Being followed by Charley, Frances and Jeanne

Winter 2004 CSANews Issue 53  |  Posted date : May 16, 2007.Back to list

I have lived in Florida for 27 years, so I have met all kinds of pesky little bugs, insects, lizards, wild boar, gators (not the football kind) and snakes, including a five-foot rattler my son shot in our backyard. I have survived numerous life-threatening lightning/thunder storms that make your house shake. I've been through several scary hurricanes, too – but this past year was the scariest and toughest of them all – because I was followed by Charley, Frances and Jeanne.

Let's start with my meeting Charley. This hurricane was supposed to travel off-shore up the west coast of Florida and probably hit land near Tampa and proceed northwest. So, since Sally (my bride) and I live in a manufactured home (not the place to be in a storm) just 45 miles east of Tampa in Auburndale, we decided to evacuate and go to our daughter's nice big brick house in Longwood, a small community just east of Orlando. Charley was supposed to go north of Orlando, right?

Wrong. The hurricane decided to fool all those bright weather forecasters with their fancy high-tech equipment, and it made a sudden turn east and smacked right into the Punta Gorda, Port Charlotte area where it devastated several communities. It then headed northeast along the Highway 17 corridor and tore through Lake Wales and Haines City (we live 15 miles from there). Charley then decided to take on the mighty metropolis of Orlando. He tore through the core of the city and headed for – you guessed it – Longwood, where Sally, Bill and family were enjoying a hurricane party, a common thing in Florida.

We were keeping an eye on the storm and finally decided that we had better prepare ourselves since our friend Charley was headed straight for us. It only took about an hour for him to wreak havoc on the community, destroying some homes, but primarily limiting himself to mostly damaging roofs and uprooting trees. The next morning, you could barely walk the streets because there was so much debris spread all over the place. However, we had survived. Our home county of Polk suffered a lot of damage from Charley and, when we got home, we had no power for four days.

Things had just settled down when Frances decided to visit us by coming ashore, on the east coast this time near Melbourne. With winds in excess of 100 mph, Frances was supposed to head northeast towards Jacksonville. Nope – he changed his mind and turned west towards Central Florida on a path leading directly to our neighbourhood. So Sally and I decided to evacuate again, this time to our son's home in Winter Haven. We thought that we would be safe there, since Frances' path was projected to travel well east of us. No such luck – Frances turned and smacked right into Winter Haven. The roof of my son's home was badly damaged, along with some of his neighbours'. Power was lost, but fortunately my son had the forethought to buy a generator so we at least had power for appliances, but not for air-conditioning. It sure gets hot in a house in the middle of September, especially with all the doors and windows buttoned up tightly. Once again, Sally and I were lucky – when we returned home, we only had slight damage to our house, although we did lose a 30-foot pine tree to the high winds.

Once again, we were just getting settled after Frances and along came Jeanne. By this time, most of us who reside permanently in Central Florida had had enough of hurricanes, and yes, even those horrific thunderstorms. And by this time, we were not very anxious to make a move until we were confident that Jeanne was going to be a threat to us. We waited as long as we could but eventually, it was time to go. Jeanne had turned and now was headed towards us. We evacuated once again to our son's home in Winter Haven. Guess what? That darned hurricane turned and ripped right through Winter Haven with winds of up to 80 mph. Once again, we survived and Sally and I headed home.

This time, evacuating was a good idea because Jeanne decided to make up for our good luck during Charley and Frances. She ripped off our shutters, broke a window and tore a few shingles loose, causing a bad leak in our kitchen. There was no power, forcing us to get a hotel room (we were lucky to find one) for six days. But we were fortunate; some of our neighbours had their porches and carports destroyed. Our park was quite a mess.

After all this, as well as a few previous experiences with storms over the years, Sally and I have decided that a manufactured home is not a safe place to be on a permanent basis in Florida. They are just fine for snowbirds who are not here during the hurricane season.

While many memories linger following our survival of this year's hurricane season, one memory remains humorously etched. It was a spray-painted message appearing on plywood covering windows and doors across the State: 1) Charley, 2) Frances, 3) Jeanne, 4) For Sale.