Pam reminisces about Florida and hurricanes
[Posted 4 September 2004, Last updated 15 September 2004]
As Hurricane Frances batters the Florida coast tonight, I'm reminded of a conversation I had with my ex-boyfriend before I left Florida in 1991. He told me that due to global warming, scientists were predicting hurricanes as Florida had never seen before -- huge enough to cover the entire state at once, extremely powerful, with storm surge as high as 60 feet. And there could be several of these super-storms per year. That was over 10 years ago, and here we are 10-20 years later, when scientists predicted global warming would start causing such storms.
I moved back to Florida in 1998, and before accidents and poor medical care forced me to leave the state again, I worked with several people who'd lived through Hurricane Andrew. Then I lived through Hurricane Georges myself. After I left Florida, a friend of mine was hit by a small hurricane in Florida, at Florida Power & Light where we'd worked together.
I'd always been fascinated by bad weather, loved thunderstorms since I was a child, and loved seeing Hurricane Georges blow in as I left my job in Miami to evacuate. Also loved seeing Georges as it approached Tampa Bay, where I'd evacuated to at the time. Black skies covered Tarpon Springs where people were shutting their businesses to leave -- restaurants I was expecting to serve me breakfast that morning. Then Georges spared Tampa Bay and ended in Pensacola instead. I loved hearing the older employees at Florida Power & Light relate hurricane stories -- how their homes were destroyed by Andrew, and how neighbors who chose to stay had their homes demolished to rubble as they held on for dear life inside, having said good-bye to each other and expecting to die. One co-worker who lived in a mobile home didn't allow her young daughter to come back and see the wreckage, then had trouble finding words to tell her daughter that all of her toys -- indeed everything they owned -- was gone. Another co-worker said that as he drove back to his home in Homestead after Andrew, he could look to the left of the highway, and it reminded him of a movie about nuclear warfare, because everything was gone -- he could see all the way to the ocean.
For the past week I've been enthralled with Frances, a huge and powerful hurricane seemingly destined for Miami. I've wondered what would become of its glass skyscraper skyline if Miami were to take a direct hit from a hurricane, or if the old Cubans living there would finally give in and evacuate. I'd check weather.com maps several times a day, setting my computer's wallpaper to the storm, discussing with a Haitian co-worker its power and devastating path. But then Frances weakened and slowed, and veered to the north slightly, battering a huge area from West Palm Beach to Daytona Beach as I write this tonight. Millions of Floridians are without power tonight, and the huge palm leaves that news stories show blowing in the wind remind me of Georges in 1998.
So tonight I thought I'd start adding "Pam Stories" to my Travel pages. One of my nieces loves hearing "Pam Stories" -- she loves sitting around listening to old timers' stories about their lives, just as I did when I was a child. I could sit for hours as a child, like a fly on the wall, and listen to my grandparents, aunts and uncles, parents, friends, or anyone else tell me about the interesting things that happened during their lives. Maybe that's because everyone has a few interesting experiences, and stories give us the chance to skip the day-to-day drudgery and get to the exciting parts. I'm not expecting huge numbers of people to flock to my Pam Story pages -- and I don't intend to write that many, maybe a few per year. My intended audience is people like my niece and I, who love hearing old stories. And so my first story page is about hurricanes.
Hurricane Andrew, the storm I never saw
When Andrew came ashore and wiped Homestead, Florida off of the map, I was thousands of miles away. I remember reading about Hurricane Andrew in the newspaper -- I was sunning myself on Zuma Beach in Malibu, California at the time. Andrew was powerful like the super-storms predicted for Florida -- its wind speed was under-reported because it blew out equipment -- but it was small. It did hit the Everglades -- a tour guide there rode out the storm in his boat and said he witnessed birds hiding in the undrebrush to survive, although a large percentage died anyway -- but neighboring Miami and the Keys didn't receive much damage.
Then in 1998, after years of economic upturns in the technology field, wages in Florida for computer techies had reached almost the same level as in Los Angeles. I always loved Florida, and California was problem after problem at the time. I wanted to go back to the land of beautiful beaches and wildlife, fresh air, low stress and daily beach walks. So I took a Help Desk job at Florida, Power, and Light in Miami. I'd been working on a vegan cookbook since September of 1997 (the book you'll find on veggiecooking.com), and I didn't want the type of job where I was a technical lead or programmer. A simple help desk job would give me no added responsibility, and I'd have all of my time at home to work on the book and land a publishing deal -- which I did early in the year, almost as soon as I moved to Florida.
The Help Desk at FPL was amazing -- a huge room with all the latest technology and many techies taking a high volume of calls all day. And they loved me. I'd been a technical lead at call centers for the past 2 jobs, was high volume/high accuracy, and all of the supervisors said I was "technically good." But a few things bothered me about that help desk, one of which was their hurricane strategy. FPL was very important during hurricanes -- they had to take calls from all over the state when the power was down, and get it back up as soon as possible. They informed employees that during hurricanes, their building was built to withstand hurricanes and we were expected to stay there for the duration. I asked the managers why, if a hurricane hit Miami, wouldn't they just forward their calls to another section of the state? Wouldn't their power and phone lines to the building be down, after all? Not at all, they said, they wanted us to stay in the building for the duration of the hurricane, supposedly taking calls. More on that later.
FPL quickly moved me to a sort of late morning shift, where I reported at 11 a.m. I think, and worked a few hours later than the other employees. This put my lunch at 3 in the afternoon, which happened to be break time for some of FPL's older IT workers. We quickly became friends, as I was eating my lunch while they made themselves shots of "Cuban Coffee" in the break room -- affectionately called "black cocaine" because it was such a powerful stimulant. They taught me the finer art of making Cuban Coffee, packing the grounds tightly, mixing enough sugar into the original shot to make it a peanut butter consistency, and then diluting it into the sweet, magical black substance at the end of the process. I shared shots of Cuban Coffee with them daily as we chatted with each other, and I listened to their amazing stories.
On many occasions, the stories turned to Hurricane Andrew, the storm that I'd missed but revisited through my friends. Most of my Cuban Coffee buddies had homes in Homestead when Andrew hit. When I worked at FPL, it seemed people preferred to live in Fort Lauderdale, a northern suburb. But the local tavern "Last Chance Saloon" taught me the importance of Homestead as a suburb when I asked about its 24-hour liquor license. Let me back up and explain that. For some reason when I lived in Miami's extra-hot climate, I started craving margaritas. My brother thought it was because of the salt and sugar in the drink, needed because I was sweating out my electrolytes, which is probably true. But I'd find myself stopping every so often to get that magical lime concoction, and one bar had signs seeming to indicate it was open 24 hours. I asked how they could be open 24 hours -- did Florida allow that, like Las Vegas? No, the bartender told me, they just had a grandfather clause predating the laws which set closing times, and only they and a few other bars in the Miami area were allowed to stay open 24 hours. The bartender said that Last Chance Saloon also had a 24 hour grandfather clause, but they didn't use it anymore.
Well, while I worked at FPL, the first place I lived was Florida City, the second place was Key Largo -- I already was stopping at Last Chance Saloon, the last bar before you take the bridge to Key Largo. So the next time I stopped for a margarita there, I asked the bartender why they weren't open 24 hours anymore. He said it was lack of business. He pointed around the square-shaped bar, almost full. "It used to be that we'd have this many people here at 4 or 5 in the morning," he said. Then he informed me that since Hurricane Andrew, Homestead just didn't have that many people anymore, and therefore they didn't get a late night crowd to justify staying open. That's when I realized that Homestead had been a major suburb of Miami, just like Fort Lauderdale. But Andrew had come through and demolished the major southern suburb.
So I wasn't surprised that so many co-workers had lived in Homestead. I was living in Florida City at the time, and there was a great 2-lane highway called Krome Avenue that connected Florida City to the western side of Miami near Miccosukee Swamp -- right down the road from the building I worked in. I used it every day, it was fast and uncongested. Certainly an easier commute than Fort Lauderdale.
Some of my co-workers had completely lost their homes in Andrew, others had only sustained damage. One co-worker said that he had a special type of hurricane shutter that came with the house, and credited its design with limiting his losses to roof damage. He said it fit into the windows so that it was flush with the house's exterior, not sticking out beyond the exterior walls at all. He felt that boarding windows, or the shutters then required by building codes which protruded from the house, only gave hurricane-force winds something to grab onto. They informed me that there was a military base, Homestead Air Force Base, that had taken a heavy hit from Andrew, and that military housing was all but wiped out at the time. Andrew was a subject they loved to talk about, and I loved hearing about, clearly one of the most important events of their lives.
Later that year, a powerful new storm was heading for Florida -- Hurricane Georges. Georges was not only a Category 5, but also HUGE. I was living in Key Largo at the time, and of course Georges was destined for the Florida Keys. Although Key West is over 100 miles from Key Largo (Key West sustained most of the damage from the hurricane), Georges was so big that it hit everything from Key West to Key Largo at the same time. Back in 1998, I had a web page on geocities.com, which was a precursor to this personal web page. I wrote an article on evacuating because of Georges called "Georges is on the way..." I'll repeat it here, and then continue:
Georges is on the way...
I was at a doctor's appointment this morning (22 September 1998 -- Tuesday) when I heard that Key Largo was being evacuated. I called work to say I'd be late -- I needed to go home to get a few things before the island was closed off. I'm going back again tonight for another load, but they may not let me onto the island again. Either way, I've already rescued the important things -- my birth certificate & important papers, the computer, etc. It would be expensive to lose everything else if I can't go back tonight, but what I left behind can be replaced. According to a news broadcast this afternoon, everyone in Key West must evacuate by tomorrow morning, the middle keys must by noon, and the upper Keys (including Key Largo) by 3 or 4 p.m.
Traffic was heavy leaving the Keys today. I talked to two different people who told me they are considering staying through the storm. I spent several minutes on each, trying to convince both to leave the island and get out of Georges' way.
No one knows exactly where Hurricane Georges will come ashore, so the Keys may be spared. In fact, the Hurricane may leave Key Largo untouched and instead ravage the Miami area where I stored my computer & important papers today. By the time we know its exact course, it will be too dangerous to get in the car and avoid it. So I'm escaping to central Florida as soon as the hurricane is near. If you're a friend checking my web page to see if I'm alive, then please call my phone number instead (the toll-free one) -- I'll try to change the greeting daily to at least let you know I was alive that morning. Don't rely on e-mail -- I won't have access to it after I hit the road.
9/23, Wednesday update: I've moved everything I could out of Key Largo and have left the island. At 5 p.m. today, roads going into the Keys will be closed to everyone, including residents. Traffic will only be allowed off of the islands. Also, bridges are being locked down for the storm.
I'll be driving up north to avoid the storm. It's amazing (well, maybe not so amazing with their track record), but I've had trouble arranging this with my employer. One of the supervisors here was actually perturbed that I wouldn't stay through the storm for them to work the help desk this Sunday. Even if the building can withstand a hurricane (and there's no guarantee it will), it's incredibly dangerous to be driving to & from work during a hurricane. Winds & floods blow and wash you off of the road, power lines fall on you, etc. Plus I'm officially homeless now -- what am I going to do, stay in a hurricane shelter for 4 days so I can work a half day on Sunday? They could have forwarded our lines to a temporary call center somewhere else in the state, like Juno Beach, for the storm. Instead they'd rather risk the employees' lives by asking them to drive through the hurricane, just to keep the call center here. I've already promised my friends and relatives that I'd drive north to avoid Georges, so risking my life for this nasty job just isn't going to happen! (Not that I'd risk my life for it if I hadn't promised ...)
I was concerned that two of my neighbors in Key Largo intend to stay through the storm. I talked to both of them today, and warned that any emergency services won't be available during the hurricane. In fact, Monroe County shelters aren't going to be open because the storm is predicted to be too severe -- people will have to go to the Monroe County Shelter in western Miami instead. Monroe County offices closed yesterday, as well. My attempts at convincing neighbors to leave were to no avail. I hope someone else can get them out of there...
At least I'll be staying at a friend's place Wednesday instead of a shelter floor -- he's actually making me a vegetarian dinner for tonight! Then when I head up north, I'll try to find hotels as I go. I was warned that during Hurricane Andrew in 1992, most hotels north of Miami filled up or jacked up their rates. Wish me luck (and low hotel rates)!
More babble for thought...Here's why it's important to get out of Georges' way, even if the storm "weakens". When Hurricane Andrew hit Florida in 1992, wiping out much of the Homestead area, the government (and therefore press) only admitted to a 120 mph storm. Later it was admitted that Andrew was actually 165 mph, and a government official was fired. (I forget his name, but I did see a newspaper article on this.) The point is, you never know if the government (and therefore press) is being honest with you.
In early 1998, when trying to fax resumes to Florida from California, I heard a recording "all circuits are busy now; please try your call again later". I only recalled hearing that recording twice before -- during the Northridge earthquake of 1994 and on Mothers' Day. I rushed to the TV set for the news. At the time, Florida was hit with severe storms; CNN said 220,000 were without power. When I finally landed a job in Miami and went to work for the power company there, I was told by management and other staff that the actual number without power was 660,000. I'm not sure where the "miscommunication" took place, but even if the numbers were corrected later, the propaganda was done.
These are just smaller instances of a big problem we have in the states -- there is plenty of propaganda going on. These days, the press just "buys" the government line without spending money to investigate on its own. Then there are cases like Gary Webb (author of Dark Alliance) and the story on CNN about Sarin nerve gas [by Peter Arnett et al] being used on our own troops -- the press tries to put the real news out, but their news organizations are bullied by people within the government. They're forced to retract their stories or else face no cooperation on news stories or who knows what else? There are books on this, with evidence on many more cases. Michael Parenti's Inventing Reality is a little dated but still interesting, and I've heard of a more recent book called Wizards of Media Oz -- I think the authors are Solomon & Cohen. Give them a try if you're not yet aware of efforts to mislead us. In the meantime, my advice is to stay out of Georges' way, because you never know how bad it really is...
9/24, Thursday update: It's 12:30 p.m., Hurricane Georges is almost here, and my employer [Florida Power and Light] still won't let people go home or evacuate Miami. Apparently a few hours of extra coverage is more important than our lives. Of course no one's leaving yet, because no one wants to get fired. I told my boss I don't want to evacuate during heavy rains and power lines falling on my car, but it was to no avail. It seems as though they don't want anyone to leave until the Hurricane is actually here. More on this later...
It's disappointing that satellite maps on the internet are several hours old. Earlier I was watching TV in a different department at work, and the hurricane's outer clouds are right up against the Florida coast. A representative from the hurricane center said that people in the Keys could expect torrential rainfall any time. But for people using the internet instead of TV (our department), the latest photo at this time is CNN's 9:45 a.m. photo. I've also watched the Weather Channel's animation -- it ends at 7:45 a.m.
It's 1 p.m., and I noticed something on a trip to the restroom -- a southwest-facing corridor has blinds drawn, covering all of the windows. Today is the first I've ever seen those blinds. I opened one of them, and saw masses of silver clouds billowing in from the south. Then I was so nervous coming back to my desk that I sloshed hot water all over my hand. Now I have a burnt hand on top of my other injuries to deal with. My back, foot, & hand (recent injuries) are all hurting a lot anyway, after giving them a small workout during the Key Largo evacuation. Otherwise, I'm just sitting here, in pain & wondering when I can get out to save my life... One of my co-workers told a supervisor he was leaving at 1, and is now gone. Other people are missing as well.
I've noticed in the past that management here is much stricter with me missing time than with other co-workers. That's probably because I work harder, & when I'm gone more calls go unattended. But this employer has been particularly bad to me -- they've even yelled at me for missing time for doctors' appointments related to a worker's comp. injury they caused -- a trip and fall I had on their uneven sidewalk (that [sidewalk] looks like it hasn't been maintained for 20 years). Then after the car accident last month, I called one of my supervisors from the emergency room, and she told me I'd have to choose between missing work and my job (while I was IN THE EMERGENCY ROOM!). That meant that right after the accident, when my legs were periodically going numb and I was worried about partial paralysis, I had to come into work every day or be fired. I couldn't even support my head with my neck at the time; I had to wear a foam collar or hold my head up with my hands. I could go on & on about this, but don't have time to detail all of their outrageous conduct. I'll be dealing with that problem soon -- I'm already getting calls from other companies, if ya know what I mean...
9/28, Monday update:I'm back to Miami safely, although I haven't been to Key Largo yet. I was finally allowed to leave work at 1:45 p.m. on Thursday -- I told my supervisors that the clouds rolling in looked pretty bad, and one of the supervisors said "Pam, you can just leave" in a nasty tone. This was quite different from the "o.k." she'd given one of my male co-workers (who doesn't even live in the Keys) earlier. Her abusive tone was probably because they're still angry over my time missed for doctors' appointments -- for the trip and fall injury caused by THEIR uneven sidewalk out front. I did one rebellious thing before leaving work -- I opened three of the blinds along the rear corridor so that co-workers could see how bad the weather was. Then I called my mother to let her know I was on the way up north, and left the building. As I walked into the parking lot, birds were having trouble flying and all of the palm trees' leaves were being blown from the east. If you live in a climate with palm trees, then you know how much wind it takes to make their leaves move even slightly. At least the trunks weren't bent over yet -- that's when you suspect the weather might kill you.
Otherwise, the weather was pleasant -- Miami had a strong, warm wind and sunny skies, with a big, beautiful bank of clouds coming in from the south.
As I headed north to Fort Lauderdale, I noticed that a group of power lines above the Florida Turnpike were bobbing up and down. Also the grass, trees, and bushes on either side of the highway were blowing -- in all different directions.
One good thing Florida did was suspend tolls on Southern Florida highways during the evacuation. Tolls jam up the roadways and prevent money-impaired people from evacuating via the fastest route.
At a rest area between Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, I saw Weather Channel footage of Duck Key from that afternoon. The island was being pounded by heavy wind and rain.
With frequent stops for my sore back and foot, I didn't come to Orlando until around 10 p.m. I had to make a decision. The storm was predicted to make landfall on the gulf side of Florida, but not until the weekend. Orlando's hotels were too expensive and I didn't know the city well enough to find an inexpensive district. I had to make a choice between east or west coast as I approached Interstate 4. I wasn't familiar with Daytona Beach at all, and was just too tired to spend time driving through a strange city late at night. My injured back was too sore to sleep in the car, so I decided to head for the Tampa Bay area -- I'd lived there for a year, and knew places I could go.
The first place I tried was a hotel on Clearwater Beach where I'd lived for a few months in 1991. That's when it was only a little over $100 a week during the "off season" (hot summer months). Now it's much more expensive, but this time of year runs no more than most economy hotels. As I drove over the causeway to Clearwater Beach, a flashing roadside sign advised the beach was to be evacuated by 6 a.m. the next morning. I pulled up to the hotel anyway, and saw men taping the windows. The hotel, as well as everything on the beach except a couple of bars, was closed. Back over the bridge and to a gas station. As I started pumping gas, a carful of New Englanders asked me for directions to Tarpon Springs. They'd been rerouted from US 19 because of a car accident blocking the road, and couldn't find the way back. I gave them very simple directions, but as I was leaving, saw them pull up and ask one of the employees for directions again. Back in '91, I'd go to Tarpon Springs for Sunday breakfast -- usually baklava (back when I still ate honey). I made the decision to go again the next morning, as a sentimental journey. Then I went to the cheap hotel district on US 19 in St. Petersburg and took a room for the night at Murphy's. It turned out to be a nice little place.
My room Thursday night didn't have The Weather Channel, but I found a little map of Florida overlaid on the regular programming of one of the local channels. Surprisingly, none of the local stations had special news programs on the approaching storm. The map overlay showed tornado warnings for the eastern portion of Florida, including Daytona Beach. I was relieved that no watches were posted for Tampa Bay. I felt I'd made the right choice. The next morning, Murphy's moved me to another room that had cable. I watched the Weather Channel a while, then decided to head for Tarpon Springs.
On the trip north, torrential rainfall began. Dunedin's streets were quickly flooded (as always during heavy rain) but I continued anyway. As I approached Tarpon Springs, traffic lights at one intersection bobbed up and down so hard I thought they'd fall on me. I only saw one souveneir shop open along the docks in Tarpon Springs -- all of the restaurants and most other businesses were sandbagged. Some people were taping windows as I left and the black clouds approached. On the way south to Dunedin, a huge lightning bolt forked and struck something near the road -- I could hear the hit.
By the time I reached St. Petersburg, no rain was falling. I saw a little bar called "Nowhere" located under an overpass of US 19. I circled back in to see if they were open. It was a great little place -- with cheap beer and... A GIANT WOODEN SPOOL OUT BACK that's used as an outdoor table. (I always like the weird stuff.) I met a couple of new friends who had tried vegetarianism before, but had trouble finding enough vegetarian entrees they liked. I got their phone number and promised to cook a nice vegetarian dinner for them when back in town as a non-refugee.
Back to the hotel... and Weather Channel footage of my home. It looked as though it was sitting in the middle of a river. I realized I'd have to clean out what I could and hand the keys to the landlord at the end of the month. Sometimes it's good to be a renter instead of an owner. I was worried about my neighbors -- even without the winds, I knew flooding and storm surge would be their biggest problem. One neighbor did everything right -- putting up hurricane shutters and preparing for heavy winds. The other said he had ten cases of beer and was ready. I'll have to check for both of them when I go to clean out my place.
Saturday morning, the Weather Channel said Georges would bypass Tampa Bay and hit the northern Gulf coast instead. I also checked with CNN Headline News, which said -- get this -- 220,000 people were without power. I don't think that many people live in the Keys, but 220,000 is CNN's favorite number, I guess. I could finally start returning peoples' calls -- all through the storm, I'd get the "all circuits are busy now" message. Before checking out, I had to contend with some scary men hanging out at the hotel. That's the down side of renting a hotel room on US 19 in St. Petersburg -- the area is full of scary people. One man would come out of his room every time I went to my car, and tried to make conversation with me each time. He must have been watching me from his window. He looked like a panhandler, and sounded pretty weird. There were similar incidents with two other men there. I checked out and headed for Miami.
I decided to exit the Interstate at Naples and take the road to Miami through Mikosukee swamp. I stopped at a bar in Naples first, to use their restroom and relax my back for a while. When I started back to Miami, a sheriff pulled me over for no reason. He claimed it was because a brake light was out, but he had been at the side of the road and pulled out as I passed -- he never saw my brake lights until already flashing his lights to pull me over. And I was going UNDER the speed limit -- since the accident, my car vibrates too hard for my back at the higher speeds. So I caught him in a lie right away (no surprises here). He started asking me all kinds of tasteless questions, like whether I had drugs, weapons, or dead bodies in the car. He also tried to pressure me into admitting marijuana use. (I don't use it, not that I'm judgmental toward people who do.) I explained that I was a refugee from Hurricane Georges (duh... my license plate says MONROE COUNTY!), and on my way home. Finally he let me off with a verbal warning for the brake light. I don't like people violating my rights like that, but at least he didn't lie about my speed and write me a ticket anyway, like they do in California...
I didn't arrive in Miami until after dark. My friend was already back from Juno Beach, and gave me a place to stay again. I was grateful for the sanctuary.
Sunday morning, I decided to cook a vegan breakfast and soups for lunch. En route to a fruit stand in Florida City ("Robert is Here" on Palm -- a great place for vine-ripened tomatoes), I became involved in a traffic jam of people anxiously waiting to enter the Keys. I sat there for quite a while, turning off my engine and taking naps as the time dragged on. The police had US 1 blocked so a convoy of power trucks could exit the Florida Turnkpike and proceed directly to the Keys -- without having to merge with US 1 traffic first. Finally they let us regular folks exit the main highway, and I made it to the fruit stand. My friend said he didn't think I was coming back. I knew enough not to try getting into the Keys the morning after, but wouldn't you know I'd get stuck in the traffic jam anyway?
9/29, Tuesday update:I went to my place in Key Largo this morning before work. It wasn't as bad as I thought, but still needs cleanup. I was too exhausted to handle it before work, so I'll be back tomorrow...
9/30, Wednesday update:There was no time to handle the cleanup before work. I'll have to do it tonight & give the key to the landlord tomorrow...
10/1, Thursday update:Early in the morning, I went back to Key Largo to remove all of my remaining possessions and do some cleaning. I didn't do any cleanup work, because the place smelled like sewage, as did the water coming from the faucets. I put the key in an envelope and dropped it through the management office's rental drop with a note that I was vacating. I then proceeded to work, where I was informed that my position had been terminated. I'm sure this was due to the injuries I sustained at work from tripping on their rarely-maintained sidewalk, but an attorney will be handling that soon. I had been planning to leave for my birthday vacation Friday after work, anyway, so all the termination meant was that I could leave a day early...
11/7, Saturday update:I stayed with a friend in Florida until the end of October. I faxed cover letters and resumes, and waited until the attorney I contacted officially took my case for both the trip-and-fall and automobile accidents. After both cases were pending, I decided the job search in Florida was too slow -- in the past, I could find a new job in California within 3-4 days. I returned to California just in time for Halloween. It's good to be back with my old friends, but I'd had enough of the pollution and overcrowding of Southern California years ago. I'll have to consider different options while I work here again... so that I can LEAVE again someday!
More on Georges
In the above 1998 article, I mentioned being involved in a traffic jam as I tried to reach a fruit stand. That particular jam was incredible -- power trucks from all over the country were lined up one after another, driving into the Keys for I don't know how long. I guess that's what it takes to rewire a city damaged by such a powerful hurricane, and it's great someone could coordinate such an effort.
I didn't stay in California very long after Georges, because I wasn't physically able to hold onto a job. It wasn't until I found a good chiropractor in Wisconsin that I physically returned to near-normal, able to work again, and that would take more than a year. I finally returned to work in the year 2000.
The hurricane after I left Miami
When I was at FPL's help desk, I noticed that some of the younger Cuban technicians would harass another young Cuban technician for no apparent reason. The technician they were bothering was a good-looking expert on Lotus Notes, a very popular program both then and now. I used to encourage the Notes techie, telling him that the other techies were just jealous that he was such a good techie and better-looking than most of them. After I left the company, I remained friends with a few technicians including the Notes expert (he later went to IBM, which acquired Lotus Notes -- a position he deserved to have, with his skills). While reading news on the internet one day, I found that a small hurricane was headed to southern Florida, and that Miami was on the edge of, but still in, its projected path. I don't even remember the name of that particular hurricane, but I e-mailed my friend at FPL and warned him to evacuate. I told him that he didn't know if it'd hit Miami or not, and that he could always find a different job if FPL hassled him about it.
Of course FPL convinced him to work through the storm, and where did the hurricane go? That's right. Straight for Miami. It was only a small hurricane, but my friend later e-mailed me that it not only came to Miami, but also instantly knocked out power and phones to the FPL building where he worked. (So much for the call center being left in the path of the storm...) Since the call center had no windows, he had to sit there in the dark until the hurricane was over and the roads were clear enough for him to leave. "It sucked" he said.
Just more evidence that it's best to evacuate than take a chance with such deadly storms. I think they're beautiful and impressive, but I know enough to get out of their way. Unfortunately, if scientists predicting super-hurricanes due to global warming are correct, and they probably are, the number of people hurricane-dodging each year will increase, property damages will be higher, and it'll be harder and more expensive to live in Florida as the years go by. Florida is a beautiful place, but realistically its shape, and probably the entire Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean, were carved out by hurricanes. It's a relationship that'll continue long after our country, and maybe even after our species, is gone.
Around 7 p.m. on the Thursday after Labor Day, September 9th 2004, I saw at least a dozen electrical trucks heading south on I-87 into New York City. They were all from Quebec, with "Hydro Quebec" stenciled on their sides. They reminded me of the huge convoy of electrical trucks from all over the country, going into the Florida Keys after Hurricane Georges. Quebec is about 300 miles from New York City, so it's most likely they're on their way to Florida, to help re-wire the state after Hurricane Frances. (They may arrive just in time for Hurricane Ivan.) I don't know who coordinates these efforts, but it's great to have neighbors who help.
There could be a chance that the trucks were coming to help New York City -- just the previous day, Wednesday, heavy rains hit New York. I couldn't find a news story linking them to Hurricane Frances, but the system may have spun off from the hurricane moving northward. The city received only a few inches of rain, but that was enough to flood its subway system. I recall being on a train for nearly 3 hours, standing up and packed in tightly against everyone else trying to get to work that morning, as the train had delay after delay in the tunnel, some as many as 20 minutes at a time. It wasn't even my usual train -- my normal train wasn't running due to flooded tracks. I also recall walking through standing water on the subway floor -- apparently no one had thought to put DRAINS on all of the subway floors in New York! And then I slipped and nearly fell on the wet floors at Grand Central Station, because the roof in the train transfer area was leaking profusely. They were using buckets and mops to deal with it. At the end of the day, black dirt was under every toenail and in every crack in my feet -- dirt that wouldn't come off with showering.
Then I got to work, and the boss was even later than I was. We were some of the few who managed to show up at all. Then I found out that my position had been terminated -- an insurance salesman there wanted my job for one of his friends, also fired his assistant that day. It was only a temp job though, all I could find in this economy. I wonder if this is going to become a pattern, being terminated after hurricanes...
I saw another convoy of electrical trucks on Saturday, September 11th, heading south on I-95 in New Jersey. There were about a dozen of them, a mixture of trucks from Massachusetts and New York state. Some of the trucks from Massachusetts had "Line Construction" stenciled on the side of them, so it's pretty obvious that they're on the way to rebuild electrical systems after the hurricane. It's nice that they're willing to help out, but obviously if hurricanes become more frequent and powerful as global warming progresses, Florida power companies will have to add to their own fleets for frequent rebuilding.
Now Hurricane Ivan has passed Jamaica, strengthened to a Category 5 hurricane, and is heading for Cuba and then the Gulf of Mexico. The Florida Keys have evacuated yet again. Yet everywhere in Florida is at risk until the hurricane is closer and its path more certain. We'll see what happens in the following days, but my advice to Floridians -- get out while you can. Your lives are more important than your job, your house, or anything else there. You can replace or do without almost everything but yourselves. If you can't afford it, borrow gas money or a ride from your neighbor, call the Red Cross for advice if you still can't get out. Just get out of its way -- that's what you do with hurricanes: leave and then come back later. You never know how bad a hurricane is, or what it's going to do, until it's over. Remember I said that. You never know what it'll do... and it's not worth risking your life for.
12 September 2004 (Wednesday) update: Tonight weather.com described Ivan's approach to the US: "At 4 p.m. central time, Hurricane Ivan still has 135 mph sustained winds as it moves towards the Gulf Coast at 14 mph... Waves as high as 50 feet have been measured 75 miles south of Dauphin Island... Ivan is one of the most dangerous hurricanes to threaten the U.S. in recent history and should not be underestimated... Expect hurricane-force winds up to 150 miles inland into southern Mississippi, southern Alabama, and southwestern Georgia. Significant rainfall will continue to move northward across the southeastern U.S. over the next several days. A looming threat will be the heavy rainfall across the southern Appalachians through the weekend. Significant flooding is possible across the mountainous areas of Tennessee and the western Carolinas as over a foot of rain is likely for some areas..." Caused by global warming or not, Ivan approaches the super-hurricane models described to me in 1991. And it's doubtful that human habitation of the South could withstand so many powerful hurricanes in coming years if the trend is not reversed...
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All content including photographs © 1998, 2004 by Pam Rotella.