Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Coming Out the Other End

That isn't a scatological reference. It refers to the future end of my drought of internet access and a report of "what it was like to live through hurricane Wilma" from the viewpoint of two people who did just that. Glory be!

First, some quick impressions.

Wilma was more severe than we expected her to be. The weather forecasters were pretty much dead on with the track, the category, and the effects. We didn't so much doubt them as much as hope they were wrong. Many stayed. Some (such as us) suffered little. Others were reduced to tears by what they lost and what they would be faced with to restore to Key West normal.

Storm surges are very bad things. Some are worse than others. This one was worse than Rita and Katrina. Ri and Sandy got some water in their yard from Katrina. Rita raised the level to where it invaded the rear part of their house to the point that they had to buy furniture and clothes to replace what was ruined by the salt water. This time it rose in the whole house to a level of at least 18 inches. Bubba and Cyndee?s trailer home in the Stadium Mobile Home Park behind Searstown. Louie's Back Yard is gone, we?re told. So is the pier at Atlantic Shores. I'm sure we'll hear about more as time goes on.

Our electricity is back as I write this on Tuesday evening. There are still many in Key West and the Keys who don't have power yet. Comcast is out here. The latest word is that Comcast has a fleet of repair trucks on the way from somewhere.

We have no real idea of what happened to us or to mainland Florida. I need to look for some newspapers, as old-fashioned as that might seem. I heard on the radio that Wilma might be hitting the northeast as a hurricane, as improbable as that may seem.

The City is badly damaged. Trees are down everywhere. We?ve seen a few homes, one a block away, with their roofs ripped off. Businesses in various parts of the City have been flooded, including most of the bars on lower Duval Street. We haven?t been able to get close enough down there to see the damage. Our place was hardly affected. The surge didn't come up this far. Miss Julia says it never has. A shutter blew off the house on the third floor, breaking a window. We cleaned up most of the mess on the patio on Monday afternoon, as Wilma sped off to the mainland. It was just a clean-up, remove the shutters event. We went out twice on Monday to have a look around. The first time, we couldn't get to Roosevelt Boulevard because of flooding in several strategic areas. It looks like the Police Department partially relocated to the County building on Whitehead Street. The area around the Public Safety buildings was in the flood plain, as was Bayview Park. The second time, we got a little further, were able to get to the Boulevard. There was nothing open -- well, actually, there was a liquor store opening as we passed by. They're always the first to get back up. Without electricity, no gas was being pumped, no coffee was brewing (except at Key West Buns on Southard Street; they were serving coffee from a two pot brewing machine to a line of people that stretched out to Southard Street. And at the laundry on White Street, the little Cuban coffee window there.) The Winn-Dixie parking lot was navigable, but nothing was open there. The Albertsons/K-Mart lot and the Publix/Searstown lots were both underwater. I went out alone at 4:30 Tuesday morning. Old Town was entirely dark except for the Walgreen's in the former Strand movie theater on Duval Street. Maybe it was the $100,000 generator system in back of the building.

Fantasy Fest is cancelled. The organizers are scrambling to come up with a replacement date. Some say around Thanksgiving, but no one really knows. At any rate, FF will not save the bacon this year for many businesses. Too many were depending on a full 10-day festival to pay debts and fill coffers for the run-up to season. A delayed Goombay in early November won't be any more than a south Florida event, but its been that practically anyway, attracting only a small part of the Fantasy Fest crowds that begin arriving on Sunday for a full week's frivolity, or on Thursday for a four day weekend. Fantasy Fest fans make their plans a year in advance, booking rooms, arranging vacations, booking travel. All of those plans crumbled when Wilma came. And hurricane doesn't end until November 30. Elaine, from US 1 Radio, came to the Coffee Plantation this afternoon with a report that a new storm is forming somewhere. We booed her down.

Today we went to see Bubba and Cyndee, took some pictures of their place, then went to Ri and Sandy's and helped them rescue some photos and other collectibles and memorabilia. On the way between the two places, we passed by the high school where FEMA was set up to distribute water, ice and MREs. There was a long line of cars waiting, and others who were walking, some pushing shopping carts 'borrowed' from one or another store. Cars in both places were underwater a few hours earlier. Many are ruined and will never run again.

We are so thankful that we came through relatively unscathed. Would we stay again? Well, that depends ....

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