Wednesday, August 31, 2011
THE "I" OF THE STORM
2005 was a record year for hurricanes in the western hemisphere, with 13 named storms hitting the continental United States alone. Hurricane Wilma (the forgotten one) was the last of these storms, making landfall in Southwest Florida, just south of Naples, on Monday, October 24, 2005 with winds of 125 mph.
Wilma was the most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded in the Atlantic basin.
Wilma was the twenty-second storm, the thirteenth hurricane, the sixth major hurricane, and the fourth Category 5 hurricane of the record-breaking 2005 season.
Wilma is ranked among the top five most costly hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic and the fourth most costly storm in United States history. Over 60 people were killed by the time it was over.
Due to significant damage in Mexico and Florida, the name Wilma was officially retired in April 2006 by the World Meteorological Organization, and will never be used for an Atlantic storm again. It was replaced by Whitney on List III of the Atlantic hurricane naming lists which is used next in the 2011 season. This also made Wilma the first W name to be retired in the Atlantic basin.
On Sunday, the 23rd of October 2005, my mother, 3 dogs, and I evacuated to Haines City which is between Tampa and Orlando. I remember driving out of my community on that perfect Florida morning...all the flowers in bright colors, the waving palms, and a clear, clear day. We were rather stunned to be having to do this so late in the hurricane season.
We stayed at the Howard Johnson's with what appeared to be most of the population of Naples and Marco Island and their various dogs and cats... (the motel allowed pets during emergencies).
As it turned out Wilma was so massive that we spent the night and Monday in a violent tropical storm. We had not gone far enough north.... Wilma covered the entire state.
We drove back on Tuesday morning not knowing what we would find.
Davis Avenue, one of our main streets, looked like a war zone. All the telephone poles were down, the palms were ripped up, and the signals were out. All the flowers were gone. On many buildings and metal light poles the paint had been stripped down to the primer by the wind.
Neither one of us knew what we would find when we arrived at our homes. As it turned out all was ok. My cul de sac had stood up to the storm and so did my mother's villa.
My mother was lucky...her home is on the government emergency grid so she still had power...the rest of us did not. My half of my community would be among the very last to regain our electricity over a week and a half l later. We were grateful that this was late in the season and air conditioning was not needed.....it made a huge difference.
Debris was everywhere. But that afternoon all of us were out cleaning up. There were mountains of debris lining all the streets for weeks. On some streets throughout Naples there was not a roof that did not have a blue tarp on it..we joked about it...and were guiltily glad that it was not our house.
We helped each other....and we reached out to help the poorest in our county. Those areas were hit particularly hard. I always look back with pride at the way Florida handled all these storms.
But it damaged all of us to greater or lesser degrees. As the 2006 hurricane season approached the anxiety level rose. All year long people talked about Wilma...in stores, on the golf course, in restaurants, on the street. Radio announcements started occurring about support lines that could be accessed for anxiety and depression brought on by the storms. There were public service spots targeting children who had become fearful of rain and thunder.
I wrote this in June of 2006 after returning home from the grocery store. I had stood in line with about six other people and all we discussed was the state of the Atlantic... the new wave....I saw that all had the same look on their faces and the same fear in their voices.....the same look that I knew was on my face...the same fear that was in my voice......it never goes away....
We have hurricane eyes.
We recognize each other as we stand in line to buy our water and batteries amongst the blue-tarped roofs and dying palms.
The season is upon us again.
That, now so familiar, cold niggle of fear returns like worms in our bellies as we watch the first tropical wave crawl across the Atlantic.
Devastation as entertainment, the media records the events, enthralled by the force, but leaves us to recover unnoticed.
It is still broken here and the storms gather like wolves.
We have hurricane eyes.....