Florida suffered hits from four hurricanes during 2004. Charley, Frances, Jeanne, and Ivan were all unwelcome visitors.  The Saams suffered direct hits from Frances and Jeanne.  We wouldn't wish the experience on anyone!

I was the last to evacuate our house for hurricane Frances.  The family evacuated the night before, and I followed the next day with a car load of supplies.  I stopped at the local greasy spoon for breakfast on the way out of town.  The waitress, who we'd known for years,  lives in a mobile home with her dog, aging mother and husband.  The dog wasn't allowed in a shelter, so she refused to evacuate.  Instead, she worked at the restaurant straight through the storm and slept there with her family and some of the customers who shared similar situations.   It made me feel lucky, but in a way, she was also lucky!

We attended a wedding at a nice hotel in Orlando during Frances.  Below is a picture of the bride and groom.  We had reservations for months in advance, so we were lucky not to be among the millions searching for a place to sleep out of harm's way.  The hotel was setup as an emergency service center for the Orange County Sheriff's Department, so there was plenty of food, water and electricity.  The hotel staff lived on premise during the worst.  Some of the hotel staff were deputized under "marshal law conditions."  It was a bit of a joke, even if conditions were serious.  Some of the rooms in the upper stories suffered water damage, but wasn't badly damaged after the hurricane finally passed Orlando. 

Frances left a police state in it's wake.  Noone was allowed to travel during evening hours, bridges were closed, and access was tightly controlled.  Electricity was out over hundreds of square miles.  Street lights were blown down and many roads were blocked by fallen power lines.  Trees were blown down, many in streets, on to houses or cars.  One could really appreciate the utility of a good-old fashion four-way stop, a chain saw, and an efficient generator.

Despite the risks, I vacated the "marshal law" hotel at my first opportunity and drove home to survey the damage ahead of the rest of the family.  I embarked at dawn.  No gas stations were open, and radio stations were in a bizarre state of shock. Even if gas stations could open, the pumps had no power.  I had enough fuel to make the journey, so it was no bother.  I planned my Easterly route on roads that I figured would be kept open for emergency vehicles.  I passed church with its steeple blown-off and poking into the roof.  When I reached the Indian River Lagoon, I was stunned by the number of sunken and beached boats in view.

Unlike many of our neighbors, we didn't suffer much serious damage.  However, we did have a huge mess.  The Indian River burped-up tons of debris.  Although most debris was dock lumber, it included almost every thing imaginable.  Amongst the lumber we found a kitchen sink, a toilet, and a full wardrobe of clothes to mention only a few things.  The pile was about 15 feet thick, 5 feet tall and 80 feet wide, ending where our neighbor's pile began.  Much of the lumber was identifiable as parts from other neighbors docks.  We enlisted family to sort out the mess.  With time off from school, the women of the family worked about four days to remove nails and sort piles of lumber by color and size so that we could return it to the rightful owners.  As soon as we had we started to take control of the situation, hurricane Jeanne paid a visit.  Jeanne randomized the carefully sorted piles and deposited yet another, even more impressive debris pile. After Jeanne, six gracious family volunteers worked four more days to move the pile out of the back yard up to our front yard for trash pick-up.  The relocated debris pile sat for weeks waiting for one of the FEMA crews to haul it off to the dump.  Thankfully, we were able to recycle some of the pressure treated lumber for a historical display at the local Marine Resources Council Lagoon House, but most went to the dump.

Amazingly, palm trees seemed to survive the hurricane's winds.  Howling winds blew leaves off most other trees that remained standing.  Frances blew our entire grape fruit harvest to the ground.  Our citrus trees started growing new leaves within a week, but Jeanne wiped them clean again shortly afterwards.  Somehow, our grapefruit tree survived and grew new leaves a few months later, but many branches died because bark was blown-off.  The mango trees also lost their leaves although did recover remarkably well.  Oddly, the mango trees did not bloom the following season. The mulberry tree had no problem recovering leaves and fruit.  Our key lime trees were a complete loss.

There was no "situation normal" for quite a while.  We had running water, but there was a boil-water order for over a week.  Schools were used as hurricane shelters, so the kids couldn't attend classes.  The high school football season schedule went awry.  Street lights were out everywhere and the National Guard was directing traffic for weeks.  Grocery stores had little or no fresh food.  We longed to enjoy fresh lettuce.  Water and ice was distributed to the public from emergency centers.  Fights sometimes broke-out among those in the wait queues.  Gas was definitely in short supply, partly because the major sea ports were closed, partly because everyone drained their tanks leaving town, and partly because of demand for gas to power generators.  When power came on at a particular gas station, a line formed and the available gas was quickly pumped dry.  When a tank truck of gas arrived a powered station, people would gather around and applaud the driver.


Again, we were lucky.   Our house only suffered minor roof damage, so we stayed dry.  Also, our house is located near a main utility feed that was restored as one of the first recovery steps.  Our power was restored within a few days while others waited months.  Although the food in our refrigerator had spoiled, we did have air conditioning and warm showers.  Our neighbors next door also enjoyed utilities, but were forced to temporarily abandon their house because of roof damage and subsequent water damage (above). Roof damage was the most common cause for suffering.  Water flowing in from above makes a nasty soup of insulation, drywall and mold; yuk!  Less damaged roofs were covered with blue plastic tarps to prevent further damage.  The common "blue tarp" was adopted as the new Florida State flag.

Pets are frequently neglected during hurricanes.  During Frances, a friend of our daughter's bassoon teacher noticed a dog wandering around in rural Palm Bay.  A few days after the storm, the dog was still wandering.  The poor creature had no tags, a swollen ear from a large blood blister, and a fresh case of heart worms from mosquito bites.  The bassoon teacher's friend adopted the dog, but the dog did not socialize well with his cats.  So, our bassoon teacher agreed to transfer the adoption.  Unfortunately,  the poor creature, now named "Petey," did not socialize well with the bassoon teacher's dachshund.  So, we adopted Petey on a "trial basis."  Shortly after Petey arrived, hurricane Jeanne was knocking on our door.  We faced the same dilemma that Petey's original owners probably faced: "what to do with a dog while evacuating from a hurricane?"  Thankfully, we found a temporary home for Petey during our evacuation from Jeanne.

Above left, is a satellite view of Frances hammering Florida.  Hurricane Jeanne is waiting in the wings for the one-two-punch.  The middle photo, courtesy of our neighbor Warren, looks over our backyard fence the day after Jeanne.  The Indian River Lagoon had once again barfed tons of dock lumber into our back yard.  At the height of the storm, the river rose about 7ft, consuming the first 40ft of our backyard.  Thankfully, the water didn't rise into our house.  The picture on the above right illustrates waves breaking over the seawall on to our neighbor's porch the morning after the storm.  Our neighbor's "hurricane windows" (without shutters) really worked!  Our neighbor's house suffered minimal damage despite the pounding of debris laden waves directly into his huge picture window!

Again, we were lucky.  We had planned for months ahead of Jeanne to attend a wedding in Philadelphia (above).  With Jeanne knocking at the door, we had a plane ticket out of town to evacuate.  Our timing and luck was remarkable.  We enjoyed a marvelous wedding and toured historic Philadelphia while Florida was again pummeled by the forces of nature.  We've definitely used up our luck, so it will be quite a long time before we can tolerate another year like 2004!

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