Archive for August 13th, 2009

August 13th, 2004. The day our lives got turned all upside down by a storm named Charley.


The official path had it coming on shore near Tampa and skirting us to the north. Of course, Mother Nature doesn’t always pay attention to official paths laid out by weather forecasters. Instead, Charley decided to make landfall as a Category 4 system with sustained winds of 150 mph near Port Charlotte, which put it on a straight line to nail Orlando.

I’m a third generation Florida native, been here my whole life. In 33 years I had never witnessed a hurricane move directly across the state… but Kathleen and I were about to. She’s from St. Louis, so her experience with tropical weather is a bit more limited. Not that it would matter this time. This was a whole new ballgame.

I can still vividly recall the moment when I knew it was going to be bad. It was around 6pm, a couple hours before the worst would arrive. We let the dogs out for one last potty break, and as we stood in the backyard a big cloud line full of wind quickly pushed through (one of the first “bands” of the system). Our two-person swing with a heavy steel frame blew over like a child’s toy. I believe I said something to the effect of, “oh poop.”

As Charley grew ever closer, we secured all of our animals as best we could. There were no horses to worry about then, just dogs, cats, some little critters and birds. Unfortunately, two of the birds, a dove and pigeon that were a romantic couple, had no place to stay except in the cage on the screen porch. We covered them up and hoped for the best. All the others were in various parts of the house, with blankets over crates to protect from flying debris if windows busted out. The good thing about a hurricane is, you usually have plenty of time to hunker down, unlike a tornado that can come at you without warning.

When the winds finally started getting really nasty around 9pm, Kathleen secured herself in our master bath shower stall with canines Ramirez, Frank and Joey, as well as kittycats Sarah and Kobe. I put myself in the bedroom closet, with the TV turned around so I could monitor the radar as long as the power held up. Our greyhound Theo was loose on the bed, as he had no crate to safely be in. I crossed my fingers, and for an extra amount of good luck, proceeded to place around my own neck the collar of our departed dog Jackson. We always thought of him as my guardian angel when he was alive, so I hoped he would still be able to offer some form of protection even from beyond the grave. Sounds silly, I know, but when the wind is howling at your door, you start thinking crazy thoughts.

And what a howling it was. Charley had dropped from a Category 4 down to a 2 by the time it hit Central Florida, but that still meant sustained winds at around 106 mph. Shortly after 9pm The house started making noises I had never heard before, all kinds of creaking and moaning. It wasn’t long before the the lightbulbs started flickering, which really freaked me out because I had only seen that happen in the movies. Then they suddenly stopped flickering, as the power went completely out. Now we had no TV, no way to see what was happening. I yelled to Kathleen to turn the radio on in the bathroom, but I don’t think she could hear me at that moment because she was crying too hard. We seriously feared for our lives.

The heart of the storm finally passed  after an hour or so, and then it got very quiet. Quiet and dark. We were all in one piece, at least those of us in the bedroom and bathroom. We grabbed our flashlights and went to check on everyone else. Thankfully there were no broken windows, no signs of leaking from the roof. All of our furry children were okay. And we were delighted to find two birds alive and well, if just a bit shaken in their cage on the porch. The only damage I could spot was a few missing sections of our wooden fence.

I headed out front to see how the neighborhood looked – and I couldn’t see, or hear, anything. It’s a very eerie feeling when all the power is out everywhere. There’s just nothing. I could see there was a power line down in the street, and just then a police car was driving down the cross street. I flagged him down and told him about the power line. His response was, “there’s power lines down everywhere. Just go back inside.”

We tried our best to get some sleep. The next morning our neighborhood looked quite a bit different than the day before.


Yes, that chunk of tree is hanging on a couple of power lines.



No trees fell on our fence, but a block over they weren’t so lucky.


Everywhere you looked, there were uprooted trees.




This was our neighbor just across the street and a few houses up from us.


Their driveway was destroyed by the roots ripping through it!


The walkway on the other side didn’t fare any better.


This poor guy couldn’t tell how much of his pickup truck was left under there.


Amazingly, they still have this truck… it was totally restored.


Kathleen (rocking her short red hair look) makes a call amidst the carnage.


Just past our neighborhood, the local Cuban restaurant lost their sign.


And up the street, Charley made child’s play out of this playground display.


Here’s the church, where’s the top of the steeple?


Oh, there it is!


Our house somehow managed to avoid getting damaged. We were thankful for that, but there was another problem –  no power. No power means no air conditioning, and when you live in Florida, that is very bad. Especially with a houseful of senior dogs that can’t handle it… not to mention a cranky, sweaty mom and dad. Sure, we tried to put on a happy face about it:


Ramirez was all, “hey, I’m cool with it”:


Frank tried to act like it was no big deal:


But by the second, or  third, or maybe fourth night without power, we were a stinky, crazy mess:


Frank’s brother Sam is looking a bit out of sorts, wondering when this will end.


Kath tries to keep cool with her personal mini fan.


I try to keep cool with… interesting hair.


Ramirez finally breaks down and begs mom for some fan time.


And on it went, for an ENTIRE WEEK WITHOUT POWER. We almost got divorced about twelve times in those seven days. To call it a struggle would be a massive understatement. Every morning we had to embark on the quest for coffee for Kath or I’d really be in for it. Crowds at the stores that did have power and food were massive. There was one McDonald’s open but all they had were chicken McNuggets and fries. People were all a little bit on edge. Driving was treacherous! Seems no one understood when a light is not functioning it should be looked at as a four-way stop. Don’t know how many close calls we had with being jackknifed by some idiot. We were lucky to have a petsitting client that was out of town, and their electricity was on. So I charged our cellphones and did our laundry there. And I might have even spent a couple nights there in the cool A/C… but don’t tell Kathleen that.

All kinds of workers from other states came to help get us back online, but it was a slow process. One of the most frustrating things was knowing there was a staging area for them just down the street. It was a giant tease seeing all that hardware sitting there, still not getting to us.



We were  the very last block in our neighborhood to get electrical service restored. It was quite a happy day when the trucks arrived!




And so it ended. But as we all know, God has a sense of humor. He thought it would be funny if we had to deal with TWO more tropical systems over the next six weeks, and so we had to go through it all again with Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne. Fortunately neither of them had the strength or fury of Charley, but it was a trying time nonetheless. We got really good at setting the house up for the oncoming storms, with all the critters in the family room:


All the essentials secured in plastic totes in the kitchen:


And the rest of us all crammed in the master bedroom:


As bad as it all was, we were blessed to have a wonderful pack of dogs to get us through, including one of our most treasured in Rebecca. She was the very first Cattle Dog in the family, and is the reason we have Eva today (and a certain horse is named after her too). She wasn’t scared of no storm!


I think I speak for every resident of Florida in saying I hope the hurricane season of 2004 was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If not… Canada, here we come!!!

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