We’ve prepared for hurricanes before, but none of them felt like this.
With Frances, Jeanne and Wilma, we expected winds that shake the roof and flatten trees. Rain that pelts sideways. Those were punishing enough.
This time, the forecasts predict a something new: devastating storm surge. And for my wife and me, who have lived in South Florida since 2000, and enjoy the view of the Intracoastal Waterway from our condo, this is nothing to fool with.
This mother of all storms looks to be giving a new meaning to “Mother” Nature. It looks as fierce as an Andrew, as huge as Katrina and roaring to swallow up the whole of the Florida peninsula and spit it out as a chewed-up ruin.
Irmageddon, my friend Jon calls it.
Today, Ellen and I have spent hours packing clothes, medicines, laptops, bottled water, flashlights and plenty of food to bring to the house of a friend who lives 10 miles inland and who generously invited us in. Our house, a short distance from the ocean, is in a voluntary evacuation zone, and we didn’t hesitate to take the hint.
Our first shelter of choice — the Palm Beach Post building, a fortress of an office building constructed post-Andrew to withstand a Category 3 — fell through when the parent corporation and its risk managers decided the whole place had to be vacated as of Saturday morning. So this hurricane, unlike any other, is driving the Post from its home. Reporters and editors will work remotely.
We’re far from the only ones who have had to readjust plans — or move to firmer shelter– because this storm exceeds all previous experience in its scope and potential for savagery.
Luckily, we had a friend ready to share her house.
As we scrambled this morning to leave our fifth-floor condo, it dawned on Ellen that we might not be back home as soon as the hurricane passes. This is that different a storm. The surge they’re talking about — would it flood our parking lot? The first floor apartments? Would it compromise our building? Make it unsafe to enter?
We recalled a friend in New Orleans who fled Hurricane Katrina with only a few things flung into the car’s back seat — and couldn’t get back into her house for three months.
That might be us. And so we packed with a pang of melancholy: this could be the last time we see our house until….when?
It’s a hot day, somewhat breezy. As we drove to our place of shelter, local traffic was thinner than normal, but the streets didn’t feel empty. For all the thousands who have fled, there are still a lot of people here in this metro area of 6 million.
Lots of buildings are boarded up. Lots of cars still lining up for gas at the few stations with supplies.
Ellen and I are settling as I write, in a shuttered-up suburban house west of Boynton Beach with friend Agneta, a cooler of beer, a rack of wine and a bottle of good whiskey.
The TV is on and we’re watching the interviews with public officials and storm refugees, the meteorologists’ breathless explanations of the maps.
Nothing to do now but wait.