Sunday, September 4, 2011


Thursday, September 2, 2004; a hurricane warning is posted for Palm Beach County at 11 AM. Twenty-four hours to go. We never planned to stay through the storm. We had planned our annual getaway to Canandaigua Lake in upstate NY months in advance. It was to have been our first time visiting Suzanne’s family since her mother passed away; and, an old school chum had promised me a round at Oak Hill, site of last year’s PGA Championship. But, my aging parents refused to get on a plane to stay with my brother in Atlanta; and, we couldn’t leave them behind.

Noon: I leave the office to pick up Mom and Dad. They are packed and ready to go. We bring along some extra food and a couple of bottles of water. By 2 PM we are all ensconced in our house in Palm Beach Gardens ready for the worst that Frances can offer. Here are some pictures of our humble little bungalow before the storm hits.

3PM: I go to find gasoline to fill up my tank. I wait in line for 45 minutes only to have the owner cut off the pumps as soon as I get to the head of the line. Out of gas. What year is this? 1974? I get some gas elsewhere and go on the search for more ice and batteries. No luck. Suzanne goes to the supermarket for some last minute supplies. With her basket full and heading for the checkout, a fire alarm goes off and the fire marshal orders everyone to leave. One of the neighbor’s trees fell in our direction, its branches resting on our roof.

4 PM; I am connected to my company’s VPN catching up on email. After all, our offices in Orlando and around the world aren’t closed and I am no slacker.

7 PM; Suzanne serves up a chicken dinner and cooks all the chicken we can find. This will go on ice when we lose power. We have power, water, phone… everything we need. I close the hurricane shutters when it gets dark…. Still waiting.

Friday, September 3, 2004, 7 AM; Frances is taking its sweet time. She is stalled off the coast of Palm Beach and whipping us with wind and rain. The new forecast says we are still at least twenty four hours away. The storm is a Category 3; sustained winds of 125 MPH. I open some of the shutters to let in some light.

9 AM; Dad and I head back to his house to pick up more food, another change of clothes and all the ice we can find. No one is on the highway; they all left town the day before. That’s what we should have done.

The day is uneventful. I putter around on the Internet. Mom and Dad watch TV. Suzanne does as much laundry as she can. Then she makes a meatloaf.

We decide if we are going to lose power, we should cool the house down as much as possible. By dinner, we are all walking around in long pants and sweaters complaining about how cold we are. Alliterative headline:

Florida Foursome Freezes during Frances

Saturday, September 4; we should be on a plane. But, tropical storm winds have cancelled all the flights. I call the resort, the airlines and the rental car company to roll everything forward one week. The power flickers on and off during one of the calls and I lose contact with US Airways.

I go out to the garage to find a phone that connects with wires. I find a splitter and connect it in parallel with the cordless phone that everyone still prefers to use.

11 AM; The cable goes out taking the Internet with it. We retrieve a 12 inch TV from a closet somewhere because it has rabbit ears. There are only two local channels coming through on VHF – all hurricane all the time. But, Frances isn’t moving so there is no news really. After lunch, we watch a rented movie on DVD; Mona Lisa Smile with Julia Roberts. We recommend it if you like old fashioned movies with happy endings (which we do).

6 PM: Suzanne cooks up some Pasta Fagioli. Molto Bene!!! This may go down as one of history’s famous last meals. (A little gallows humor.)

We close up the shutters and watch a video of Raiders of the Lost Ark (from the archives). I can remember every scene and most of the lines. How many times have I seen this movie anyway?

10:30 PM; we lose power just as all the Nazis are being melted by supernatural laser beams in the final scene. We decide to go to bed.

Sunday, September 5; 1 AM; Frances makes landfall at Sewall’s Point, 20 miles north of us. At 1:30, the southwestern edge of the eyewall hits us. We both sit bolt upright in bed. It sounds and feels like a fast moving freight train is barreling down a track between us and our next door neighbor.

We try to sleep to no avail. About an hour later, we hear water trickling. Is it inside or outside? We get up to investigate with our flashlights. No evidence of leakage.

Our house was built after 1997, when the last post-Hurricane Andrew upgrade to the building codes was passed. No overhangs on the roofs; hurricane straps in the attics and hurricane shutters cover all the windows and doors. It’s dark but safe.

We fall asleep as the eye of the storm passes over us.

6:30 AM; the eastern edge of the eyewall hits and we awake again. This time we get up to make some coffee and wait it out. Our gas stove still works. So, I boil some water and pour it through the basket in the electric drip coffee maker. We make eggs for breakfast since we know they won’t last.

We dump all the ice from the freezer into coolers and empty what we think may survive on the ice. Dad and I polish off the ice cream. (I mean you can throw the hamburger into the cooler; but, you know the ice cream is a goner.) It’s kind of slushy; like spring skiing.

Suzanne digs up a Sony Watchman I received as a going away gift from some job or another. I never use it but keep it because it’s kind of cool. It operates on 4 AA batteries and has a 1-½ inch TV screen. The shutters are still up and storm is still raging so this is our link to the outside world.

Mom and I play gin rummy by candlelight. It’s getting a little warm in here. Dad and Suzanne take turns watching the baby TV. NBC’s Al Roker has survived in his ocean abode and is telling his story. We switch to the CBS affiliate. It is truly bizarre to be watching TV to find out what is going on right outside your door.

The TV guys all say it’s not yet safe out there. They have the video to prove it. Miraculously, they say, no one died as a result of the storm despite the fact that every inch of the state was affected. Two people have died because when they lost power, they ran their gas-powered generators indoors. Official cause of death: asphyxiation; unofficial cause: stupidity.

11 AM; we are losing water pressure and the local health authorities have issued a boil water order due to potential contamination from sewage. We had filled both bathtubs with water the day before so we could flush the toilets and have 6 one gallon jugs; 12 one liter bottles and 5 dozen 20 oz bottles of drinking water. Suzanne was smart to fill up every pot in the house with tap water the day before.

Once the news reports get repetitious, we switch to the other channel. Al Roker is still at it. Boy, that guy talks a lot.

Noon, we boil all the remaining eggs in the house and make egg salad for lunch. Suzanne adds a little mustard, some paprika and some secret ingredient. It’s another great meal. The local news says the storm should clear by 2 or 3 PM. Al Roker is still talking and I wonder if I should hire someone to assassinate him.

All four of us play scrabble to pass the time. Suzanne wins.

3:30 PM; I remove the storm post from behind the garage door and we go outside.


A quick stroll around the house reveals little or no damage, although we later discover some roof tiles missing. The screens I heard whipping in the wind were the neighbors’. We lost three trees, one of which fell on the A/C tilting the water filtration system in the process.

I spend the rest of the afternoon cutting branches and piling them at the curb.  Dad worries about what he will find when he returns home.  The weatherman says tomorrow will bring seasonal weather.  That’s good/bad news.  Nothing that will destroy your house; but, nothing you want to live through without A/C.

6 PM; the leftover pizza that was in the freezer has completely thawed out.  Suzanne invents stovetop pizza. 

Modern gas stoves have electric controls.  In a power outage, the burners work by lighting a match but the oven shuts down.  Presumably, this is to forestall lawsuits from the families of people who blow themselves up trying to manually light the oven.  Don’t laugh.  I knew someone this happened to. 

At nightfall, Mom and Suzanne play Scrabble again by candlelight.  Dad and I enjoy the cool breeze.  It’s cool and moist – like an ocean breeze on your winter vacation.  The tail end of Frances is out there somewhere bringing occasional rain and high winds (40 to 50 MPH).   But, the breeze feels so good I decide to leave the shutters open. 

Monday, September 6; cold cereal with bananas for breakfast. The milk is still good. After breakfast, we load Mom and Dad in the car and take them back to Boynton Beach. No damage to their house. Lots of fallen branches and much good luck. They decide to move back in.

We go home to finish the clean up. Lunch is whatever is still not spoiled in the fridge.

2 PM; we are outside working in the yard when the sky opens up drenching us and causing puddles to form inside each of our open windows.

6 PM; we grill the remaining chicken for dinner then play another game of scrabble. We check in on the baby TV; CBS has returned to regular programming. We watch Two and Half Men and go to bed. I sleep like a log despite the heat and humidity. A day of manual labor will do that for you.

Tuesday; September 7; the local news says that the National Guard is distributing ice, water and non-perishable food at a nearby distribution center. We polish off our coffee and head over. We arrive at 7:28 AM, second in line for an 8 AM opening. The supply truck doesn’t show up till 9 but we are glad to wait in our air-conditioned car. At the head of the line, we get ice only. But, that was all we needed.

After breakfast (instant oatmeal), I shower and get dressed for work. I tell Suzanne that if the office is closed, I am heading for the airport to get a flight out of here tomorrow. It is and I do. Canandaigua Lake here we come and Hurricane Ivan be damned.

Noon; I make myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch.

In the end, all that happened was that we lost a few trees that God didn’t put there in the first place. We were uncomfortable for a few days but it was nothing like the suffering of people who lost their homes a few miles north or in countless other natural disasters from the Northridge quake to the Mississippi floods to our own Hurricane Charley a few weeks ago.

But, it was an experience we’ll never forget. And, the next time we’ll be out of town before the storm arrives. If the house does fall down, I don’t want to be in it.

---  John Calia, September 8, 2004

Epilogue. Our Noon flight on Wednesday was delayed on the ground because Air Force One was on its way in and no one can be in the air when W is. Of course, our attitude is that unless he can fix the power grid, he should go back home and stay there (and by home, I mean Texas). The delay causes us to have fifteen minutes to make our connecting flight in DC. We sprint. We have to change terminals causing us to go through Security again. We arrive at our gate with 5 minutes to spare.

The flight to Rochester is cancelled due to mechanical problems. US Airways wants to put us on a flight to Buffalo and give us cab fare to the Rochester airport. (No wonder these guys are bankrupt again!) We opt for a later flight to Syracuse so that we have a shorter drive to the lake. It was not a fun drive. Unfamiliar with the roads and driving at night, we drove through a pouring rain – which, as it turns out, was the remnants of Frances.

This was followed by 7 straight days of perfect late summer, early fall weather which we enjoyed immensely.

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