Saturday, August 14, 2004

Virtual Storm Postscript

As the day after Hurricane Charley draws to a close, so does our personal experience with the "virtual storm." When I first started this blog, the idea of a hurricane actually hitting my house was the farthest thing from my mind. I figured I would use it to capture a snapshot of everyday life and to hopefully dispel some of the persistent rumors about my new hometown. Up until yesterday, that was true.

But now here I am, using my blog as a way to keep my worries at bay as much as possible and to record this experience while it's fresh in my mind. I know that the intensity of experiences fades over time. I hope I have captured enough of the flavor of what I am feeling now so that someday I can look back at these words and remember what my first hurricane was like.

Throughout the day, I've been in almost constant email and phone contact with our friends and neighbors in Celebration. In just a year, we've made so many good friends, and it makes me feel good to know we can all count on each other. Many people have helped me, and I have tried to do my part in spreading the word, too. One of my neighbors is a cruise director who is even farther from home than I am at the moment. She's off cruising around Alaska and getting her news from CNN, so I've been able to get in touch and let her know that her place is safe, too.

I know that the friendliness of our town is often the stuff of myths, and even ridicule, by those who live in other areas. We're seen as a Stepford-like land of eternal happiness and community spirit. Ridicule us if you will, but we really do have something special.

Right now in Celebration, there is a prevailing spirit of "Let's pull through this together," as people help their neighbors clean up, pass around photos and war stories, and look for ways to assist in the area beyond our town boundary, which were hit even harder than we were.

As I've mentioned in other posts, our community intranet is called "The Front Porch," and that is exactly what it acts as. Most of the time, it's full of light banter, news items, complaints about typical issues like dog poop, and debates that sometimes turn quite heated. Even though you are not anonymous on the Front Porch, people still say things that their keyboards that I don't think they'd ever come out with face to face.

But at a time like this, it's also full of news and information. People looking for help link up with people willing to give it. People share what they can, whether it be photos, damage reports, referrals, information, and help with repairs. Someone has even started a thread to organize a community picnic as a way of saying "thanks" to all the service personnel who have been working so hard to help us.

Davy, the town's landscaping service, has been working long hours to handle the downed trees and get the roads cleared. The people at our Town Hall have been on duty to answer inquiries and coordinate clean-up and repair efforts. I called them to find out about soffit repair, and they returned my call with amazing speed. I would definitely say that thanks are in order; it's great to see how quickly people mobilize when disaster strikes.

Before this experience, I always thought of hurricanes as thunderstorms on steroids, but now I have learned a new respect for their strength and fury. I never thought one could cause so much damage inland, but seeing the photos of entire areas with their trees uprooted and tossed around like kindling has shown me just how mistaken I was. Outside of town, traffic signals are askew, hotel and store signs have been blown right off their poles, and shattered windows are boarded up. The damage seems like an eerie nightmare, but it's for real.

The hurricane followed an odd path, almost like a tornado. One side of 192 (the tourist strip) is relatively untouched, while the other side looks like the aftermath of war zone. I haven't seen it live yet, but so many peple have shared their graphic descriptions and photos that I almost feel like I have.

I've done a virtual "walk-through" of just about every area in town, from North Village all the way back to Artisan Park. Thanks to the many photographs, I have surveyed the fences that were dismantled like Tinker Toys by the vicious wind and marveled at the power of Mother Nature to topple huge trees as though they were matchsticks. Most of the pictures show the aftermath, but one of my neighbors also shared pictures of the actual storm, with winds bending a tree sideways! She is a brave soul...I would have been huddled in my powder room, which is the sturdiest and most sheltered room in my house. It's situated under the stairs like a "Harry Potter" room, so it offers a modicum of safety when storms threaten.

She also took a photo of the radar on the television screen showing the green swirl with its menacing red center positioning itself over the Orlando/Kissimmee area. I would never have thought to take that picture, but what a great idea...that is an image to save for posterity! If anyone ever questions the size and severity of the storm, seeing that red mass will remove all traces of doubt from their mind.

The power is still off in many areas; Celebration is very fortunate to have maintained electricity throughout the storm. There is a gas station and a couple of restaurants in our Water Tower Place shopping center that stand out like beacons among the darkened storefronts up and down the street. From what I've been hearing, people have been flocking to them likes moths to a lightbulb. With so many power lines downed, it's uncertain just how long it will be before people in neighboring communities are restored.

I have also heard that the airport had severe damage at three of its terminals. I hope that doesn't bode bad tidings for our flight home next Friday. Even though I've seen photographic evidence that our house is safe and have talked to people who have seen it, I can't help but worry. Our triplex may be modest, but it's still my dream home, and Celebration is more of a hometown to me than almost anyplace else I've ever lived. Logically I know that it's fine; the soffit damage is relatively minor, so barring any really bad wind and rain, it shouldn't sustain any further damage before we can get someone out to fix it. But I still won't feel completely at ease until I see it in person. Then I can breath a sigh of relief.

By the time I get home in a week, I suspect that the worst of the damage will be under control. There will be no way to completely restore all the trees that were destroyed, and some of the repair work is going to be going on for a while, but all in all life will be just about back to normal. But even if I didn't witness the worst of it firsthand, I know that I'll never forget all the photos and descriptions that I experienced at my keyboard.

For me, it was a "virtual storm," and I know that can't possibly compare to the experience of actually being in it, huddled somewhere in your home for shelter and fearing for your life. But even vicariously, it still an intense experience and one that I hope never to repeat. In my prayers tonight, just like last night, there will be a big "thank you" for sparing me and those I care about from the worst of it.

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