Saturday 01 Oct 2016

Hurricane Charlie
AJ Robinson

I used to live in the Port Charlotte area, but I and my family moved away before Charley hit. Yet, many of our friends and family still lived there and in Arcadia; another community devastated by the storm. This is their story.

No one expected Charley to hit Charlotte Harbor; all the experts said the same thing - it's going to hit the Tampa area. We had friends there too, so we invited them to come stay with us in Orlando. They thanked us, but declined - the traffic to Orlando was bumper-to-bumper along the interstate highway.

Meanwhile, in Port Charlotte, our friends Jane and John were deciding to go stay with their daughter Mary and her family. As they had a house right on Charlotte Harbor, they decided to play it safe and move further inland. So, taking their young daughter Hayley, they headed over to Mary's house. She and her husband had two small children of their own, and Mary was eight months pregnant!

Then, the storm hit the area with all its force. The whole family moved into the bathroom - the kids in the tub, most of the adults on the floor, and Mary sitting on the john. Then, the roof was torn away! They sat there, being pelted by rain and hail as the wind whipped about them; and then Mary went into labor. It would have been comical had it not been so tragic.

Jane dialed 911 for help, but there was none available - the system was down. She tried the hospital, and was told the same - no ambulances were operating; they told her to prepare for a home delivery. So, she and John started rooting around the remnants of the house to find the right gear. Then came a lull in the storm, and Jane called the hospital again.

They told her, "If you can get her here, we can help, but there's still no way we can get an ambulance to you."

That was all the encouragement Jane needed. She bundled Mary into her Lexus and started driving. The roads were blocked by fallen power pole, downed trees, and all manner of debris. It wasn't long before all four tires were blown out, and Jane was driving on nothing but her rims. Yet, they made it. The roop of the hospital had been torn away, and the floor below was flooding. Mary was put in a labor/delivery room on the floor below that. Yet, the flooding did affect her floor - the tile ceiling began to cave in on them! So, they moved her to another room, and then another. All total, they had to move her four times.

Meanwhile, back at the house, John and the others worked to patch together some sort of living space. They managed to roof over (in a very general sense) one room of the house, and sort of cover the windows with some screening. After the storm, the mosquitoes were thick as fleas on a dog.

A couple days later, Mary and the baby were sent "home". After all, they were both healthy, there was no medical reason to keep them in the hospital, and their insurance would only pay for the standard stay. Jane objected, pointing out that they had no home to go to, but the hospital had no choice in the matter. So, piling Mary and the baby into her car, Jane took them back to what was left of their home. They also checked on Jane and John's place, and the news wasn't good - it'd been devastated by Charley, virtually nothing was left.

Over the course of the next several days, Jane and John learned how tough life could be, and what was truly important in life. You see, they earned a good living, had a nice home, and their kids had wanted for nothing. Before the storm, they had taken some money out to cover emergencies - should the hurricane cause any trouble. Now, in the aftermath of Charley, they were in a community without power, and most of the homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed. How do you buy groceries without power to run the registers? How do you get clothes when the stores are shattered and no computers are operating?

Where once their kids enjoyed the finer things in life, now they chased after the Red Cross truck that brought them food, water and ice. You can have all the money in the world, but in the land of "No Commerce", you're a pauper. It's then that you learn what truly matters in this life: family, friends, compassion and caring.

Click here for more by AJ Robinson.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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