Hurricane Frances 2004

Ken Steinhoff Hurricane Frances clean-ip 09-12-2004

I hadn’t forgotten Hurricane Frances, but I HAD forgotten that it was nine years ago that I was hunkered down at the office waiting for it to blow through.

This was a slow mover that was only a Category 2 storm with 105 mph winds, but it just sat on top of us and pounded away for hours.

Winn Dixie roof peeled off

Winn Dixie roof Hurricane Frances 09-05-2004I felt secure at work because the windows were designed for 120-mph winds and I designed the telecommunication area to be even stronger. The architect insisted on having laminated glass windows on the exterior of part of the area for esthetic purposes, but behind the glass, he put a gap, a sheet of drywall, a metal lath, another sheet of drywall and another air gap. He made a mockup and challenged my staff to try to penetrate it by throwing concrete blocks against it. We couldn’t, so I withdrew my request for block walls.

The building went to generator power when the winds hit about 45 miles per hour because the power lines were slapping together causing transformers to blow and surges and sags to come down the line. The big diesel was sucking down fuel so fast and the storm was moving so slowly that we were concerned that we were going to run the tank dry. (It was a 10,000-gallon tank, but it hadn’t been topped off.)

The Winn Dixie supermarket next to us didn’t come out so well. We stood in the 4th floor lobby outside my office and watched the wind get beneath the roof covering and peel it off. The repair they did after the storm must not have been done too well, because we got to see the same thing happen during Hurricane Wilma in 2005.

Neighborhood lost power

Dove after Hurricane Francis 09-05-2004_5290Wife Lila was in Orlando with Son Matt and family and I encouraged her to stay there. We had no power at the house (and wouldn’t for several days), and I was perfectly comfortable sleeping in air-conditioned comfort on air mattress on my office floor. If she came back, I’d have had to fire up the generator I bought after Hurricane Hugo ten years earlier.

The two-mile-drive to check out our house as soon as the winds died down was the longest two miles I think I’ve ever gone. (Until 2005 when we got hit by two more storms). I both wanted to hurry up and yet I wanted to keep from seeing if we still had a house as long as possible.

Trees and limbs down

Hurricane Frances 09-05-2004_5280As it turned out, we had a lot of trees and limbs down, but our house, built in the mid-1930s had stood up to the storm quite well. The apartment building across the street didn’t have our luck: a fairly large tree went through the roof.

Clean-up was NOT fun

Ken Steinhoff Hurricane Frances 09-11-2004 5309Our side of the street had our power restored in a few days. The neighbors on the other side were fed by a different line and were dark for a week or 10 days. We “haves” on the south side stretched heavy-duty extension cords across the street to the “have-nots” so they could at least keep refrigerators and a few lights running.

Fix-a-Flat is your friend

Debris left after Hurricane Frances in 2004I’m glad a had a stock of Fix-a-Flat. The streets were full of debris, nails, screws and other stuff just waiting for you to run over them.

As soon as I could, I gave my 3,000-watt generator to Matt and upgraded to a 7,500-watt one with electric start. The best thing I did was buy a kit to adapt it to run on natural gas, propane or gasoline. I also rewired the electrical panel so we could drop off the commercial grid and run the house off the generator if we were careful with our load balancing. It paid off during the next two storms.

I chased 13 hurricanes as a photographer. Let me tell you, covering somebody else’s hurricane is a lot more fun than having one chase you.

Headed Home at Dusk

Folks ask how I decide what’s going to be on the page the next day. I sure wish I could tell you the formula..

I was dipping into my old office email the other day looking for something when I ran across a post I had made to a forum for telecommunications managers. This is an update to a post I had put up on a Friday worrying about a tropical storm headed our way. It mentioned a backyard trim-trimming adventure.

That story came to mind when I saw this photo of trees and a white fence whipping by my car at dusk. One plus one equals a blog post. (You can make the photos larger by clicking on them.)

Here’s the tree trimming story:

When I left you all on Friday, I was complaining that Tropical Storm Gamma was projected to follow Wilma’s path (right over the top of my house). Fortunately, despite the huge headline in our paper Saturday morning that said, “Here We Go Again,” it not only didn’t hit us, it turned into a fishspinner in the Gulf.

Unfortunately, Wife Lila decided that since we were in a hurricane mindset, we (meaning me) should get rid of a 40-foot non-native tree in the backyard “before the next storm blows it down.”

This tree is 15 feet from our storage shed, one foot from our fence, seven feet from our neighbor’s house and brushes the power lines.

Shouldn’t be problem, right?

I swamped off the two lowest branches and attached a rope about 20 feet up the trunk to help guide the tree’s fall. Then, I made a notch in the tree in the direction it was supposed to go and started to make the final cut, just like I learned in Boy Scouts 45 years ago.

When I heard the first crack, I decided to take up a little more tension on the rope. That was a good idea and a bad idea. Good, because the tree appeared to be leaning a bit in the wrong direction. Bad, because it was and I returned to find my saw blade trapped.

Kid, bring your chain saw

Wife Lila calls Kid Matt to bring his chain saw and to practices dialing 9-1-1.

The neighbors are looking out their second story window. They don’t wave back.

Kid comes with saw and second rope. When I pull on the rope, I can make the tree sway enough to free my saw blade. More cracking noises happen, but not enough to satisfy me, so I attack the tree with the saw again and prove that the law of gravity has not been repealed.

Tree falls to ground with satisfying THUD! missing the shed, the fence, the neighbors and the power line.

The neighbors still didn’t wave back.

I feel safe in crossing off lumberjack as a career option.

And, for the record, alcoholic beverages were not involved in this project.

 DZ has bright idea

Several managers shared their treetrimming experiences, but a virtual buddy, DZ, had a revenue-generating idea. (That’s why he’s a manager, I suppose.)

Lumber jack may not be in the cards for you. But rule number one when undertaking such a task is to set up the video camera. If it went really bad (like hit the shed or neighbors house) you may have been able to make some money on America’s Funniest Home Videos (or COPS)….

Some things are better left unrecorded

I explained to DZ that might not be a good ideal:

After Hurricane Wilma, gas stations couldn’t pump gas because the power was out and our carriers were close to not being able to deliver the paper because their tanks were dry. We managed to acquire 1,000+ gallons of unleaded from a variety of local sources and set up a pumping station in the back parking lot for carriers and essential employees.

I started to take some pictures for our in-house publications, but decided that we were probably bending, if not breaking, about 42 zillion OSHA and zoning regulations and that a permanent record of that might not be a good idea.

Ditto my lumberjacking.

Tree? What Tree? Must have been termites

“Tree? What tree? Must have been some weird strain of termites the storm blew in that ate right through that sucker. Waving at you? No, I was waving to warn you to get back from the windows because the troop of trunk-eating termites were causing the tree to sway. Good thing I had time to get a rope around it. Chainsaw? I was swatting the termites with it.”

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Speaking of heading home

Speaking of heading home, things may be a bit light for a few days. I’m headed back to Cape this week, Lord willin’ and creeks don’t rise. I’ll have to tear down all my computer gear Tuesday so I can be on the road Wednesday.

Anyone have anything they’d like me to shoot or research while I’m in Cape? No promises, but your chances of success are improved if your press the DONATE button at the top left of the page. It takes a lot of gas to get to Cape and back.

By the way, Wife Lila has taken over Son Matt’s gardening blog and is doing a super job with it. She’s probably going to tell you that my story and pictures don’t match. She’s right. (Which is ALWAYS the safe answer.)