Greetings from Florida, the Sunshine State. I'm pretty sure that two recent Umatilla County families have never before gone through two separate, major hurricanes in a three-week period in different parts of Florida.
In your issue of Aug. 17 former editor Richard Hensley gave a gripping acount of his family's experience at Sebring as Charley tore through from the gulf of Mexico, cross-state to the Atlantic. Last weekend Hurricane Frances closed in on the coastal regions of southeast Florida, especially Palm Beach County. She then slanted left and crossed the state to the Northwest, crossing the earlier path of Charley.
Having been warned for days of the possibility of hurricanes in general and Frances in particular, Betty Lou and I were pretty well prepared: Plenty of dry or canned foods that can be eaten without cooking when the power fails, 16 gallons of drinking water, both bath tubs full for flushing the toilets, lots and lots of flashlight batteries, plywood covering all the many windows (including three very large sliding glass door systems on the rear). And so, we hunkered down.
On Friday, Sept. 3, we began to feel the early effects of gathering wind and rain. That grew as Frances crept (she was an exceptionally slow storm so that she could pause and soak the heck out of us) closer to shore and by Saturday we began to feel the stronger winds from the left side of her swirling system. We lost power about 10:30 Saturday night. You can read in the daytime and by flashlight at night (no TV), try to sleep, peek out the cracks between the plywood panels to see the storm but can't call family or friends because the phone is dead. About 2:30 a.m. on Monday we were greatly surprised and thrilled to find our power back on, but literally hundreds of thousands of folks are still without and will be for some time. Power crews from Texas, Oklahoma, Indiana and elsewhere have come to help.
Our phone has been working for more than two days. We're feeling both lucky and guilty about our good fortune so far - and knocking on wood.
Vengeful female that she was, Frances did a lot of damage in places. Many, many trees, both palms and hardwoods, were flattened or broken off. Florida is generally so well watered that trees don't have to send down tap roots, and you can see many very large, beautiful shade trees lying flat with a large carpet of turf clinging to their shallow, radially dispersed root system. Large palms are lying flat or with their trunks snapped off. We're in good shape. Our five queen palms and one coconut palm lost some fractured fronds but are standing just as they were before the storm. However, our prolific grapefruit tree has shed a pretty good carpet of fruit but with more than enough left for us if another hurricane doesn't come calling. Our home is basically a concrete structure with a heavy tile roof. And we see no damage, while some folks, not in our neighborhood, in flimsier structures have no home left. Again, lucky and guilty.
You can see pictures of boats, from modest vessels to yachts, stacked on top of each other. So much for the "boating capital of the world." It helps one overcome the urge to buy and own one.
Now another hurricane, Ivan, with winds of 140 mph, is working his way rather speedily through the eastern Caribbean on a course predicted to skirt below the southern tip of Florida in the near future and curve northwest to hit the Florida Panhandle and points beyond. But it can always change course and miss Florida completely or give us another dose. It's amazing what the weather professionals can predict and depict, and with our power back on we stay glued to the TV watching the predictions, but the path of a hurricane can be quite fickle.
In other words, Hermiston sounds pretty good right now!
By the way, each year the National Weather Service establishes an alphabetical list of names alternating masculine and feminine, to be sequentially assigned to tropical storms and hurricanes. You'll notice that I have dealt only with Charley, Frances and Ivan, and I don't recall what happened to A, B, D, E and H. (Gaston was a strong storm that hit much farther north, around Virginia.)
Chuck Norris is a former commander of the Umatilla Chemical Depot and state represenative from Hermiston who now lives in Wellington, Fla.