It’s been a week since Hurricane Matthew battered the Florida coast. Piles of broken branches and fallen trees still line the streets and mangled roofs can still be seen in many neighborhoods. As a Florida native, I’ve dealt with many hurricanes in my life. My memories of that first storm couldn’t be corroborated by parents so I may have them confused with an exceptionally bad thunderstorm. I was pretty young at the time. However, the first hurricane I faced out on my own, was in 1999, Hurricane Floyd.
Floyd was historic because it was the first time Walt Disney World ever closed. At the time I lived with two roommates in an apartment with a solarium. We didn’t know what to do about all those windows should they be shattered by flying debris so we took the mattresses off our beds and used them to cover the windows. We stayed up all night watching the news and chuckling about the poor reporters forced to stay out in the storm to bring us the coverage. Floyd came in during the night, but turned out to be a lot less impressive than predicted.
By noon, the skies were clear and Universal Studios opened. We had the day off because of the storm, so we whipped out our annual passes and headed to the park. It was like a ghost town. There might have been 1,000 people there. Being able to walk down the middle of the street without scores of people trying to push past, racing to the next attraction was surreal and a once in a lifetime experience.
Central Florida was lucky to avoid more storms until the summer of 2004. That was the year meteorologist Tom Terry made his mark on Orlando and the phrase “hunker down” was coined as three storms ravaged the area within six weeks. Not every business can shut down during bad weather so I was working the ride-out crew for my company and I earned lots of overtime.
Hurricane Charley was the worst; ripping its way from Punta Gorda in southwest Florida, through Orlando and northeast Florida. Every time I was able to take a break from work I went into the break room to watch the news or onto the patio to watch the wind and rain.
When I was able to return home 48-hours later, I was astounded by the devastation. Large oak trees were ripped out of the ground less than a mile from where I had been working. As I approached my neighborhood, I noticed a helicopter hovering overhead. As I turned into the neighborhood I realized it was a news chopper filming the destruction. The street was large, normally three cars could easily pass, but as I approached, there were trees so large my little Honda Civic could just squeeze through. The trees had been completely uprooted.
I found out my roommate had spent most of the storm in her walk-in closet in fear that a tree would come down any minute. Not an unfounded fear considering we had a huge magnolia in the front yard. Later, we walked around the neighborhood taking photos of the damage. Considering how many trees had been taken down, it was amazing to see they had only fallen on a couple of houses and cars. While the power had gone out during the storm, it was returned during the evening after I came home. All power lines in Florida should be put underground.
Blue tarps appeared on roofs throughout the city, and before roofers could even get started, Hurricane Frances headed our way. Frances was a milder storm, but she just wouldn’t move. I spent 72-hours at work without sleep. The morning of the third day we were all going crazy, desperate for the storm to pass and the rain to end.
The same week Frances came through, I was booked to go on a cruise Port Canaveral was closed and we were bused down to Ft. Lauderdale. Aside from not being able to stop at the cruise line’s private island we had a lovely cruise. While onboard I received a call from work that I may need to return to the office as soon as I finished the cruise as Hurricane Ivan was developing in the Gulf of Mexico. Fortunately, that storm missed us and I had a break until Hurricane Jeanne two weeks later.
By now I was immune to the warnings. While there was wind and plenty of rain, Jeanne seemed to be the mildest of the storms. With each storm, though, there was more damage to Central Florida. Many of those who had suffered roof damage during Charley were still wearing tarps after Jeanne. There weren’t enough roofers in the area to handle the demand. Marsh areas that had been drained to create housing developments flooded. Chapters, my favorite restaurant/bookstore, in Winter Park had to close due to all of the damage sustained at the shop as well as a storage facility where they held excess stock. I don’t imagine those who lived here in 2004 will ever forget the devastation we experienced.
Central Florida was fortunate, again, to avoid any direct hits until Hurricane Matthew. While the eye of Matthew didn’t actually come ashore, Cape Canaveral experienced its first brush with a hurricane. The space program was housed on Cape Canaveral because of its history of not being plagued with tropical storms. The slight eastern wobble the storm took that kept it from coming on shore right in the Cape area was a miracle and prevented much more serious damage from occurring.
Matthew was my first storm in my own home. I struggled with the decision to evacuate or stay home. I worried the winds would rip off my roof and maybe even part of my second story. I spent Thursday night downstairs, listening to the howling winds, the windows whistling and the door creaking. Rain was thrown so hard against my front window and door, both covered by a porch, that is sounded like pebbles being thrown. Mom and dad were visiting from North Carolina and were supposed to leave Thursday. They rode out the storm with me, but both managed to sleep through most of the night, apparently deaf to the weather. Tropical storm force winds continued into the afternoon of Friday and I marveled at the flexibility of some pine trees behind my house. I watched them bend and sway, sometimes in circles, as if dancing with the wind.
While the power flickered a number of times, I was fortunate to never lose power. I feel a little guilty about that as I know many who didn’t fare so well, some even at the end of my street and in the surrounding neighborhoods. I was prepared with lanterns, candles and even a battery operated fan. I feel blessed that my house didn’t sustain any damage. When a coworker mocked all of the Facebook posts about prayers being answered when the storm stayed off the coast, I told him of my own prayers and how they had been answered. He countered with a question about those in Haiti who were hit so hard, had they not prayed ? Obviously I can’t speak for those I have never met, but I do know that preyers were being said for Haiti before the storm hit. I believe they were answered. There was loss of life, but it could have been much worse. I continue to pray for the people of Haiti as they once again begin to rebuild.
As much as we would like to believe God answers every prayer in the way we want, that simply isn’t the case. God’s plan is greater than any plan we can conceive. Would I have been disappointed if my house had been damaged? Yes. Would I have felt like my prayer had gone unanswered? Probably for a few minutes, but at the same time I am thankful I have been able to achieve a sound financial footing. I am prepared if an unexpected need arises, such as a new roof. This did not come easily and required a lot of self discipline.
I have heard some murmuring of a potential new storm in the Gulf of Mexico. I hope it will fizzle out, but if not, I’ll be ready to hunker down. It’s a Florida thing.
The 2004 Hurricane season was such a crazy, yet exciting time that I decided to write a series around it. The Seasons of Faith explores the lives of five friends as they face not only the hurricane’s fury but some storms of the heart as well.