Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Hurricanes and Resilience

My elderly parents live in central Florida. By central Florida, I mean smack dab in the center of the state, equidistant from both the east and west coasts. This past year (2004) was the worst year in memory for hurricanes in Florida with four major hurricanes hitting one part or another of the state. My parents' home is located near ground zero for centers for three of those four hurricanes.

The first hurricane to hit them was Charley, which came up through central Florida after entering the state on the southwest coast. It had winds that were estimated to be 100 mph winds when it came through my parents' area. Although my parents' home fared well and damage to the rest of their property was minimal, they were among the few fortunate people in their neighborhood.

Much of central Florida has a very high water table. When the heavy winds struck, many trees toppled easily due to their root systems being so shallow. Nearly every mature tree in parents' neighborhood was downed and about half of the homes had significant roof damage. In addition, the electrical systems were destroyed throughout the area. Since my parents lived in an unincorporated area, they were among the last of those to have power restored.

Consequently, my 82 year old parents camped out in their house for three days while waiting for an available hotel room. My mother, who was a former girl scout in her youth, cooked breakfast for two days on an open fire in the fireplace and made coffee over a candle. Even though it was the middle of summer and they had no air conditioning, they made the best of things by living in bathing suits and sitting outside in the shade as much as possible. They were bound and determined to stick it out. Finally after three days of misery, they were able to get a hotel room for the remaining five days that the power was off.

The next hurricane to hit them was Frances, which did not have too bad an impact on their area. But when the third hurricane, Jeannie, came and stalled with hours of heavy, heavy rain, their neighborhood took another devastating hit. Much of the area where their neighborhood is located is low and the water table was already high. With the huge amounts of rain that came with Jeannie, many of the homes in their neighborhood flooded. As recent as the beginning of 2005,three houses on my parents' street were still condemned due to the extensive flood damage that they had sustained.

Most people think of hurricanes as only impacting coastal areas. However, in 2004, we saw that even inland areas can be greatly affected by the tremendous power of these storms. My parents showed enormous resilience in the aftermath of these storms. Not bad for a pair of 82 years olds.

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