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Eye of the Hurricane
by Freda Douglas
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Eye of the Hurricane 1

On August 13, 2004, Hurricane Charley hit me at 4:40 in the afternoon. This story will relay my personal observations of the storm as I witnessed it from my home, and my experiences following the storm.

For those who arenít lucky(?) enough to live in hurricane country, this essay relates hurricane Charley when it hit Hardee County, Florida. The actual personal experience occurred in Crystal Lake Village, a mobile home village for retirees, located off U. S. Highway 17, north of Wauchula, capital of Hardee County.

I am going to tell you what it feels like to look out the window and see your house appendages disappear like so many matchsticks.

I was sitting at my computer, the afternoon of Friday, August 13, 2004, when the power went off at 4:40 p.m. by my watch. I shut down the computer, and went over to the office door to watch the progress of the storm which at that time was heavy rains with little noticeable wind.

I couldnít use my lift chair because it is controlled by electricity. I was tired so I went back and lay on the bed. Iíve lived in Florida for 20 years. I had seen lots of storms. Right? Wrong!

I had been on the bed about five minutes when the deafening roar of the storm infringed on my ears, so back in my wheelchair I went, and motored to the front. First thing I noticed was the unusual amount of light in the kitchen. I thought the wind had blown the door open, and I worried about Jewely (my cat) getting out. It was not the door open; I no longer had a car port. It was gone. Vanished!

While I watched, garbage cans flew by and the utility shed my husband John had built came down like a house of cards. When John built something he built it strong. If another person used two nails John used four, but there was little effort on the part of the storm to blow the utility shed down.

By this time Iím back in the office. My awnings were hanging on by an invisible thread, and every time a gust of wind touched them it caused the windows to break more. Finally, after something hit me on the cheek (hurting nothing but scaring me plenty) I had sense enough to close the patio door behind me as I went into the house.

It was reported accurately we had winds of 145 MPH with gusts reaching as high as 180 MPH.

Following the storm which abated by eight p.m. I had no power, no water, and no telephone. Finally, on Monday morning early two paramedics from Bradenton came into the house, and told me I was going to a shelter. I think they would have carried me if I had put up a fuss. I was in my robe, and only had time to grab my medicine and nothing else before they took me down the wheelchair ramp. My good friend Linda drove me to Hardee Memorial hospital like she was supposed to, but the next day we were moved to Hardee Manor Nursing Home where there was no air conditioning. Hurricane Charlie blew off the 10 ton rooftop unit.

The next day we were loaded in ambulances and made a caravan driving up to Lakeland. There Valencia Hills Health and Therapy Center became our home away from home.

During all these moves I was capably taken care of by strangers who had come in from all over the state of Florida to help the local victims. Emergency medical technicians (EMTs)from Bradenton took us to the first shelter, Tampa EMTís took us to the second and third. Bruce, Jeff and Kevin, all from Tampa, drove the ambulances. The first two evacuation centers were staffe by volunteers from Orlando. There was Carolyn, RN, with the bouncy curls and ever present smile, Nick, always ready to lend a helping hand, and Daniel, at 78 the oldest volunteer EMT in the state of Florida. Unfortunately, both Nick and Carolyn got sick, either from the heat or food poisoning, and were sent home before we could even say thank you. Daniel was there until we were loaded in vans and transported to Lakeland. Never was there a more obliging, friendly, helpful volunteer.

Following the storm there were no utilities so my neighbor carried water from the lake to flush the head. By this time the power in my electric wheelchair was kaput, and I had to revert to my manual chair, which my neighbor dug out of the rubble in my collapsed utility room, and operating that made me even warmer.

There was no time to tell anybody where we were going to be. The ambulance driver (ours was a big, jolly black man by the name of Bruce from Tampa) didnít even know where we were going. He just followed the leader.

None of my family knew where I was for almost two weeks. Then my niece in Buffalo wrote to my brother in California (mind you, they are not related and have never met, but she saves all the emails I send her and got my brotherís address that way). He started calling Hardee County looking for me, but nobody here knew where I was either. Then she called her sister-in-law who lives in Pennsylvania, and somehow she found me through the Seventh Day Adventist church. I still donít know how she did that but she did.

Meanwhile, back at Valencia Hills I was having troubles of my own. Lakeland has a different telephone carrier than we do, and our carrier Sprint would not let me charge to my home phone unless somebody was at the number to verify the usage. It didnít matter that I lived alone, and was in a shelter. Finally they gave me a calling card so I could use the phone.

The care in Valencia was superb. There was Elouise. I donít know whether she is a CNA or aide, but she was a tremendous person with a heart as big as outdoors. Pam, RN, was kind and considerate. Gail worked for admissions. Cara worked for administration. Victoria was always ready to bring a smile to your face. Gena, with long natural blonde hair, looked like a good puff of wind would blow her away, but she was able to put me into bed and get me up alone, and Iím no lightweight. Mustnít forget Melissa who mostly worked nights, but always had a wave as she went by the room. Then there was Shirley who worked in the activities department. She heard I was looking for something to read and brought me two current books.

Letís come closer to home and give thanks to Carl, David, Jim, Louise and LaDonna from my church who came out to my house, and cleaned up the area where I used to have a utility room, and Mardi who brought me bug spray to ward off the mosquitoes that inundated the house through the broken windows before James covered them with plastic.

This quote is so apropos for this time of destroyed homes and businesses, and lives that are forever changed. Keep in mind that a smile makes your load lighter.
DO IT ANYWAY - by Mother Theresa
People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centered.
Love them anyway!
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
Do good anyway!
If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway!
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway!
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway!
The biggest (people) with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest(people)with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway!
People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for some underdog anyway!
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway!
People really need help but may attack you if you help them.
Help people anyway!
Give the world the best you have, and you'll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you've got anyway.

Back to shelters. I arrived home on Tuesday, 15 days later, from Valencia Hills. My work was cut out for me. I had 500 emails in my computer inbox. I deleted the first two weeks, but that still left 78.

Then the news about hurricane Frances was getting worse and stronger. Finally Charlotte, my case worker at HOPE, our division of the Department of Elder Affairs, called me and told me I had to evacuate Friday. ďIím not going any place.Ē
ďBut you have to.Ē ďDonít tell me I have to. Iím not going.Ē

Then, not a half hour later I fell on the kitchen floor. I pressed my alarm, the EMTs came, I wasnít hurt (except my pride) but it made me think what would happen to me if I fell and had no power. Then who would help me? Charlotte called the next morning. Before she could say a word I said, ďyes, Iím going.Ē

The next day (Friday) we were taken by volunteer ambulances driven by volunteer drivers to Manatee Technology Center. The rooms were spacious. We slept on cots which were quite comfortable, but getting in bed and out of bed was a real hassle for me due to my handicap, and Iím sure for the volunteers.

When I was in Valencia Hills I had nothing to read until a couple days before I left. When I left for Bradenton on Friday I carried three books with me. I read one on Friday, one on Saturday, one on Sunday, then on Monday I sat twiddling my thumbs until they came to take me home.

That was a trip Iíll never forget. There were five of us passengers in the bus. I was not aware of it, but there was a second bus behind us carrying the luggage. When we were traveling Route 64 we were forced to detour via Vandolah Road because of flooding caused by hurricane Frances. All of a sudden the driver of the second bus called our guys on cell phone (Jeff and Kevin, both from Tampa) that he was in trouble. We stopped, Jeff got out to see what the problem was. A fan belt had broken so all the luggage had to come into our bus. You should have seen the amount of luggage. One man had several oxygen tanks and I can understand that being he was on oxygen, but I canít believe the luggage. You would have thought they had stayed for four months, not four days. We had to hold some of our own luggage. When Jeff brought my suitcase to me he asked me if that was all I had. I told him just that and my blanket.

I was sitting in the back seat, and the air conditioner was right over my left shoulder and dripped constantly. By the time I arrived home my back was pretty well soaked.

I felt sorry for Jeff and Kevin. They dropped me off last because I live closest to the short cut to Tampa, but they had to go back to Vandolah Road because the tow truck passed the stalled bus, and never stopped. It was 10 oíclock when I got home. Iím sure it was one or two in the morning before all the fellows got back to Tampa

The first thing I did on arriving home was to call for my cat Jewely. No Jewely. Nobody had been in the house because our manager had the key. Where was Jewely? I was tired so I fell into bed quickly.

The next morning I realized Frances ripped my office roof loose and water got in my telephone so I had to get the bedroom phone. I was just starting out front after picking up the phone and there comes Jewely, meandering down the hall. She had gotten out through the broken window and got back the same way. How do I know that? After I fed her she did exactly the same thing going and coming, just as though she was trying to show me how smart she is. James cooked her goose though. He covered the broken windows with plastic.

I have told you my experiences which were minor compared to the tragedies that happened to other homes, and especially the businesses, in Hardee County. We will come back, perhaps stronger than we were, because that is a trait good Hardee County residents have in common. Count us down, but never count us out.

The End

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