Most Floridians really expect the hurricane season to be over as we approach Halloween, but memories are often short. Back in 2005, Hurricane Wilma made landfall in South Florida on Oct 19, and many in Broward County were caught by surprise when a Category 2 hurricane slipped in from the Everglades and devastated the infrastructure. After just four hours the storm passed, and astounded homeowners walked out into neighborhoods that looked like a war zone. The ubiquitous cement roof tiles which cover nearly every house had broken loose and flown like shrapnel, wreaking havoc on windows, glass doors and cars foolishly left outside. Flooded neighborhood streets were sealed off by fallen trees. Every street sign and stop sign had blown away. And then the sun broke through to reveal total chaos.
More than 30,000 power poles were snapped off and left most streets looking like a giant game of pick-up sticks. Many neighborhoods were without power for ten days. No gasoline was available because the service stations had no power to operate their pumps. That didn’t stop hundreds of thousands of motorists from flocking to the roads and creating the biggest traffic jams in recent history; almost every traffic light blew down and rude drivers refused to yield the right of way, until every intersection was so gridlocked that people just abandoned their cars and walked home. Ground transportation came to a halt. Trains stopped running. All the airports closed and the only air traffic was the helicopters, not FEMA or the National Guard…news helicopters. And they weren’t dropping relief supplies like in the aftermath of Katrina, but were shooting film for the evening news somewhere.
Predatory vendors filled rental trucks with generators, ice, and cans of gasoline from upstate, and set up shop in the parking lots of shopping centers. Grocery stores kept their doors locked and millions of dollars of perishable food was just allowed to rot. Most landline and cell phones were out of service. Cable television and internet service stopped. People had to listen to their car radios for news. The public water supply powered by backup diesel pumps continued, but many native Floridans warned newcomers that the water should be boiled before drinking. There was no police presence, but we could hear the continuous sound of distant sirens. When the sun set, without streetlights it was absolutely dark, and looters began to arrive. Some of us were ready.
In my novel, Boca Chita. Prepare. Escape. Survive., I detail the steps I went through to prepare for just such an emergency and how I managed to make our family home safe and secure during this natural disaster. Preparedness is a process not an event! As soon as the storm had passed, I released my overhead garage door from its automatic opener and slid it up. Next, I carried my little 2kW Honda suitcase generator outside, fueled it up from my cache of five-gallon cans of gasoline, and fired it up. Within fifteen minutes I had my refrigerator, icemaker, fans, and lights operable. I wheeled my propane gas barbeque to the front driveway and made a pot of coffee on the side burner. I shut off the water service to the house and attached a garden hose to the drain on the water heater so that I’d have access to 40 gallons of fresh water. I borrowed a brand-new chainsaw from a clueless neighbor, and began clearing away the branches that blocked my driveway.
Shell-shocked neighbors began to gather to watch me. Many just sat in lawn-chairs in their driveways waiting for the insurance adjusters. Some were amazed I could open the garage door without power and get my Jeep out. Soon I had my little generator up and working. I used my 4-wheel drive Jeep and a chain to start moving the trees blocking the street, and my portable VHF radio like a cell phone to hail others on Channel 16. That night, a circle of neighbors sat in their lawn chairs in my driveway, illuminated by my portable floodlights while I cooked their rapidly defrosting frozen meats on my grill. We talked about what to do next.
The next morning I drove down to the marina in Key Biscayne where I kept my trawler to find total devastation! Twenty-eight of the sailboats in the mooring field had broken loose and were driven by the hurricane into our boats berthed on the floating docks. Of the twelve boats, ranging from 40-50 feet in the outside slips where I was docked, only four, including my trawler, were still afloat. The marina was nearly destroyed; floating docks capsized pulling many boats down with them as the tide surge swept in. I credited my trawler’s survival to 10% luck and 90% preparedness. My 1 ½" nylon “storm lines” were instrumental in holding my boat in place and my carefully placed fenders cushioned it from the concrete pilings. I talk at length in my book Boca Chita about why only the prepared will survive.
As I write this, Hurricane Sandy, now being billed by the frenzied media as the “Frankenstorm” is just off the coast and storm bands are whipping through the marina with winds sustained at fifty mph; the eye is right offshore now. Twelve- to fourteen-foot breakers are pounding the beaches, but I’m safe in my current bugout location. I’m one of the few liveaboards in the marina and am watching the damage being inflicted by this storm on boaters who have left their Bimini tops up, tied their million dollar yachts with 5/8" line, and skimped on placing fenders. Inflatable launches are dangling and plastic steps and buckets are sailing by in the storm-lashed seas. When the power goes out, I’ll fire up my diesel generator and settle in with a good book.
These natural disasters are only a test for what is inevitably going to happen. Are you prepared?