this afternoon when they leave but already I’m taking down the wall mounted fans on the patio and building brackets to hold them inside. I’ve picked the perfect spot in the bedroom to have them blowing directly on me.

About 11:00 am, after 36 hours of hospital duty, Tom and Tiff are finally released and stop by to pick up their kids. We learn from Tom that half the glass roof on the huge atrium at Health Park Hospital blew off in the middle of the storm. Quite a harrowing experience for everyone in the hospital at the time.

Tiff and Deirdre visit for a while and 6’7” Tom grabs a few of the broken limbs I couldn’t reach in our oak tree. They haven’t been home yet and are anxious to get there to inspect any damage. They leave a few minutes later. We’re always happy to watch their kids but I breathe a small sigh of relief that we’re now back to just 4 people, 3 dogs, 2 hamsters and a rabbit.

Mid afternoon and Taylor and Jimmy just left. I’m like a kid at Christmas. I can’t wait to get things hooked up to the generator. In short order I’ve got extension cords running all over the house with a priority on getting electricity to the fridge and our 3 heaven sent fans. I might just barely survive after all.

Everyone we know is without power. Being near the river, we have the one of the best breezes in town (when there’s a breeze). Consequently, everyone comes to our house to barbecue that evening. Nick brings the entire contents of his friend’s refrigerator, including 4 pounds of hamburger, 6 giant NY strip steaks and various and sundry sandwich meats. After satiating ourselves, Deirdre comments, “anyone who goes through a hurricane needs Nick’s groceries”.

Soon we’re all fat and happy but we still miss our air conditioner. Even with the fans inside and our river breeze outside its still humid and muggy. My friend Dyron Johnson stops by for a burger and admires our new 6500-watt generator. “Why haven’t you hooked up the portable air conditioner from your boat?” he asks. What an idiot I am! I can’t believe I didn’t remember the boat a/c. I quickly dig it out of the corner of the garage where it’s buried. I’ve never used it before and pray that it actually works.

It’s a portable a/c designed for marine use. Instead of circulating and using air as a heat sink, it uses water. There’s a circulating pump that’s intended to hang over the side of the boat into the ocean where it sucks in cool water and discharges the heated water. I first try using a 5-gallon bucket of water. But, since a 5 gallon bucket holds much less water than the ocean, all the water quickly heats up to the point where it can’t be used as a heat sink. I try a large garbage can but still have the same problem. Finally, I hit on the idea of putting the garbage can in our shower with the shower filing the can at the same rate the circulation pump is pulling it out. I put the discharge line down the drain so the water in the can never gets hot. It works like a charm. Six years at Georgia Tech are finally paying off!

Our bathroom looks like the pipe room in a commercial building and by morning the floor is soaked from condensation but I don’t care. We’ve got a/c! This unit is designed to cool a boat cabin about a fourth the size of our bedroom but with the help of 2 fans we sleep quite well in semi air-conditioned comfort. I never give a second thought to all the unfortunate bastards in our neighborhood with out generators that we might be keeping awake with the noise from ours. God bless you Jimmy.

Sunday 8/15

I wake well rested but the heat and humidity hit me like a Mack truck as soon as I walk out the bedroom door. I quickly retreat. The kids are hungry and I’m the grill master so eventually I have to leave my haven to face the heat and cook. The Brinkman has served us well. Steak for breakfast sounds like a winner.

After breakfast I’d like to return to my bedroom cave but I really should give the generator a break. Besides, we’ve only got 5 gallons of gas left and getting more is easier said than done since most of the gas stations in town are with out power too. So, I dig my trusty hammock out of my hunting bag and hang it between two of the recently reinforced posts on the patio for a short mid morning nap before it gets too hot. All in all it’s not a bad morning.

Early afternoon I decide to drive over to see Dyron. He filled a 55-gallon drum with gas before the hurricane (he’s smarter than I thought) and I’m sure he can spare a few gallons. When I get there I see Brett McBrien’s car in the driveway and Dyron’s truck in the front yard. I open the side door and holler but get no reply. I look in every room and the backyard but they’re nowhere to be found. As I’m heading back to my truck I notice Dyron’s truck is running. I peer through the tinted windows and see Brett and Dyron in the front seats, watching a TV plugged into the cigarette lighter, playing cards and drinking beer. Reluctantly, Dyron exits the air-conditioned cab and helps me fill my gas can. He’s back in his truck before I’m in mine.

Back home and I’ve had a new inspiration about our a/c unit. Our hot tub is right outside our bedroom’s sliding glass doors. It holds enough water that it won’t heat up too much to stop cooling the a/c. I can then put the entire unit outside so we can use our bathroom again and avoid all the condensation problems. I move the whole apparatus outside and quickly cut one of my many spare pieces of plywood to fit in the sliding glass door track. I then cut a hole in the board for the a/c vent and, voila! Works like a charm, again. Thank you Georgia Tech! As an added bonus, even though the water won’t over heat, by morning it should be warm enough for a nice dip in the tub. Without 220-volt electricity I can’t run the jets so won’t have bubbles but with all the steak I’ve been eating I should be able to make my own.

Monday 8/16

We’re starting to adjust and adapt. After another fine breakfast on the grill we decide to take a drive, in the air-conditioned Expedition, to check out our boat and see what damage we can see around town. Driving down McGregor there are huge trees down everywhere. Virtually every home in every neighborhood has giant piles of limbs and branches stacked in their front yards waiting for city crews to pick them up. None of the traffic lights are working and every major intersection has cops directing traffic with plastic bags full of ice and water bottles in the middle of the road. It’s brutally hot on all that pavement. Never have I admired the dedication of our law enforcement personnel more. If it were up to me to stand out there in a uniform directing traffic in the sweltering heat, we’d have lots of wrecks.

When we get to the marina the boat yard is locked up so we can’t get in but we are able to drive around to the side where we can see our boat. It looks OK. The 34-foot sailboat right next to it has been blown off its blocks and is leaning against the next sailboat…away from our boat. Lucky break for us. We see two other sail boats lying on their sides but most of the boats seem to have faired pretty well. This is a great relief after seeing the pictures on the news of the boat storage building in Punta Gorda completely destroyed with over a hundred boats lying in a mangled pile.

That afternoon we start to get word from friends in neighborhoods on all sides of us that they have power. We cross our fingers and try not to get our hopes up too much. By late afternoon, still no power but the crowd starts to arrive for the standing barbecue. Even some of our friends with power at home show up. Since we had a generator to run our refrigerator, everybody brought all there food over here so we’re well provisioned. We enjoy another outstanding beef barbecue. There’s a 9:00 o’clock curfew in effect with the National Guard in town to help enforce it. Everyone heads home early.

The girls have figured out that its much more comfortable in Mom and Dad’s room so stake out spots on the floor at bedtime. The news guys are telling us that FPL promises to have power back to all of Lee County (except for the barrier islands, which are a disaster zone) by Thursday. I’m hopeful we’ll be back on sooner. I sleep that night in semi-air-conditioned comfort, again without a thought about the music the generator is playing for our less fortunate neighbors.

Tuesday 8/17

Still no power at home this morning but Deirdre gets word that power is back on at the office. Yippee! Real live honest to goodness full power air-conditioning! Load up the kids; grab the left over steak, some videos and the little TV. We’re spending the day at the office.

We walk in to the office and instantly I know there is a God. Outside of the car, I haven’t felt cool like this in 3 days. Lights actually come on when you flip a light switch and I don’t have to add gas to a generator. I never thought I’d be so happy to be at the office. We settle in for a long and pleasant afternoon. Deirdre actually gets some work done and I check emails while the kids watch movies. Late in the day we get word that even more of our friends have power at their homes. I’m reluctant to leave, but we decide to head back home to see if we’re some of the lucky ones.

We’re not, yet, but we’re still hopeful. We have our generator and our semi-air-conditioned bedroom so life’s not so bad. Deirdre and the girls decide to head out in search of a gas station while I clean the grill and take a nap. Thirty minute after they leave I roll over and see my alarm clock flashing at me. It takes a second for it to hit me: We’ve got power! Alleluia! We’ve been saved! I love you FPL! I call Deirdre with the news; fortunately its one of the one-in-ten times that the cell phone works. She rushes home and savors her first hot shower in 4 days. I set the a/c to 65 degrees and lay down on the couch to finish my nap. I’m smiling.

We still don’t have a home phone or cablevision but having power back at our house makes it seem like the crisis is over everywhere. The news tells us it’s not. People who wisely evacuated Ft Myers Beach, Sanibel and Captiva haven’t even been let back on the islands yet. Most don’t know if their houses are still standing or not. None of the islands have power and it’s likely to be another week or more before they do. Charlotte County, 30 miles north, is even worse.

Seventeen people dead. A tent hospital sprung up where Charlotte Regional used to be. My brother’s mother and father-in-law, along with hundreds of others, lost their houses. That’s not counting the mobile homes, most of which folded like aluminum beer cans. The Charlotte High School senior class won’t be able to graduate from the school they’ve attended for the last 3 years because its not there anymore. It will probably take at least a month to restore power everywhere.

But the people endure and the communities already are beginning to rebuild. The news is replete with stories of man’s humanity to man. When a radio station announces in the morning that they’ll be collecting supplies in the mall parking lot for those hardest hit they fill 13 trucks by mid-afternoon. Tom and Tiffany load a cooler with Gatorade and water bottles and drive to Punta Gorda passing out cool drinks to cops, National Guardsmen and others along the way. The Red Cross puts out a call for cash and blood; they get lots of both. Power crews from as far away as Illinois continue to show up. Neighbors everywhere help their neighbors.

It will take time to rebuild but rebuild we will. The scars on the land will eventually heal. Sooner than we think, Charley will be just a memory. I hope we never forget we were the lucky ones.


Wednesday 9/1/04

Hurricane Frances, already a category 4, is headed to the East coast of Florida. Even after it crosses the state, we’ll probably, most likely, almost certainly, unless something changes, get category 1 or 2 winds in Fort Myers. I’m going to Home Depot first thing tomorrow morning to buy a generator.

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