Friday, September 03, 2004

Waiting is the Hardest Part

As Hurricane Frances inches its way towards Florida, the anticipation is reaching a frenzied peak. First there was a chance that it could strike on Friday, September 3. In preparation, Orlando International Airport announced that its operations would cease at noon on Friday. I'm not surprised, as I saw firsthand how much damage it sustained from Charley. The roofs are not even close to being fully repaired, so I can't imagine how much water damage they'll sustain if Frances is as slow-moving and vicious as predicted.

The airport closure meant that our flight, which was scheduled to arrive on Friday evening, was diverted to another part of Florida. I think they mainly wanted to get the plane out there so they could accommodate the people who are trying to escape the state. We switched our tickets to Monday morning, hoping that things would be calm enough to head home by then.

But then the strike date was changed to early Saturday, meaning we would have to sit tight a little longer. There would be more agonizing hours before we would know the fate of Celebration and the Kissimmee area. Worse yet, we have many friends in the Port Canaveral area, too, and Frances was right on course to strike Cocoa Beach. Not only are we praying for our friends in Celebration and Orlando/Kissimmee, but also for those near the ocean (thankfully, it now looks like Cocoa might be spared from the full brunt of the storm).

Now, as I type this late Friday evening, Frances stalled for a while in the Bahamas and has started limping on towards Florida. The anticipated full-on strike time is now later on Saturday than originally predicted. She is losing strength (currently down to a Category 2) but could get her second wind (pun fully intended) at any time.

The most frightening part of the storm's destructive potential is that even if the winds weaken, it is so slow moving that the heavy rains will almost surely cause massive flooding. The ground is already saturated from the normal late summer rains, coupled with Charley's recent visit. Frances has cloud coverage the size of Texas; combine that with her snail-like pace and the torrential rains could last as long as 12 hours.

Mixed into my worry about being so far from home as it is threatened by a hurricane once again is the sensationalist news coverage. The reporters love to focus on the worst case scenario and hash & rehash all the gory details. If I went entirely by what they are predicting, I would probably be in a straightjacket by now, tormented into madness by a vision of my house swirling Oz-like in the midst of Frances, with only a bare slab, submerged under ten feet of water, marking where it once stood.

Thankfully, between the Front Porch intranet and, I am able to get a dose of reality from my fellow Celebration residents. Among them you will find a variety of optimists and pessimists debating both sides of the probable strike force. The truth usually lies somewhere right around the middle.

I'll admit that it did scare me to read that some people in Celebration are boarding up their windows this time around. I associate that kind of extreme preparation with living near the coast. Of course, at this point it wouldn't matter, even if I weren't stranded 1500 miles away. Virtually every home improvement store in the state is out of plywood and other hurricane preparedness materials. The grocery store shelves are bare of batteries and bottled water, and many gasoline stations have been drained down to the last drop.

The good old sensationalist newscasters focused in with glee when things got ugly at some of the stores. The aftermath of a disaster brings out the best in people, as shown by all the volunteers who rolled up their sleeves and opened their wallets after Charley. But unfortunately, when the disaster is striking, it's often every man for himself. And the reporters were right there when fist fights broke out among people vying for the last boards, hogging other survival supplies, or jumping the check-out lines.

It reminds me of the comedian I once saw who joked about the typical airline safety speech. He said, "On my last plane ride, the flight attendant said that in case of emergency, we should follow the floor lighting to the emergency exits and leave the plane quickly and calmly, with no shoving. We don't even do that when exiting after a perfect landing and she expects us to do that when the plane is ready to blow up?"

As I am typing this, the Frances forecast is probably changing yet again, so I'll keep this entry short. In addition to news about Central Florida, I am also anxious to find out more about the storm's impact on the Bahamas. I am scheduled to take my 39th Disney Cruise on September 9th, and their private island, Castaway Cay, was stuck beneath the sluggish storm for hours today. It will be a while before there is an official damage report, but I suspect that our cruise won't be stopping there, nor will any for a while.

If you want to see how Celebration is faring in the storm or its aftermath, click here to view a live webcam. For general information on Celebration, visit my website at You can contact me via email at

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