Eye on the Storm: Hurricane Matthew

Thursday, October 6th, 7 a.m., South Florida. Everything is calm. Eerily calm. Is this the proverbial calm before the storm? Hurricane Matthew is on its way, and we’ve got everything boarded up and battened down. We feel reasonably safe—as long as the roof doesn’t get blown off. It’s certainly a strange anticipatory situation, facing the possibility that something as amorphous as wind could simply pop our top. And then what? Does the house crumble around us?

News of the impending hurricane had been coming down for a week. It was a huge, slow-moving, Category 4 storm, slowly sweeping the Antilles, the islands that trace a scattered line between the Caribbean and the Atlantic. By the Monday before it was to turn northward, Florida’s grocery-store shelves had been cleared of bottled water and bread. (I understand the need for water—we could, after all, run dry—but why does a hurricane always necessitate bread?)

By Tuesday, lines at all the gas stations stretched out onto the streets, and the occasional pump had been depleted. On Wednesday, homeowners in our neighborhood began the preparations to their houses and yards. It was a beautiful, hot day with a brilliant blue sky picturesquely dotted with bright white billowing clouds. It occurred to me that if you hadn’t seen all the doom-filled forecasts thundering over the airwaves, you certainly couldn’t tell from this splendid day that a storm was about to strike. It wasn’t so long ago that on days such as this, people had carried on without a clue that calamity would soon be upon them.

I’m new to Florida. I’ve lived here part time for five years, traveling monthly between my longtime home in New York City to a small town in Broward County lined with tiny, jalousie-windowed bungalows. We get our share of nor’easters and other disruptive storms in New York, but I hadn’t witnessed the slow march toward a hurricane of this level before. The sounds of hammering and drilling filled the air, as did the clattering of a load of plywood hitting the street when a truck took our corner too fast. People hauled out the dusty old corrugated metal plates designed to fit over each of their windows, stowed away since Hurricane Wilma hit in 2005. On one street, I came across people knocking the coconuts out of their trees to preclude them from becoming airborne missiles.

My mate, Rick, is a master of preparation. Years ago he sank anchors deep into the ground to which he now attached cables to bolt down the sheds in the backyard. He has jerry-rigged the various types of shutters that cover the windows and doors for quick and easy engagement. After Wilma, he had rejigged his generator to run on the house’s natural gas line, indefinitely, rather than gasoline, which could become a scarce commodity in an extended recovery period. He learned a lot from Wilma, which took out most of the wooden fence that once enclosed the yard and knocked out power for twelve days. He remembered all too well what it had been like to hunker down inside the shuttered-up house through the night, listening to the incessantly rattling doors and the occasional crash and bang, watching through the peephole in one window the brilliant blue flashes of electrical transformers exploding, which happened with alarming regularity.

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  • Michelle Hughes October 11, 2016 at 11:23 pm

    Vivid telling here, Amy! Duly humbling to have to put all election antics aside for a true life-or-death collision with a storm. It reminds us that we are simply nature’s plaything and she can upgrade or downgrade her storms as she pleases – and lately she’s been pissed as hell.

  • Nancy October 11, 2016 at 3:58 pm

    We who are not in Florida hear the alarming forecasts about Matthew on the weather report and see the heartbreaking reality in Haiti and we have to wonder, “What is it like there?” Thank you for telling us!

  • Esther Rosenfeld October 11, 2016 at 3:53 pm

    Loved your measured tone, in keeping with the process of keeping Matthew at bay, as anchors were secured and windows were covered. Up here in the North we watched with fascination the storms approach on the computer maps generated to track the storm. While Matthew did not unleash the horrific results that were feared, Trump did his part to keep us all on edge.
    Years ago a hurricane was predicted for NYC and we were advised to put X on our windows with masking tape. I dutifully did that to all of our huge windows and decided to create “Storm Central) by tracking the storm in bed, with coffee TV, and the morning paper, as schools were closed. That was a huge flop too! And I must say, I too felt a slight tinge of disappointment when it was downgraded to a Nor’easter.

  • Stephen October 11, 2016 at 12:28 pm

    Buried anchors–very impressive! So too is your measured, nicely rendered account of a near miss. I’m pleased to see that someone is being thoughtfully productive. Between tracking Matthew, reading about the storm’s horrible aftermath, and keeping up with Donald Trump’s final fall from grace, it’s a real challenge to hunker down to work these days.