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Sunday, September 5, 2004

From the Eye of Hurricane Frances 3

This is the third installment of my friend's story. If you've missed the first one, you can find it here. For the second one, go here.

FROM THE EYE OF HURRICANE FRANCES

Still Wednesday (September 1, 2004)

It’s never a good day when you wake up, turn on the TV, and the news reports that a hurricane is predicted to land exactly where you live. This is how Thursday started. Our Category 4 storm was gathering strength, and most weather predictions were saying that it would make landfall in Jupiter. The news people were sure that an evacuation order would be announced for our area shortly and were repeating phrases like, “Hurricane preparations should now be rushed to completion.”

I looked around our house. It has two stories, but upstairs is only two bedrooms and two bathrooms; downstairs the living room and dining room reach up two stories to the roof. The whole back of the house is glass, and every room has sliding glass doors that face the back or front yards. I saw earlier in the year our yard partially flood during a heavy rainstorm. It wouldn’t take much to flood our backyard such that the water level would be high enough to reach into our house. It was obvious I’d need to prepare the house as if it there might be two feet of water throughout it. With the potential for storm surge adding another few feet, though, if the eye were to hit Jupiter, our whole first floor could be wiped out. I decided the safest thing would be to prepare the house as if this worst case scenario might happen. Move everything up from the first floor to the second, and move anything we truly value completely out of the house if we can. I got to it.

Our worst problem was that on the first floor is my office. It’s filled with papers and electronic equipment- fax machines, shredders, etc. Everything would have to be moved, sealed up in plastic, and time permitting, the papers should be sorted so that the most important are best protected. Lucky for me, I’d already been in the process of re-organizing the papers. As a result, I had general piles of types of papers already. Moving them all was still a pain in the ass, though. What’s more, I needed to pack up what I wanted sent to my husband’s office by the time he went to work the next morning.

It’s a very strange thing to sort through all your worldly possessions in a day and a half and make snap decisions about how important any given item is to you. I asked my husband what he wanted me to save of his, and he said, “Photos. Photos and tapes of our work that we can never replace.” He used to be a professional musician, so there are some tapes of his music in our house which are the last copy of music he’s composed and recorded. Other than this, he just wanted a couple of suits and stuff to wear. My list was a lot longer. For reasons that make no sense, I wanted to be sure my wedding dress is safe. It’s completely illogical, because if all goes well, I’ll never need to wear it again, and given that it was designed and tailored to fit me, it’s not like anyone else is ever going to be able to wear it, so why I wanted to keep it safe, I don’t know, but I did. I didn’t have enough room in the box I was sending to my husband’s office for all of our photos, so I had to make snap decisions. Do I want to save photos from our France trip, or a friend’s wedding? Here’s one of a guy who’s now dead; I’d better keep that one. What are these - Times Square on New Year’s Eve? I grabbed a few, as most of them were dark and similar anyway. The morning went on like this. Packing, moving furniture, answering concerned e-mails, planning to bake food to pack up. I’ve never been up and down our stairs so much in one day, ever.

I bought some more food, as well as a cooler. This time, at the supermarket, the water shelf was cleared out, as was the flashlight shelf. Some other areas looked raided. People were still friendly, though, and showed genuine concern for their fellow man. It was nice to see. Earlier in the day, I’d seen a headline screaming, “Florida is Fran-xious!” I figured, “Hey - ... is Fran-xious!” On the way back from shopping, I felt a surge of courage when I saw something flickering over the beach trees - the sail of a kiteboarder. The weather really couldn’t be more perfect for it. It was still sunny, still warm, and the water was only a bit wavy, and the wind wasn’t too strong.

On the way back from picking up my husband, we found our favorite Shell station, and it still had gas, and there wasn’t even a wait for it. In some ways, this is the blessing of living in the North of the county; there aren’t as many people up here, so there are plenty of resources to go around. Anyway, we were glad to fill up on gas, as news stories were starting to be reported about gas stations running out. These were intermixed with stories of plywood shortages, but given that we weren’t planning to board up our house, I didn’t pay much attention to these stories.

By the time I got my husband back home, the house packing was well under way. I’d been chatting with the landlady about specific details. What should we do with the outdoor overhead fan? How do you prepare a fireplace? Is there anything of yours you’d like us to save? My basic thinking was, if the house is completely destroyed, what will we wish we got out/what will we be sorry we left behind? Snap questions. Snap decisions. The landlady and I talked about the possibility of the home not being inhabitable after the storm, and where we might live, and when she will come to assess the damage. It’s a horrible feeling. I packed until I was exhausted and couldn’t pack anymore.

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