Wilma unleashed its fury Monday night cutting a swath through southern Florida leaving a considerable amount of damage in its wake. Naples got hit hard, particularly downtown as well as points south. The forecasts were relatively accurate and most people were prepared before it arrived. The winds blew all night long and well into the next day. They started abating around noon. Then the temperature dropped (a gift given that all the power was out; after Charlie we sweltered for days), and the sky cleared. No rains.
I sustained little damage on my house, mostly because it was built after Andrew hit Florida causing a massive revamp in building codes. Trees are uprooted all over the place but by today all roads are clear except in the hardest hit areas. Stop lights were ripped from their posts but everyone is a bit more civilized in the hardship and traffic moved smoothly overall. Some of the major intersections still have police officers but other areas are already fixed. Power is being restored except in the hardest hit areas (mine came back this morning), but phone service except for cell phones is still down in many areas. (I’m writing this at a coffee and sandwich place with free wi-fi.)
I still don’t have a clear idea of the devastation on the east side of the state. We bought a little five inch portable that managed to trasmit a scratchy picture while the storm was raging which gave us a better picture of what was happening as it happened. The TV along with the radio, keeps you informed. Local media, a bit mediocre otherwise, usually shines in times like this. With power off the days following however, it’s hard to find out what else happened with no television, internet, etc.
Watching national news before Wilma arrived I noticed all the announcers incredulous that people were on the beach or walking around. They couldn’t understand why the people did not evacuate or why they didn’t seem to be take the storm seriously. The truth was they were already prepared. If you shutters are up, the extra food and water bought, the gas tank filled, and all the other things necessary to do, why not go down to the beach and check it out. I did. I didn’t hang out there because I had other things to do, but there is something about looking over the ocean knowing that a monster storm is only four hours away ready to hit the area where you live. The clouds were rolling in, the surf was up a bit, but otherwise there would be no way to know what was coming.
I wondered what people did before we had the national hurricane center. I think the storms would just sneak up on them. They seemed to live in a perpetual state of prepardness, at least if the way they built their “hurricane homes” were any indication — short flat buildings with four panel windows. Old Naples, the area that suffered a huge hit has homes like this although considerably embellished since its become a pricer part of town. Still, the homes held although many beautiful old trees that were probably planted fifty to one hundred years ago were uprooted and will have to be removed.
We managed to have Liturgy today (St. Demetrios) even though the Church still does not have power. Cool weather made it possible. Air conditioning is necessary in Florida (without it I doubt the state would be as settled as it is), and with the blast from the north the cooling is natural. Again, this is a gift. Cool air is dry air and a lot of the extra water dumped by Wilma is beginning to dry up.
The speed at which people bring life back to normal is impressive. Clean up starts right away, first your own yard, then buisinesses, and other places. It’s a lot like a blizzard in Minnesota. It just doesn’t take that long to recover except for, of course, the areas that suffered catastrophic damage.
Experience counts for a lot here. After you have been through one or two hurricanes, and many people here have at least Charlie under their belt, you have a sense of what’s coming and how to deal with its aftermath. Not that they are anything you want to see happen — far from it, but a hurricane, at least a Cat 3 or below, is something that can be managed to a certain degree. If a Cat 4 or 5 came through, of if Wilma lingered a long time like it did in Cancun, damage would have been far worse including greater flooding, so we are fortunate in some ways.
Hurricanes are strange beasts. Naming them is appropriate in some ways because it does seem they have a life of their own. They are not more than impersonal natural fury, but the power is so great it can only be comrehended in categories that stretch the imagination. It’s hard to find words for it (hence the naming I think), and the only way to understand it through the extraordinary personal stories you hear from people after the storm passes.
According to the statistics, we’ve blown away all records. After the English alphabet the Hurricane namers move to the Greek alphabet I’ve learned. Before Wilma there was tropical depression “Alpaha.” I don’t know what happenned to it — not much is my guess. I don’t want to see “Beta” come around. They say the numbers are on our side and we shouldn’t see any more hurricanes for a couple of years, but since they only go back 100 years, who really knows?