The morning of Thursday, August 12 was just like any other. It was a school day - yes, we started already - and the majority of my classes were buzzing with rumors about this "Hurricane Charley". I hadn't been watching the news at all, and I hadn't watched the progression of any hurricanes since Floyd came knocking quite a while back. Regardless of my ignorance, the talk was that Charley - as of now, just a minor Category 2 way to the east of Cuba - was going to head right into Tampa and go across the coast in a northeastern direction, missing our tiny island by a good 150 miles or so. It really wasn't a threat to us, but naturally we gossipped on and on about how wonderful it would be if we could get just a single day off from this gauntlet of pain known as education.
By the end of the day at 3:15, school was still on for Friday as scheduled. Charley was beginning to make tracks for Cuba, which would bring him around to the west part of Florida. Our island is on the east coast (it's actually the easternmost point in Central Florida), which is way out of the projected path. Chances were that we might get a little rain, maybe some scattered storms, but nothing life threatening.
As the day progressed, I tuned into the news for some casual observation of Curious Charley and his giant Grey Swirl. I paid little to no attention to what I was watching, as it was mostly wind speed measurements and I was busy delving deep into AP Chemistry (bleh). Around 9:00 that night, I got an instant message from a friend of mine telling me (quite ecstatically) that we had no school tomorrow. Needless to say, I rejoiced with wine, women, and song. Except without the wine, and without the women. No song, either.
Now, however, I began watching the news with a bit more interest. Tampa denizens were migrating like birds to the greater Orlando area to get out of the immediate Giant Grey Swirl Path. About a million residents in total left their homes and headed in all different directions, coming to rest in whatever Motel 6 or relative's house they could manage to bum a room in. Needless to say, it still didn't look threatening to Merritt Island - I felt that we were all very safe, unless some terrible miscalculation happened.
Which it did.
1:00 AM, FRIDAY AUGUST 13
It's getting very late for me, seeing how I'm used to going to bed around 10 by now. My Charley tracking coherency is slowly diminishing, and I don't think I can take any more statistics of wind speed and pressure before my head explodes. All of this coverage is more annoying than it is informative - I hope it doesn't go on tomorrow because I have some olympic ceremonies to watch. As of right now the hurricane is about 55 miles south of Havana, heading north-northwest at a relatively speedy 18 miles per hour. No matter where it is, I'm still going to dream about naked girls while I'm asleep.
10:00 AM, FRIDAY AUGUST 13
This morning is the most beautiful I've seen in a long time. It's about 85¡ and a little breezy, which is perfect beach weather; it may be hours before a hurricane hits, but we're hundreds of miles out of the way and we might as well make good use of this day off. School was cancelled due to sudden, unexpected sunshine, and you'll hear no complaints from me. On the channel 2 news, people are stocking up like crazy or just getting the hell out of Charley's path - they're getting their rote supplies: jugs of water, sandbags, lots and lots of duct tape, batteries, flashlights, etc. A report comes through on the news that Charley will make landfall around 4:00 PM in the greater Tampa area. As of right now its ass end is ripping through Cuba, and the damage is probably going to be pretty bad for Elian Gonzalez and friends, seeing as our friend is now Category 3 and getting stronger by the second. Beach time for me!
12:00 PM, FRIDAY AUGUST 13
Two hours and lots of skin cancer later, I'm back home. My tan is adequate enough for hot bikini girl action (insert inside joke here) and the beautiful day is still going strong. Charley is now embracing the Florida Keys with his colossal Category 3 ninja hurricane grip, but it's not looking too bad for our South Floridians. They're getting rained on severely but the big Grey Swirl hasn't gone far enough to the north yet to cause major winds. He's trekking along at approximately 20 miles per hour, still going to the north-northwest. Projected landfall hasn't changed and it's just smooth sailing from here. Hurricane Charley: 1, Florida Education System: 0.
1:30 PM, FRIDAY AUGUST 13
Well, I've got some good news, and I've got some bad news. Charley is now a Category 4 storm, and he's being measured at about 145 mph wind gusts near the eye of the storm. That's the good news. The bad news is that we've got about 10 hours before the eye of the storm is directly overhead our island. Apparently the storm was about 100 miles out of Tampa, took one look at the city, and made a 45¡ turn to the east, completely altering every possible projection that was made. The new tracking map shows that Charley, in his ubiquitous curiousness, has decided to cut a firey swath across Central Florida - directly over Punta Gorda, then to Orlando, and exiting over Daytona Beach later tonight.
Nobody was prepared for this. Most of the people that evacuated from Tampa actually moved east to Orlando putting themselves right in the middle of the storm. It's too late now for anyone to make a move to get out of the way ... all we can do is hope for the best.
3:45 PM, FRIDAY AUGUST 13
Hurricane Charley made landfall a few minutes ago in Charlotte County, at the town of Punta Gorda. With winds in excess of 145 MPH and a storm surge of over fifteen feet, this quiet barrier island town isn't going to look pretty when all of this is said and done. Almost 100% of the residents are still in their homes, since the unpredicted turn by Charley has left everyone confused - and ultimately in the path of the hurricane. Tornado warnings are popping up all over Central Florida, creating a giant red rectangle in all of the Doppler Radar maps in addition to the big Grey Swirl that we're accustomed to by now.
The beautiful day has just gone progressively downhill. For some suicidal reason (money perhaps), my mom is still going to work, regardless of the impending hurricane about to rain supreme - pun intended - over our quaint villiage. She's dedicated to leaving me alone, though, and does so around 4:00. Now it's just me and the dog ...
If I have to, I will kill him and crawl inside for warmth.
5:00 PM, FRIDAY AUGUST 13
This whole situation has gone from amusing to downright nerve-wracking. There's a big bad monster coming my way, and his name's Charley.. and after lines like that, it's quite evident that I need something to take my mind off of this whole thing. I boot up Starcraft and attempt to salvage some of my remaining concentration in a nice game on Dark Continent (I end up killing everyone with battlecruisers while shouting HURRICANE CHARLEY IS COMING!).
As my gaming winds down, the hurricane is now making a beeline for Orlando. The eye just made landfall at 5:00 and it's not slowing down, going at a very fast 22 MPH. Hurricane trackers and watchers and bloggers alike are all completely stumped by the irregular pattern of movement, and you can't blame them for it. Well, you can, because people are going to be in serious shit now.
9:00 PM, FRIDAY AUGUST 13
Most people think that hurricanes are fun. Most people think that it'd be exciting to sit in your house, unharmed, while the world around you breaks down. Most people have never been through three major hurricanes.
At this time, I'm really clueless as to what's going to happen to the island. The power is still on - in fact, it hasn't even started raining quite yet - but the news reports that are coming through are nothing more than wind speed reports from places where Charlie has already gone by. Almost all the facts that are thrown at me are ones that I don't really care about, like how much rainfall has already splashed down in Punta Gorda, and hos bad off Orlando was when the first rain bands hit. I don't care about how crowded the shelters are at this point - it's pointless to tell me, because I'm not going anywhere, and I think that I speak for the rest of Central Florida when I say that they aren't leaving either. The predominant Orlando news staion is already compiling videos on the damage of Charley.. can't that wait for tomorrow?
10:15 PM, FRIDAY AUGUST 13
The first rain has started hitting my house. It's completely dark outside so I don't know how bad the wind is as of yet, and I dunno if my backyard has suffered any damage. I'm still trying to talk to my few remaining friends that are online, including the elusive wakiki/maareek/DD trio, whom are keeping their comments to themselves as I scream random obscenities at Charley. His monstrous Gray Swirl is knocking on my front door - the eye of the storm has just passed over Orlando, and the back end of it is now dumping even more rain and unleashing more wind on the Orange County area. I notice that Night2o1 (who lives in Winter Park near Orlando) suddenly logs off around now. Either he lost power, or he went to try to put a machine up in Charley so we can finally learn something about these mysterious storms. Left! Right! Left! Tractor! House! HELEN HUNT!
I'm trying to put my dog out, but he won't go. Not only can dogs smell evil, they can also sense impending death.
10:30 PM, FRIDAY AUGUST 13
The wind has picked up an incredible amount in the last fifteen minutes. My power is constantly going on and off, and I'm trying to keep a decent internet connection so maareek doesn't think I've died just yet. The television is spouting off more random facts on how much Charley is totally going to rape me, and it's really comforting. From what I can see off of the single street light that's still working way down at the end of my street, the tops of our palm trees are almost horizontal. The rain is falling sideways as well, which creates a surprisingly loud sound against my windows.
My dog has taken permanent residence under my bed.
11:00 PM, FRIDAY AUGUST 13
A few minutes ago, I heard a loud creak and then a smash from a few houses down. I can only assume what it is, so I'll assume that it's his giant safe filled with millions of dollars and those little candy coins wrapped in gold, which has conveniently flown three houses over and landed on my lawn, spilling all of its contents. My power has been off for a good ten minutes now, and I can't seem to find the flashlight that I probably left in the kitchen a few hours ago. All I can do now is sit and listen to the sounds of the world being destroyed around me, and hope that nothing touches my house. Or my new candy coin collection.
11:30 PM, FRIDAY AUGUST 13
Everything has finally started calming down a little bit. The wind, which has been howling through my house (is it bad that it sounds like a dying cat?) is starting to lay off a little bit. I'm not sure whether I'm in the eye of the storm, or if the eye has missed us - I don't have any power, and I'm sure as hell not going outside to check. I've started playing "guess the random object" with myself, by reaching into random places in my room and figuring out what's there. So far I've spilled a can of orange soda and grabbed my dog's nose.
Today just isn't my day.
MIDNIGHT, SATURDAY AUGUST 14
Most everything has passed. Rain is now down to a minimum, and winds are barely noticeable. Power is back on already (yay!) and I've returned to keep my glorious position atop the internet, looking down upon all of you Category 2 and Category 3 survivors. It's too late and much too dark to survey any damage, so all I can do now is sleep. Hopefully, Charley doesn't come back around for more.
10:00 AM, SATURDAY AUGUST 14
The damage statewide is absolutely enormous. Punta Gorda, the first city to be hit, is the worst off - one report says that "stacks of bodies" were found in a mobile home park in Fort Meyers. Hurricane Charley did indeed cut a firey swath through Florida, but it just wasn't the path we all expected him to take. Most of the damage caused was simply because nobody knew where this guy was going to go, and by the time we did it was far too late - at least for the barrier islands.
I went out earlier this morning and milled around my neighborhood, and several other people were outside as well. The family three houses down from mine had a one ton palm tree ripped from its roots and thrown into the middle of the street - explaining the loud crash I heard - and I gave them a hand in rolling it out of the road. From there, I don't know what they're going to do, because it's pretty damn hard to get those things in.. forget getting them out!
A lot of damage in my community and on the island was very random. Almost every third house had its fence completely knocked down, but the homes paralelling them had literally no damage whatsoever. My friend called in to have a tree removed and was given an estimate of $10,000, to which he repliad with a cordial "fuck you" and hung up. Price gouging is probably going to be a big problem.
My house was untouched. The lawn chairs in the back yard didn't even move. Everything got a good soaking, however, and my back porch still has a good three inches of water built up in the back end of it (it's on an angle). Fortunately, though, that was the peak of what happened.
5:00 PM, SATURDAY AUGUST 21
It's officially been a week since the post-hurricane surveyance occurred. Quite a few schools in Central Florida are still closed; one school in Orange County had its cafeteria roof completely torn off, which would account for the postponement ("closed until further notice" is the update they're giving as I type this). To our collective disappointment, our school was untouched.
A lot of counties are still without power a full seven days after the storm hit them. The barrier islands were opened up to the public only a week ago because it was deemed unsafe to even go back to your homes - provided that there was one standing to go back to. Power companies have been working 24/7 to fix over a million homes without power, and they still have to deal with pissed off people complaining that they're not getting dealt with fast enough. Because of this, the power companies have simply refused to take calls from most people, and they're now operating in a particular pattern which you can't hope to change by calling. Good for them.
Another large percentage of counties are without drinkable water, gas, or ice. Apparently when Charlie came through he took all of our resources with him. For a good few days afterwards, all Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Lowe's, and any other sundry supply stores you could think of were sold out of power generators (I'm sure they made quite a profit). Price gouging has indeed become a problem, with tree removal being the main target. You could get an estimate reaching $20,000 + for removing a large tree from your home. And by the way - if the tree didn't touch your house, your insurance won't cover it. You've gotta pay that on your own.
But like I said before, none of this has really hit close to home. The worst of damage that I've seen around here is a tree that was leisurely sitting on the hood of a car, with an apparently absent owner (it's been days, I guess he quit Florida or something). Both President Bush and Senator Droopyface have paid respective visits to our noble Orange State to assess the damage and deploy political missiles at the generally homeless public. I agree with what a lot of people have started saying: if you want to impress me, get a goddamn chainsaw and start helping with these trees. They're in the roads, you ass.
No matter how we do it, Florida has started recovering from the terrible sodomy that Charley delivered to us just a week past. It'll be an uphill battle for a lot of people - damage has been estimated at the $15 billion mark, and that's no joke for sure.
All we can do is rebuild our lives, and wait for the next one to knock them down again.