Thursday, August 25, 2011

Remembering Hurricane Wilma

While we are preparing for Hurricane Irene, I can't help remember Wilma and the damage it caused in Florida, particularly in Pompano Beach where I was living at the time.

Picture me sitting in my 18th floor apartment, on my living room sofa, at 9:00 am, staring in the dark at the wood panels blocking the bay window and sliding door to the balcony. The rest of the windows were sealed by hurricane shutters completely blocking the day light.

I've called a friend who lived in a building with hurricane-resistant windows to ask what the weather looked like outside. With panic in her voice, she said she was watching cars flying and landing on top of each other.

Imagine my terror when the sofa moved and the chandelier hanging above the dining room table swang left and right with a mind of its own, the way you see it in ghost movies. Except that this was real life!

I asked my husband in a weak voice if there was a chance for the building to collapse. You see, we were living in an apartment building on the beach, a beautiful area for vacation, but the worst place to be in case of hurricane. My husband was scowling at the wood panel too. He muttered he was more concerned about the window and wood cracking under the wind hammering. In fact a few seconds later, streams of water leaked from the side. We used all the towels we had to stop the water. In a bedroom, the shutters unhooked and opened. My DH rushed to close them. I rushed behind him, my arms wrapped around his waist, I pulled him back with  all my strength to stop him from being sucked outside.

By 10:30 am we had no electricity, no telephone and no elevators functionning. We climbed down the eighteen floor to find a chaos in the building lobby. An owner cried that the wall between her bedroom and her neighbor's living room collapsed. Another neighbor called on his cell for help. He'd locked himself in his bathroom when his bedroom window blew. The wind created a vaccum and he couldn't open the bathroom door to get out.

We huddled in the conference room and exchanged stories while the wind roared outside. Wilma was a category 3 and came with a tornado on Pompano Beach.

Amazingly, in the evening the storm abated and the sun shily appeared at the horizon just before sunset.  We finally went out to assess the damage. The beautiful resort looked like a war zone. The beach was littered with window frames, shutters, rails, doors. Crashed cars cluttered the parking lots. Trees and electric wires blocked the streets. Many roofs had collapsed.

There is nothing like a disaster to bring people together. All the apartment owners emptied their freezers and refigerators, now useless without electric power, and brought their meat, poultry, fish, seafood, veggy to be barbequed on the terrace. We had a huge get-together, complete with wine, songs and nervous laughters.

The next morning after coffee and breakfast on the terrace, my husband who was president of the building association, organized the assessment procedure. Teams of volunteers entered each apartment and recorded the damage. Later my DH prepared the report for the insurance.

We remained without electricity and telephone for a week. Not bad under the circumstances. The next-door building lost its water supply for three weeks when a huge tree collapsed over the tank. The residents came to shower and filled pails of water from our building.

It took more than two years to repair all the damage. Now I have a respectul fear of hurricanes.

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Vonnie Davis said...

I was a young Navy wife, living in Norfolk, when a hurricane went through in '68. A new and exciting experience for a farm girl. I, too, learned a healthy respect for the power of a storm. Thanks for sharing, Mona.

Lynne Marshall said...

Scary stuff, Mona. I sincerely hope this is the ONLY hurrican story you'll ever have to tell!

Natural disasters do make us realize how little control we have over the planet, don't they.


Keena Kincaid said...

How frightening, Mona. I've never been through a hurricane, but I was in Maine at Pemaquid Point when Hugo was churning through the Atlantic Ocean. The waves were about 15 feet higher than normal, and I started down the path to take a photo, but a ranger warned me back. He said every once in a while a wave twice the others of the others would come up and sweep everything off the rock.

I think a person was swept off the rock the next day when the storm waves were even higher. It's very scary what a hurricane can do.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

You gave me chills reading your accounting, Mona. I remember when you were going through all of this and why you moved as soon as you were able. Please stay safe with Irene coming. Keeping you and Sam in my thoughts and praying it won't be as bad for you to get through this time. Hugs!

Lilly Gayle said...

Wow! Hope Irene is nothing like this. We live inland in NC, but when Floyd hit in 1996, we were without power for a couple of days. The rivers flooded, and there was a lot of damage. We had a house on Core Banks a half mile from the sound when Otis came ashore, fizzled and died. We actually strolled on Atlantic Beach during Otis. Awesome waves and wind that peppered you with sand, but no real damage and no one evacuated. Hoping Irene is more like Otis than Wilma or Floyd.

Collette Thomas said...

I can't imagine living through all that. Right now I'm getting things ready for Irene. I plan to tie my Peekapoo dog to my side and not let her out of my sight when Irene arrives. We had a tornado go over us last summer. She and I were crouched under a metal desk in my basement. At one point I ventured upstairs to find the sky completely black where moments before the sun was shining. Luckily it didn't touch down here. I'm inland and they're predicting strong winds. Yes, this is a strong reminder Mother Nature is always in control.

Celia Yeary said...

Egads--how scary. I grew up rolling myself in a blanket and rolling under the bed to sleep. But that was for tornadoes in West Texas. We lived in Houston with Hurrican Carla--didn't hurt much except tons of water, and we did board up our windows and stayed indoors for two days and nights.
That was because of stuff flying through the air.
We had a tiny TV on rollers, and I spent the night with it on in the dark, watching a young Texas reporter ride out the storm on Galveston Island--his name was Dan Rather--that lauched his career.
Good descriptions--Celia

Nancy Jardine said...

That sounds like a fearful tale, Mona-except lots of you live through terrifying times like these. The nearest I've ever got was the tail end of the 2008 hurricanes of November on Cuba where my daughter had her wedding bash. The fury was in the south and we were on the north coast but the rain was incredible and things fair blew around.

Caroline Clemmons said...

Mona, how terrifying that must have been! I, too, hope Wilma was the only hurricane you'll ever experience, and I hope I am never in one.

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Mona, what a terrifying ordeal to live through. Fortunately, I have never been caught in a hurricane, so I don't know how I would cope, if I was.
Hope you are safe from this current one.


StephB said...

Mona, how terrifying. The post really summoned up what to expect when it comes to hurricanes. I remember being in NH in 1986 when Gloria brushed up against us. By then it was weaker, but it did feel like a fierce thunderstorm.


Mona Risk said...

Hi, I really hoped you all fared well through Irene.

I am so far away now, sailing on the Danube. between Romania and Bulgaria, heading toward Slovachia. I couldn't access my email, but was able to open my blog.