Grace's Mosaic Moments

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Matthew, Agnes, and No-Name

Matthew's Wrath - Downtown Charlotte, South Carolina

The Orlando area lucked out. The coast did not fare as well. Since no one was allowed back on the barrier islands until today, Saturday, photos are just beginning to come in of washed-out roads and smashed beachfront homes. Nor is there any power. And coastal areas to the north - Daytona, St. Augustine, Jacksonville - were hit even harder as Matthew arrived at high tide.

Below are two videos I found on Facebook.

Here's a Weather Channel video taken at Paradise Island in the Bahamas, demonstrating what we were expecting here in our area, except Matthew calmed a bit before grinding up the Florida Coast
To view a weatherman attempting to stand and deliver during hurricane-force winds, click here.

For video from Jacksonville Beach, click here.

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I learned what a hurricane was when I was only five years old. An indelible memory. We were living in Mansfield, Massachusetts at the time. I also experienced some brutes while living in Connecticut. We lived on Long Island Sound, and one hurricane (Agnes, my son tells me) came in with a tornado at 6:30 a.m., twisting a rose hedge in circles, dropping a tree onto our porch, and ripping the electrical panel off the far side of the house. I recall that it seemed the noise of the wind would never stop. I can't remember how long we were without power, but I know we lost all the frozen food that had just been stocked in our cellar freezer - we hauled out trash bag after trash bag. I also recall our very staid neighbor, a Yale professor, on about the fourth day after the storm (still no power), standing on his rear deck and screaming his frustration out over the salt marsh below.

So - compared to the Connecticut storm and the one when I was five, which killed 700 along the southern New England coast and washed away every house built on the barrier islands, Matthew turned out to be a pussy cat. But that was only lower & mid Central Florida. After days of moving toward the west, Matthew took a last-minute jog east and spared the area where I live from nothing more than tropical storm winds and 10" of rain. Many still lost power - 40,000 here in Seminole County alone - but I lucked out. I was not among them. My daughter and her family were not so lucky. They had to dig out a generator not used since 2007. 

Along the coast north of here, St. Augustine in particular, the storm hit much harder, as it came in at high tide. There was quite a bit of damage, although nothing compared to the devastation in Haiti.  

Seminole County was under curfew from Thursday night to Friday at 5:00 pm. The result was an amazing silence. My house backs up to a busy road and to realize not a single car or truck was going by . . . Wow! The curfew was lifted early, at 2:00 p.m. Friday, but I didn't venture out until today (Saturday). No fun driving without working stoplights or having to deal with debris in the road.

Prior to Matthew's arrival, we were barraged with constant warnings from the governor on down. Mandatory evacuation orders for the barrier islands. Warnings from the various Sheriffs that if you don't evacuate, we're not coming to get you! (Besides, they closed all the bridges at 6:00 p.m. on Thursday.) 

The best one-liner, however, came from the head of Orange County Emergency Management. At the end of his warning, he said: "If you live in a mobile home and you have not gone to a shelter, please call 311 and give them the name of your next of kin!"

But if you're one of those who thinks the warnings were too loud for too long, here's the story of what happened when I was five. (I remember it like yesterday - much too dramatic to forget.)

GRACE'S REMINISCENCE - Or what happens when there is no storm warning.

 Re: the hurricane that hit New England when I was five. 

It was my father's birthday. Must have been a Saturday as he was a high school principal and he had the whole day off. To celebrate, we were driving into Providence, Rhode Island, to go shopping, have lunch, and see a movie. A big treat for all of us. 

My father had been brought up on a a farm in Nebraska and was always very conscious of the weather. If there had been any indication of a storm, we would not have left home that day. But we had barely arrived in Providence when my father started sniffing the air and saying, "If this was Nebraska, I'd think there was a tornado coming." We went shopping - I think we had lunch. And then my father suddenly declared we were going home. I remember bursting into tears because I really wanted to go to the promised movie. No. We're going home. (From what happened next, though I don't remember it, I think the wind must have started to pick up.)

As we retrieved our car from a parking lot and started to drive out of town, green balls of fire were jumping out of the electrical wires in Providence's downtown. I was ordered to lie flat on the floor in the rear of the car. So I saw nothing after that until my parents' comments had me peeking out the window. We were out in the country, and a rather roly-polly police officer was standing with his hand against a great tree and motioning all cars to drive out into a field to avoid it. The whole sight was so pathetic (and no, that's not a word I knew at the time), because there was no way in this world he could hold up that tree if it decided to topple.

The next time I looked, we'd made it home, and I was devastated to see the giant tree in a lot across the street was down. We were all so ignorant about hurricanes that one of the local shop-owners ventured out during the quiet of the eye and was killed when the storm roared back from the other direction.

As for what happened back in Providence . . . we found out that 20 minutes after we left town, storm surge (called a "tidal wave" at that time) struck the city - which is quite a ways upriver - and there was 12 feet of water where our car had been.

As mentioned above, because there was absolutely no warning of any kind, 700 people died that day. The barrier islands along the Rhode Island shore were wiped clean. Many years later I heard the following true story about one incident in that area:

My mother's best friend and her husband bought a cottage on the Rhode Island shore (Mesquamicut, I think). And were told its history. It seems their cottage replaced a house that had been there on the day of the infamous hurricane. That house had been swept up by the storm surge and deposited almost a mile inland. The owners bought the land and left the house where it dropped. The house our friends bought (built on the original site) was not on the barrier island but on land directly behind it. (The houses on the barrier island were nothing more than kindling.) The way the story went is that the electrical wires did NOT break. Therefore, the original cottage must have gone OVER the wires, not under them. In any event, the story of the two houses is absolutely true. I've seen the one, stayed in the other. The tale of just how high the storm surge was . . . well, I've often wondered about that. I suspect the wires may have surged up as well, allowing the house to scoot under. 

The moral of this tale: Never complain about, or scoff at, all the effort the weather forecasters put into informing us about storms. Without the work they do, our hurricane death tolls could be more like that No-name storm in New England when I was five.
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Thanks for stopping by,

For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.

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