Saturday, August 14, 2004

Friday the 13th, Our Day With Charley!

By, Cheryl Ford RN

Friday the 13th! Evacuation in our area was to commence at 6 AM. We were in evacuation Area C, in Hillsborough County. Hurricane Charley was on the way and it was anticipated that the Category II hurricane was still heading straight for Tampa Bay!

Little time to prepare! Despite the evacuation notice, we still contemplated leaving our home. We did not wish to be inconvenienced with the hassles of packing up all the animals, going to a hotel, and not immediately being available to rescue any potential harm done to our home.

As did the majority of our neighbors, we had spent most of the prior night awake listening to the local news and preparing our house for its encounter with Charley. We were all very tired! Not knowing what to expect, we carried in all of our lawn furniture and hanging plants, wrapped everything in clear plastic, disconnected all the electrical appliances, foamed all the door seams, boarded up windows and some even sand bagged their driveways.

Twenty-eight telephone calls later, we finally located a hotel in Orlando with an available room. We reluctantly piled the 3 dogs and my son's rabbit into the car, slapped the breaker box to the OFF position...and out the door we all went hoping for the best.

The skies were only overcast at the time.
To the south we could see a roll cloud and bands of darkness. As we drove east on Interstate 4 on our way to our Orlando accommodations, we listened intently to the news reports about Charley's approach upon Tampa Bay. We sighed and moaned some more! Further east, the weather worsened on the roadway. We encountered torrential rains on I-4, leaving us with little visibility. We were a bit north of Lake Wales, when it was reported that a large tornado was spotted touching down in Lake Wales.

Following the tornado alert, there was another important announcement on the radio.
Hurricane Charley had been upgraded from a Category II to a Category IV hurricane. The news stated that Charley had also spontaneously changed the course of direction it had been on. The change had meant that it would bring hurricane Charley south of the Tampa Bay area. Far enough south to remove the potential water surge threats from the Hillsborough Bay. A Bay located one block from our home.

Hearing the news that Charley was coming onto the coast near Port Charlotte led us to believe that it would most likely follow a pathway northeast up the state, and eventually end up over Orlando where we had our hotel reservations. Paying for accommodations in order to feel the direct affects of a Class 4 hurricane was not our idea of fun.

We looked at each other with raised eyebrows, and in unison said..."Let's turn around and go back home."

Relieved to hear the hurricane was no longer a direct threat to us, we made it home safely and quickly unpacked the car. We spent the afternoon cuddled with our furry babes, watching the news in the comforts of our family room in our quiet neighborhood with boarded up homes.

We, in Tampa Bay were spared by the wrath of Hurricane Charley yesterday. However, there will be others!
Port Charlotte and other neighboring little towns were not as lucky.

Hurricane Charley had spent about 20 minutes visiting each little town in its path, ripping into them like he was an osterizer as he proceeded northeast across the state of Florida.
In a few hours time, sadly, several lives were reportedly taken and there was mass destruction costing in the billions.

Though our lives in Tampa Bay were spared this time, I learned something about hurricanes yesterday. I learned that a hurricane can have spontaneous direction similar to a tornado. I learned that it does not matter how much water you buy, how many flashlights you have; or how many windows you have boarded up, hurricanes do not discriminate!

In 100 MPH winds, limbs from neighborhood trees, building material and vehicles can quickly be turned into deadly missiles.

Nothing, or no one in its path is spared devastation of some form! A hurricane grants no mercy!

If you live in a neighborhood that happens to be in the path of a hurricane and can safely LEAVE, do so! Don't contemplate! Don't wait! Don't ignore evacuation notices!

After closely witnessing the path of rapid destruction and loss of human life Charley accomplished after terrorizing our neighbors to the south, instead of us here in Tampa Bay, I would not ever spend another moment contemplating the decisions of riding out a hurricane in our home. Nor would I opt to avoid an evacuation alert, just in order to save our home or personal possessions.

Sorry Charley and thanks for the lesson!