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post #6 of Old 08-26-2004 Thread Starter
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Duane& Diane Ising OK

Update on the Isings:

(Note: this is a generic message for all our friends out there is cyberspace. I won''t likely be able to get back to this anchorage often for a while. I know you understand!)

This is my first opportunity to communicate via the web since Hurricane Charley devastated our community on 13 Aug 04. First, I want to say how grateful we are to be alive and mostly healthy after such a ferocious storm. We, like most folks in our area, did not evacuate. The original forecast track of the storm had it coming into our area, but as time went on, it seemed to be heading more north and away from us. Additionally, Charley was a rather "weak" hurricane for most of it’s “life," and only strengthened to a category 4 in the last few hours.

We were watching the local news much of the day, and decrying how much one station''s personnel were "hyping" the storm''s growing strength and remarked how they were really trying to scare the hell out of you. Well, once we were caught right at ground zero in a category 4, we realized how right they were to do that.

Only 60 minutes before the eye was over us, we remarked how calm and peaceful it felt. How could there be a hurricane approaching? We didn''t know what to expect from the wind, but the main concern was the storm surge - at last forecast, we were told to expect up to 15 feet of surge. At that height, over 80% of the houses in our extended communities would be under water. On Friday midday, we propped up much of our home''s contents so that a milder surge would leave less damage.

The two days before, we concentrated on taking in everything from around the house, and those of our absent neighbors that could fly around. We also secured our brand-new-to-us Catalina 36 sailboat in the middle of the wide canal with two big anchors, and six additional heavy lines to dock pilings. Of course, all the sails and canvas were stripped off and we tied 8 large fenders around her sides.

What we did not do was find a way to board up our windows. We understand now there are clips you can buy which help hold plywood in place inside masonry window openings. Our home did not come with hurricane shutters. We found that installing the simplest, cheapest, (and most unattractive) of these would cost approximately $18K. Our decision to forego them was based on the fact that 100% of the time they are expensive, ugly, a nuisance, and a safety hazard (especially at the pool deck), and only useful perhaps a tiny fraction of the time. We take some solace in our decision knowing that they would not have been installed in time for Charley even had we decided to get them.

Back to the storm - we watched the news as Charley grazed an island southwest of us, and it actually seemed to glance off and be headed north. But, once the storm reached the open waters of Charlotte Harbor, it seemed to have "decided" where it was going next - straight at us. The newsman then literally screamed into his microphones, "If you are watching us from Punta Gorda or Port Charlotte, turn off the damn TV and get under your mattress NOW!"

Up to this point, the winds had slowly built to only modest proportions, but the grapefruit trees were starting to get ripped out of the ground. The screen cage over the pool was bending more than I liked, so I got a handy tool and (in the wind shadow of our house) cut out many of the screens to relieve the pressure. I was back inside before the wind really started getting ferocious.

Over the next several minutes, we watched from the western side of the house (the winds were due east for the first half of the storm). When we started to see our neighbor''s three-year-old house lose soffits and roof tiles, we knew we were in for some serious stuff. At that point (only a few minutes from the newsman''s warning), we decided we had better get into our "safe" room and under the mattress. Diane went in first, and as I crossed the hall to get to the room, some large cement roof tiles from our eastern neighbor''s roof sailed through our dining room windows, destroying our dining room furniture in the process. The wind pressure blew out some windows at the rear of the home and debris was flying everywhere. Within seconds, I was under that mattress with Diane.

It seemed as if the whole house was shaking, and the noise of the wind and that of the roof tiles peeling off our roof and those from other homes striking ours was quite loud and disconcerting. Fortunately, the storm moved so quickly that it was over (the first half) fairly soon (less than 30 minutes, I believe). It became eerily quiet and I knew the eye was passing over us. Against the standard advice, we got out of the room (in my sea boots to avoid the glass and water) to see the extent of the damage. Diane was hysterical at the state of "her house" and I quickly checked to see if our neighbor’s house was still intact since I believed them to be inside. Their roof tiles and most of the windows were mostly gone, but the house stood, as did ours. I got us both back into our safe room after only one minute since I knew the back eye wall of the storm would be coming soon.

Sure enough, the wind returned with a vengeance, this time form the opposite direction. We found we needed to prop the mattress against the west-facing door and lean against in with all our might to keep the door from blowing in. While the approaching storm winds built from minimum to a maximum, the back half of the storm did the opposite, of course. The fiercest winds started immediately, but gradually died to under about 20 kts. At that point we knew the storm was over for us (at that point, you aren''t thinking about the poor folks who are going to feel that fury next).

After comforting Diane, I ran across the street to bang on our neighbor''s door. After only a minute, the 50ish couple emerged unscathed - both wearing life preservers and motorcycle helmets (not a bad idea, I thought). We enjoyed our first post-Charley chuckle. Almost giddy to be alive and unharmed, we communed in their soggy kitchen with a few adult beverages while the light faded for the day. We made our way back to our shattered home, carefully stepping over the ever-present debris and fell asleep fitfully on our air mattress in the safe room. Sleep did not come easy, or remain for long, though. August nights in southwest Florida are not usually cool and comfortable without air conditioning or fans, so we sweltered on our plastic sleeping mattress.

The next morning''s light was sobering, and allowed you to see the incredible devastation everywhere you turned. It''s not quite accurate to say it looked like a bomb exploded, but every square yard of street and grass was littered with dozens of pieces of tile, brick, glass, insulation, foam, nails, etc. We started by sweeping the streets of debris to allow for vehicles to move with some safety. We then were fortunate enough to have a generator delivered by one of the absent neighbor''s sons from eastern Florida.

A survey of our new-to-us boat showed fairly extensive damage. She might have ridden out the storm OK in the middle of the canal on her spider web of dock lines, but our neighbor’s 46 foot powerboat broke loose and must have rammed her good. We need a new rudder, stanchions, bow and stern pulpits, several hatches, a bow roller, roller furler, windex, hundreds of feet of line, and other miscellaneous parts. As for repairs, she needs a big hole repaired at the hull/deck joint where the powerboat rammed her, and lots of gelcoat (think automobile paint) repairs where she scraped along the seawall. We were going to rename her Diva Di (from Echo II) after Diane, but right now Diane does not want her name associated with such a banged-up boat. Maybe she’ll change her mind soon.

After sharing the generator to keep our refrigerator/freezer contents cold, we next got the rain water and debris out of the house over the next 36 hours. Telephones, electricity, TV cable (also our Internet connection), and water were all unavailable to us with no clue as to when services would return. At that point, I was very grateful that Diane had prepared our hurricane kit as thoroughly as she did. We had a fair amount of drinking water, flashlights and batteries, candles and matches, a battery-powered radio, sufficient foodstuffs, medicines, etc. Everything "they” tell you about preparing for such a disaster is true and important.

We wound up surviving without landline phones for the first week (even then, only the old-fashioned non-AC powered phones would work). Our cell phone service for the first 5 days varied from barely useable to non-existent, but we were able to get word out to relatives that we were alive and unhurt. We had no city water for a little over a week, and even 12 days later cannot safely drink it. The electricity came back on about 10 days post-Charley, and thankfully, our air conditioning still functioned.

Life for that first 7-10 days was quite interesting, to say the least. Just a few memorable moments are: standing in line for 45 minutes to get ice, water, and batteries; hearing the roar of portable generators everywhere from about day 2 onward; washing clothing in a bucket using water trickling from the broken sprinkler head in the cul-de-sac; driving around with a local map and the phone directory to get on the waiting list of repair contractors since no one had telephone contact; feeling the joy of neighbors checking on each other and helping as needed; wishing away the otherwise cooling afternoon rains because you know half the county is missing roofs; seeing the stars so incredibly clear and numerous with no light pollution for many miles around; noticing that the ducks, ospreys, cormorants, and other local birds seemed to be out and about the day after with no perceivable discomfort; watching the Florida National Guard patrolling your streets against potential looters; seeing over half the boats in your boating community sunk or severely damaged; waiting in a telephone queue with the insurance company for interminably long minutes until you are told you are next in line, then being cutoff by a fading cell phone signal; receiving a meal from some volunteer at a food station and thanking them from the bottom of your heart for being there.

Our action so far has been to be as self-sufficient as possible to reduce the pressure on outside relief services, help our near neighbors as much as we can, and donate money to the relief effort. Flawed as it may be, our next priorities are to line up the repair crews, get some sense of how many months from now they will be at our house, get our boat repaired, and then take off for several weeks at a time on the boat. It’s our effort to turn lemons into lemonade, despite the fact that it jeopardizes my ability to secure the clients I was hoping/planning to have starting in September. We will live off our savings and hope that we will still be financially OK after all this. Considering we might not have survived the storm, we think we can lighten up on the financial prudence for a bit, don’t ya’ think?

Well, there is much left to do, so I will leave you with that. I hope none of you ever has to experience the aftermath of such a devastating catastrophe. While we feel very fortunate to be in better shape than many others, this will still be a year out of our lives and who knows how much from our savings. But, don’t let that statement imply that we are depressed, because we are in pretty high spirits. As they say, “tough times don’t last, but tough people do.”

My best to you all. Please understand that we might not get a chance to get back to you again for a while, when they restore our Internet connectivity.

Duane (and Diane) Ising

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