Friday, September 19, 2003

George Mindling Column 9-19-2003 - Isabel's wrath

Homeowners spared from Isabel's wrath

As Isabel pounds north Florida, it appears we have been spared yet again. The storm decreased from peak Category 5 status to Category 2 prior to landfall. Everyone in Florida should know there are five categories, and Isabel has been all five. Category 5 storms are the ones with winds at more than 155 miles an hour. A Category 4 is still enough to scare me into leaving. That is another problem with Isabel. If it were to hit mid-Florida, there isn't anywhere to go.

The eye of Isabel was almost 60 miles wide. Hurricane force winds can extend almost 300 miles across. New Florida homeowners should be thankful the new hurricane codes are in effect for all new home construction. Hopefully, the new homes are built substantially better than the ones that were demolished by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Hurricane Fabian just clobbered Bermuda and although exterior damage was severe and four lives were lost, there were few problems with the homes on the island. Bermuda requires all residential dwellings be built to withstand 130-mph winds.

Many Southwest Florida residents still cling to their lucky rabbit's feet and go about their business as if we live in a protected bubble. How about you?  Did you check your hurricane kit this past weekend when it was the right time to prepare for Isabel? Do you even have a hurricane kit? Fill the car with gasoline and stock up with canned goods and a mechanical can opener? Have you been to one of the many free hurricane seminars?

You will never forget the sound of the tiles being ripped off your roof in the middle of the night after hours of incessant, roaring, almost evil-sounding wind. You will cringe and hold your breath every time something slams into a glass window or door, and you will do it for hours. The walls of our inside hallway, our "safe" walls, bowed back and forth during Andrew, causing me to think for the first time I had made a mistake by not taking my family to a shelter. My garage door, with a 120-mph hurricane kit mounted on it, blew in and wrapped itself around my van. Yet, we were lucky. Many others, including our daughter who lived in Cutler Ridge, lost everything.

We lived 20 miles inland. We did not live near any coast, where unfortunately, the media always seems to focus its coverage. The average Florida homeowner complacently watches sailboats being blown ashore, or breakers smashing over a seawall somewhere and doesn't relate to the intensity that can destroy his or her house as well as business. Too many reporters standing by the water's edge in damp slickers trying to make an impression with viewers simply don't convey the sense of urgency that emergency management people everywhere wish they could turn on with a switch.

Watching Isabel slowly move past us to the north, I think how lucky we are again.

George Mindling © 2003

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