Oct 21, 2022, 06:27AM

Life In the Middle of Hurricane Ian

This storm made the monsoons I'd been through look puny.

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In the Winn-Dixie parking lot, a young guy was sitting on the gate that grocery carts are stored in. He was holding some sort of handle. It was puzzling, because the store was closed, and there was about three feet of water in the lot. What could he be doing there? A truck circled around, and then a rope emerged from the makeshift lake. It struck me that I was about to witness a Florida sport I hadn't heard about—post-storm parking-lot water skiing. The truck took off, and the skier glided in the water behind it. The handful of disappointed, would-be grocery shoppers at least got a video to share with their friends.

While a few imaginative youths were having fun that morning, most of the locals weren't doing well on the day after Hurricane Ian wreaked havoc here in South Florida. Many of them lost power and wouldn't get it back for a couple of weeks. That meant no A/C, no cooking on the stove, and no refrigeration, or even ice. Some had wrecked roofs, broken windows, and trees blown down on their residences. The previous day wasn’t much fun either, given the collective sense of dread for what was on its way. Exactly what that was I wasn't sure about. At one point, Ian was supposed to "make landfall" as a Category Five weather event in Venice, Florida, where I live. I was nervous, but had already decided to stay put and ride things out. On the other hand, a bunch of people (probably the smarter ones) decided to hightail it out of town for a few days.

On Wednesday morning and into the early afternoon, It looked like we were in for a normal day. The sky and the wind gave no indication of the impending 125 mph winds and the torrential rain. Everyone was stocking up on alcohol and staples. I went out for beer and groceries, and then the waiting game began. My nerves were shot. My brother had contacted me and said there could be a "surge" from both the nearby Gulf of Mexico and from a creek that's just a few hundred yards away from me. I'd never before had even a sip of whiskey in the morning but, finding about three inches of Irish whiskey in a bottle, I poured myself a slug of it around 11:30. And then I had a beer. There was nothing else I could do to prepare for the onslaught, so why not?

The thought of a double surge required numbing medication. The double sliding doors on the lanai that I spent the rest of the day looking out of would provide me with a view of any rising water, but there would be nowhere I could go in the event it came. If I got flooded, I had to hope the water didn't rise over the level of my bed. Going out in that storm would be suicidal, but I got lucky—neither surge developed.

Ian came out of nowhere. Suddenly the wind whipped up, around three p.m., and the rain fell in torrents. In a matter of minutes, I knew I wouldn't be able to go outside until the next day. So I turned on the TV and had another beer. The trees outside my back window began to bow low, and there was a harrowing howling/whistling sound that would continue until I went to bed later in the evening. Despite the mayhem outside, I was safe inside. I saw a big white bird get blown to the ground outside my window and wondered what was going on inside its head.

I went to bed around midnight and slept well, waking up at six to a peaceful morning. I got on my bike and went to check my uncle's place. There was no damage. Huge trees were down everywhere, some of them blocking roads. I rode over the bridge to downtown Venice, and the first thing I saw was the Venice Theater, founded in 1950, with its roof blown off. Streetlights were down all over, as were large piles of aluminum and other unidentifiable debris. I'd lost phone and cable service, and couldn't find anywhere to get on the Internet, meaning I was unable to let anyone know that I was okay. Finally, I stopped at a Dunkin Donuts and was able to use their Wi-Fi. Their sign, which looked like it weighed a ton, was blown down and, while the place was closed, the front door was wide open, as it would remain for the next three days.

As it happened, the hurricane changed course and found its initial land target about 65 miles south of here, in the Fort Myers area, which was devastated. Hurricanes are, in a sense, a zero-sum game, meaning whatever I was spared by the change in course was what those people took right on the chin. Ian was Category Four by the time it reached me. I'm not sure what I'll do the next time this happens. I'd give serious thought to evacuating. I don't need any more of that howling/whistling sound for hours on end.


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