Saturday, August 21, 2004

Notes on Charley

Aug 21, 2004

Here is the leading edge of the storm as it entered Orlando about 9 P.M. We had lost power (electrical and the TV-computer cable) about fifteen minutes before this photograph was taken, assuming that the time given by the Sentinel is accurate.

I don't have time for a lengthy report, so just a few observations in no necessary order.
First, thanks to those of you who wished us well.
Second, I hope I never have to live through something like that again.

The severity of the storm was a big surprise. Friday afternoon, with it still off the coast but now pretty clear in the direction it would head, my wife and I reluctantly went outside to lower the window canopies and tie them down. We were expecting maybe 80 mph winds max, but still something we'd never experienced. When we came back inside an hour later, the storm had grown from a middling category 2 to a monster cat 4. Unbelievable. We watched on TV as it began its diagonal march across the state. Now I'm thinking 100 mph winds minimum with no idea how this old house (circa 1925) could take it and wishing my wife were in another state. When the eye reached Kissimmee, about parallel to Disney World (as best I remember) we lost power and TV. After that you sit in the dark, watch the spooky weather turn vicious and listen to the various sounds your house can make and you don't know what any of them mean. (That eye, by the way, had broadened into a sort of flying wedge; there was no backside to it, a blessing). The house groaned, creaked, rumbled and vibrated. What belongs to the storm and what to the house? The vibration was most frightening: put the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth and roll it fast and you'll get an idea, though without the resonance reminiscent of a bow pulled across a cello's strings. An acquaintance later told us it was our windows. So maybe they were on the verge of exploding. I don't know. I looked out a window and saw huge oak trees bending in the wind like lissome palms. Better to just sit and wait. But you can't. A little later we're looking out the back door and see the metal canopy over the workshop's been torn off. It's lying on the ground. I think I need to go get it before its picked up and hurled through a window. I open the door and the wind's blowing so hard I can see myself getting killed by a flying tree branch. The winds were at what - 60, 70, 80 mph? I'm no judge. The canopy isn't budging, just hugging the ground. So we leave it lie. The wife doesn't want me out there. We go back to the living room but come back a little later and now the canopy's right outside the back door. That's as far as it got.

The mercy? It was a fast moving storm and seemed over quickly. The damage? To ourselves, not much. Just the canopy and a large plum tree blown over and resting on the orange tree. Took me two days to chop it up with a chain saw and carry it to the curb. Most of my citrus survived. A huge oak tree on the border between our yard and a neighbor's went down. It stayed in his yard. (If your neighbor's oak tree falls on your house, it's your insurance problem, not his.) We were without power for about 48 hours. We slept bathed in sweat. We were lucky, some people still don't have it. Some don't have homes. We never lost water, thank God. We got computer access back today. A week with no TV, no computer. When the TV popped on today, it was to a commercial advertising a machine guaranteed to give you perfect abs, buns and thighs.

The radio was our link to the outside. When the stations tried to return to regular programming a couple days later, I think listeners got pissed. Sean Hannity, Limbaugh, Savage, the whole crowd, got bumped for constant updates on local conditions. People want to know where they can get ice, food, when the electricity's coming back on, where they can go if they've lost their home. The political war ads between Bush and Kerry seemed suddenly trivial.

The piles of tree and house trash will (I'm only guessing) take weeks to clean up.
My neighborhood got hit pretty bad, but on the airport side of town where my parents live it was much worse. After picking Elizabeth up at the airport, we went over to see how they were doing. They lost half the tiles on their roof, a 7,000 dollar repair job. And there was my dad, 80 years old, up on the roof draping a tarp over a leak. If you tell him to stay off the roof, its wasted breath. Hundreds more to cut up and haul away the huge camphor tree that looks to me like it got splintered by a funnel cloud. You've heard the "war zone" cliche. That's what his neighborhood looks like. Every other oak tree uprooted, huge, ancient trees around which two or three men joining hands might span the trunk. It's a miracle how few fell on houses and cars, but a fact of small comfort to those who suffered it. I heard that windgusts were clocked at the airport at 115 mph.

You feel bad when you've got power and someone else doesn't. The old guy next door had to go 3 days longer than I did. He didn't even have a cooler, so I gave him ours and kept him supplied with ice from our freezer so he could drink his Miller High Life cold. He sat in a chair on his front porch as far into the night as he could take it, because his house was a steambox.

My wife loves her air conditioning, but she took its absence well. She's just glad we've got a roof over our heads, our family intact. She worked up a sweat helping me haul the plum tree to the curb, and picking up roof tiles and tree branches from my dad's back yard. She comes through when you need her.
My mother, I think, wanted to know where the birds go during a hurricane. I told her they went to a shelter.

Go to: Mother Nature's a Bitch


Thank goodness you and yours are okay.
Posted by Peony Moss email at August 21, 2004 09:24 PM

Gee...I wondered where you were?You were surviving.I haven't been reading long enough to know you were in Florida.Thank you for sharing details. I found most interesting how immaterial entertainment and politics are when ya need a glass of cold water.
Blessings,Donna in Wisconsin
Posted by Donna Boucher email at August 22, 2004 08:15 AM

I'm so glad that ya'll are well, and that your damage was pretty minor. We've watched the pictures on the news and wondered if we were actually seeing YOU in the footage. I'm glad it wasn't.
Posted by MamaT email at August 22, 2004 08:44 AM

Awesome picture Mr. Luse! I'm so glad you and your family got through the storm. Hey, they built good houses back in 1925 didn't they!!
Posted by Elena email at August 22, 2004 08:49 AM

woo hoo! sorry to hear about your plum tree - was that the one in the back corner? How did the girls take the storm news?Yeah, radio is what gets you through disasters. some day I will have to figure out how to convert a cassette into a internet sound file and play the first few minutes on air in Los Angeles after the quake. Don't be surprised at how the rest fo the world will tell you all to 'move on' while you are still fighting to clean up.
Posted by alicia email at August 22, 2004 09:59 AM

Thanks,ladies. A rather cursory report, but I'm sick and tired of the Florida weather right now. One daughter was scheduled to come in the night of the 'cane, so we moved her flight to the next morning. After the expected delays, she made it in that afternoon and got to spend a day and a half with no modern conveniences except a cell phone.(The airport, btw, was wall-to-wall with stranded travelers). "Welcome to Orlando" I said. She laughed, but we, her parents, were near tears at the prospect she'd have to spend her break from school with none of the things that make coming home enjoyable - nothing but the company of her parents, which she bravely averred was enough for her. Bernadette was in New York at a golf tournament and calling us every 30 minutes, worried sick. But she played pretty well in spite of it. And yes, they made great houses in the old days.
Posted by William Luse email at August 22, 2004 03:52 PM

A friend indeed is one who would provide access to cold beer. Glad to see you made it through.
Posted by TSO email at August 23, 2004 11:08 AM

So glad to hear that you & yours are all okay, Mr. Luse.
Posted by Sparki email at August 23, 2004 12:50 PM

Thanks Sparki.
Posted by William Luse email at August 23, 2004 03:42 PM

For a cursory report, it's pretty riveting -- especially with that picture to adorn it.
Thank God everyone is alright.
Posted by Paul Cella email at August 24, 2004 03:17 PM

All right, Paul. Twas wondering where you've been.
Posted by William Luse email at August 25, 2004 01:38 AM

Amazing pic!
Glad you're doing well.....will continue to keep you in my prayers.
Posted by Ellyn email at August 25, 2004 07:50 AM

Thanks Ellyn, but save most of your prayers for others. There are people who have lost everything. Hard to imagine.
Posted by William Luse email at August 25, 2004 01:09 PM



Anonymous said...

I remember Charley quit well. I lived in Winter park at the time and went right through the heart of the storm (My area saw 100-115mph wind gusts). I was without power for 8 days and without water for 4 days after the storm. Many homes in my area were crushed by giant oak trees.

William Luse said...

Like I said, I hope I never have to go through it again.