The stories of the “Hurricane” are everywhere. Some are tragic stories of destruction. Others can be on the lighter side. My first encounter with Florida Hurricanes was at Homestead, Florida. Homestead is about 50 miles south of Miami at the top of the Keys. I had just enlisted in the United State Air Force. The Viet Nam war was on, and I, a new fresh recruit was assigned to the Homestead Air Force Base in Homestead, Florida. Now you can chuckle if you want, but I want you to know not one, Viet Cong aircraft got past Miami the whole time I was stationed at Homestead Air Force Base. Okay?
In 1964 Homestead had 6 hurricanes that we had to watch out for.
In 1965 there were 3 major storms that came close to Homestead, Florida.
In 1966 we had our eye on 4 tropical depressions, we watched ever so closely.
I only remember one time in three years when they moved all the aircraft out of Homestead AFB. Maybe they moved the planes off base several times, and I wasn’t required to travel with airplanes but once. But I do remember I had to go along on one of the trips north. I don’t remember where we ended up, but it was cold. I was freezing. I asked for a “parka and parka pants.”
“Hey man, it’s not that cold here.”
“It is to me! I’m working with Florida blood in my veins, get me a parka.”
I remember when hurricanes got close to Florida. It was considered essential for us to “hunker-down” at Homestead Air Force Base, we hunkered down all-right and had hurricane parties. For years, hurricanes for this young troop was “Nothing but a party.” I think Elvis said that a few times too.
So, jumping ahead a few years, when I moved from Indianapolis to Southwest Florida in September of 2014, I didn’t give hurricanes too much thought. Well, yes I did give it some thought. I decided I had a better chance with storms living on the gulf side of Florida and not the Atlantic side. Again, let me be redundant here, to me, for me, hurricanes is an excuse to have a big party.
The 2017 hurricane season has been more than active. Believe it or not, we have had 14 systems to watch this year. Arlene, Bret, Cindy, Don, Emily, Franklin, Gert, Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia, Lee, Maria, Nate, Ophelia and now as of this writing, Philippe is scheduled to run amuck somewhere.
Anyway, this hurricane story (and we all have one) is what happened to me during Hurricane Irma.
When a hurricane is likely headed toward Florida or anywhere close to Florida, you pay attention. The local television station weather guy gives you a constant diet of the advancing weather with cone graphics and timelines of any possible tropical disturbance that could turn ugly. The weather people started about August 30, talking about Irma. Irma was way out there, and no one knew for sure where it was going. Except, the odds were it was more than likely headed our way. After all, Harvey missed Southwest Florida and slammed into Texas. Southwest Florida ended up with 13 inches of rain from that close call. Yes, it was wet in Magnolia Landing, but, we experienced no real flooding. I’m told Magnolia Landing is twenty-one feet above sea level. The homes are new and have been built to the latest code to avoid typical hurricane damage.
FRONT GATE AT MAGNOLIA LANDING
So, I was self-assured, you might say, even cocky about these little circles of yellow and red on the TV screen and had no intention of leaving. As the days passed and Hurricane Irma got closer, it was becoming evident that Florida was going to be in the mix. This one (Irma) southwest Florida needs to pay close attention to. Then the weather prognosticators started using words like catastrophic, and with grim and sincere television faces told me Irma had the highest winds ever seen in 57 years. They brought out all the adjectives to describe this event. This horrific event. She (Irma) was the “Mother of all Hurricanes.” I still held fast not to leave the house. All of the computer models at this point were showing indications the hurricane was turning and heading north and moving just east of Miami and up the east coast of Florida. Not a problem. Not a problem. I’m good.
Then, I noticed my neighbors putting his or her storm shutters on the windows of their homes. My Dad (George) is 98 years old and lives with me in the house. I really don’t want to move him if it’s at all possible. I decided to put on the storm shutters too. After all, better safe than sorry right? Have you ever put up storm shutters? Well, that is a story all by itself. I’ll spare you the details of the wasp nets around the windows.
I searched for and found candles and flashlights and decided we could fill the bathtub with water. This would be water to keep the toilets flushed just in case. I filled water bottles with water and placed them in the freezer in case we lost power, maybe we wouldn’t lose everything in the fridge. The storm shutters cut out all the natural light and made the home feel claustrophobic inside and dad was now asking questions.
“What’s going on. Are are we going to be all right? What time of day is it? ”
It did make telling the time almost impossible. He sat in front of the TV and watched every piece of information about Irma. Still, I was complacent and committed to staying. After all, I thought, it’s a hurricane, it’s time to party.
I went outside to catch a little “natural light.” And there was my neighbor, Bobby, walking his dog Sparky. I asked if he was leaving. He said, “No.” His thinking was the homes in Magnolia Landing are manufactured to the latest code for hurricanes; the electrical substation is just down the road about a 1/2 mile. If the power goes out, the electrical crews will start at the substation and move toward the problems. Bobby was very sure that we were safe. The utilities, like electrical, cable, phone wires, water, sewer, all of it was underground. Magnolia Landing is 21 feet above sea level. “No, we are staying.”
On Friday night about 8:00 PM. The weather guys changed their minds about the path of Irma. Irma is not going up the east coast and bounce off Miami. It’s decided it wants to change course and rip up Key West, Marco Island, Naples and Fort Myers. In other words, the train is headed with a full head of steam down the tracks toward my home. The home “I” live in and my 98-year-old father lives in. I remember standing there looking at the TV screen and then watching Dad in his wheelchair and thinking, what’s the right thing for me to to do here?
For days the phone calls from friends and family up north were questioning my sanity.
“Why are you still there?”
“You’re not staying there with your Dad, are you?”
From my son, “Dad, please leave, please.”
SCOTT A DUNCAN
I started getting a “nervous tick” in my eye. I could feel some kind of chemical moving through my body. I wasn’t sure what my insides were doing. But, it wasn’t Scotch. It’s what I will call the first twinge of Panic. Or was it just plain old fear? I watched the weather graphics on TV a few more minutes. The intensity of faces on the local weather people looking into the camera, looking at me, was cocksure; Irma was going to make a direct hit on Fort Myers. Me, Dad, all of us, was going to be blown off the face of the planet. If I wasn’t blown off the face of the earth, we would drown from storm surge. The pictures in my mind involved, the roof. It would be blown off the house and Dad, and I would be sucked out of the house and end up unconscious on the golf course behind the house. The Alligator in the pond behind our home would come out of the water looking for a fresh meal. And the fresh meat would be us laying on the lawn after the roof blew off, with us unconscious waiting to be devoured by the alligator. The headlines in the papers would read,
“Son and Father, are missing in the deadliest hurricane in recorded history. George R Duncan’s son, wouldn’t listen to the calls to get out and move away from the storm. His son, Stephen A Duncan partied the night away during the hurricane. When the roof was blown off the house, he and his dad were sucked out of the house and landed in the pond behind their home where an alligator ate them. Never to be seen or heard from again.”
As sure as a cock will crow at daybreak, I’m going to die if I stay? When did I ever believe a cock strutting around the barnyard represented certainty? Never!
If I left with Dad, I would be in a one-room motel for days. That would be really ugly. Would I even be able to get a ground floor motel room? I can’t get dad up steps to a second floor in a wheelchair. Plus, eating was going to be a struggle. Getting him in and out of a motel room to go someplace to eat. No, wait I can go get food and bring it back. But moving him will put him in an uncertain place emotionally and psychologically. I better stay put, I’m not leaving.
The last massive hurricane in Southwest Florida was Charlie in 2006, and it just decimated Punta Gorda a few miles north of our home. The center of town has still has not recovered completely 11 years later. I have read stories of how Punta Gorda was wiped off the map. That image of a ghost town in Downtown Punta Gorda played with my mind too. What to do? It was Friday night, 8:00 PM. The storm was going to hit Fort Myers like a freight train on Sunday. I had two days to make it to safety, or hold tight and ride the damn thing out.
My eyes would not stop looking at all the furniture, thinking about all of it under water. I walked into what I lovingly call my office, my man cave, the Command Center. Camera gear and computers were in camera bags and sitting low on a bookshelf close to the floor; my two main computers were sitting on the floor next to the desk. File cabinets were full of important documents. How do I make everything higher?
Terror, panic, or common sense? What was it I needed? I needed to think this through rationally. It boiled down to “Leave the house or stay in the house. If I leave where am I going.” I called my son Scott.
“Okay Big Boy, if I hit the road and head north where am I going? You got any ideas?”
“Dad, just get in the car and head north, get out of there. I have a software program that tells me the status of every hotel and motel in the country. We can find you a place to stay, just get out of there!” Said Scott.
“I’ll let you know what I’m going to do Scott.” I hung up and walked back to the living area and looked at the TV again. There was no getting around it; everyone was sure Irma, was heading our way.
I chickened out! I told Dad, “Let’s get you in the shower and put fresh clothes on your body, we are hitting the road. I put as much of our furniture as I could on plastic boxes and plastic storage tubs. I pulled all the wires on my computers and placed the boxes on my desk. Camera gear was tossed onto the desk too.
I put Dad in the shower and looked in his room to see what needed to go higher. I took essential documents and placed them in the dishwasher and locked the dishwasher door. I loaded the Mercedes and put Dad in the front seat and grabbed whatever I thought I would need for the next few days.
I took one last look at the inside of the house, not knowing what it as going to look like when we got back. I closed the front door and walked to the car. Dad looked over at me and asked.
“Where are we going?”
I didn’t have an answer for him. I moved up Highway 41 to Tuckers Grade. I had an ugly feeling about this trip. I was now running away from something instead of moving toward something. I just knew I needed to run away as fast as I could. I turned east and found I-75 northbound. I eased onto the highway. It wasn’t 10 minutes, and I found myself in a parking lot. All I could see on the runway called I-75 was four lanes of red tail lights. The three northbound lanes were full, and vehicles were using the shoulder on the far left to move north.
I called Scott, “Okay, I’m on the road, where am I going?”
Scott: “I’m still searching let me call you back.“
About two hours later I get a call from Scott.
“Dad, Where are you?”
“Almost to Tampa, Scott.”
“Well, I’ve been trying to find a place for you to stay, and everything is booked all the way to Kentucky.”
When Scott said everything was booked all the way to Kentucky, I assumed I was more than likely headed for his home in Indianapolis. So, I was waiting for him to say “Come here, to our house.” But he didn’t say that. He said,
“When you get to Highway 10 in northern Florida take it and head west across the Panhandle, I’m working on a place for you in Mississippi.”
“MISSISSIPPI? Why are you taking me to Mississippi, where in Mississippi?”
“I’ve got to call you back; I’m working on the place right now, waiting for a phone call?”
“Can you give me the name of the town in Mississippi Scott?”
“Okay, yes, it’s called Pascagoula, Mississippi.”
We ended the call, and I looked at my maps application on my cell phone and found Pascagoula. What the hell is Scott thinking, Pascagoula is sitting on the Gulf of Mexico? I m leaving one storm-prone area, and he is sending me to another storm-prone area. Pascagoula is just inside the Mississippi state line on the border of Mississippi and Alabama. In other words, Pascagoula is just across the state line in Mississippi. My map application says I will be driving 9 hours and 32 minutes to get there. We left Fort Myers about 9 PM. So, my estimated time of arrival is going to be 6:00 AM. Dad is still awake watching everything going on as we drive. I thought sure he would fall asleep. But he hasn’t, and doesn’t.
Scott calls back and says, “Okay it’s all set. I have a house for you.”
“What do you mean you have a house?” I asked.
Carla has a sister. (Carla is my son’s wife – or should I say, my daughter-in-law) Scott continued, Carla’s sister, Sharon has a home in Moss Point, Mississippi. She and her husband Larry are in Ohio for the whole month of September, and their home is vacant right now, and they are encouraging us to use the house if we need it. So, I’m sending you there. Let me give you the name and phone number of their son Austin who will open the home for you. I will text you the address.
The traffic westbound on highway 10 was terrible. I didn’t want to be here. I tried to rationalize being on this merry-go-round. The traffic on this three-lane westbound of interstate would move for a while and then it would come to a complete stop every few miles. How many people like us are turning tail and running from this horrific and catastrophic event? Florida has 19 million people living in the state with 10 million more down for a one or two week vacation. For crying out loud are they all in front of me on this three-lane road?
I looked at the map application on my cell phone again to see where I was going. Highway 10 runs east and west across the panhandle of Florida. I had to pass through Tallahassee, Destin, Niceville, and Pensacola. Cross the state line into Alabama, and drive through Mobile. Then drive 50 miles until I hit the Mississippi state line. I’m still not there, 50 more miles and we are set.
What really kept getting in my craw, I was running away from something and had no idea where I was headed and how long it would take to get there. I was disappointed. Typically when I leave home, I have expectations of going somewhere, to something. How many people do you know will get in a car and not know where you are going?
Like a high school class reunion, or a yearly beach vacation. You want to know where you’re going. Or in the old days when I was working, headed to a convention or a sales call. I believe most people look forward to something. I don’t want to look at life over my shoulder at the menacing weather in my rear view mirror. I hated this trip.
TRAFFIC LEAVING SOUTHWEST FLORIDA
MOSS POINT MISSISSIPPI
We finally arrived at the home in Moss Point, about 10:30 in the morning. It took four hours longer because of traffic. Dad had been awake all night and had not slept. I hadn’t either. Now it was time to find our bedrooms and get some rest. Irma, the hurricane was only 24 hours away from Fort Myers. But, we were safe in Moss Point, and out of the cone or path of Irma as she would head north and east at some point.
Dad was totally lost. He didn’t know where he was and didn’t want to lay down and wanted to look around at the house.
“Where are we?” Dad would ask, over and over. I had to take off the bathroom door in order for him to get past the 32” door with his wheelchair. It reminded me that homes built years ago didn’t think about handy capped acceptable bathroom doors.
Finally, Dad decided to crawl into bed and lay down. And I was able to sleep till about 2:00 PM, on Saturday.
So, now it was merely a waiting game. Waiting for hurricane Irma to hammer through Southwest, Florida and keep pushing through the state of Florida. Once hurricane Irma made its sojourn in Florida and moved to Georgia, then we could head back to see the damage left behind.
While it would not be sporting of me to be critical of the beautiful home we were using, (Never look a gift horse in the mouth as they say) we were in a house, not trying to exist in a one-room motel room. Still, it felt like being a prisoner; however, as enjoyable as this home was, there comes the point when you start climbing the walls, and one needs to get out of the four walls and see life, any kind of life. Dad had been up wandering around the home in an endless circle. Moving from one room to the other. Then returning and repeating his routine over and over and over again. It reminded me of a pent-up animal in a cage. I felt the same way.
I noticed he was moving down the hall toward “his” bedroom. I followed at a distance as he crawled into bed and he seemed to allow his body to release and hopefully get some sleep. I found this the perfect opportunity to slip out of the home and walk around the yard. The yard was big, with a very long driveway. A church was next door. The house had an outbuilding, or it might be a shed and a small smokehouse. I was told by Scott (my Son) that Larry could skin a deer in nothing flat. Sharon, his wife, takes the meat Larry butchers and packages the meat for the freezer. Larry and Sharon are much sought after for their talent as a butcher and packager in the deer hunting season. I don’t doubt that the smokehouse gets used too.
THE SMOKE HOUSE
CHURCH ON THE LEFT – HOME ON THE RIGHT
Toby Ray Parker Road / Wade First Church of God. – Toby Ray Parker Road Moss Point, MS – 39562
Carla’s sister Sharon and her husband Larry live in this church parsonage and were on an extended trip in Ohio. She and her husband were in Amish Country and were on an evangelizing mission. Larry is a pastor, minister or preacher, or is the correct term evangelist? While sitting at their kitchen table, I went online with my laptop and found the home we were living in. I found a satellite picture of the house taken at some point in time. I don’t remember the date on the photograph. I noticed a large fifth wheel with a pickup truck parked in the driveway. I put two and two together and surmised they travel with their own recreational vehicle.
WADE FIRST CHURCH OF GOD – HOME WITH A RECREATIONAL VEHICLE IN DRIVEWAY.
I checked on Dad, and he was (Pardon the expression) dead asleep. So I decided to jump in the car and drive north a mile or two. I didn’t get far, my goodness, an intersection with a traffic light out in the middle of nowhere. The crossing didn’t have much, just a couple of mature gas stations and a Waffle House.
I pulled into the Waffle House parking lot and walked in the restaurant. The place was almost empty. I sat down and waited for my waitress. The young man on the grill was busy messing with his supplies and restocking something under the grill. The small staff was all very young. Very young. My waitress finally came to my table. With no one in the place except for 4 other people you approach a stranger in these parts with caution, I assume. She was young and somewhat timid for a Waffle House waitress. When I have eaten at other Waffle Houses, most waitresses at these places are pretty sure of themselves. I assumed she was new to the job. I ordered, two eggs over easy, bacon, potatoes and wheat toast. I could see the young man behind the grill was listening to my order and had started the meal before she gave him the paper ticket. As I ate my lunch, I couldn’t help but notice the operation of the restaurant. I counted the number of seats at 33. Can this place make money with only 33 seats? Let me think this through. I as an entrepreneur build a million dollar Waffle House with signage, kitchen equipment, and 33 seats. I hire very young people, and give them the keys to the building and believe they can make me money? My ticket came to six dollars and change. Can you make any money with an average ticket of six dollars? I handed a $10.00 bill to the young timid, sweet thing. I told her to keep the change.
Late Saturday, back at the ranch, (that would be the home in Mississippi) My laptop weather websites I was browsing told me I had a few days to wait. Irma was on the north side of Cuba, making a right-hand turn and headed for the Florida Keys. So, there was nothing for me to do but sit and wait. Sunday midday would be the big day for Southwest Florida. Irma was expecting it rip it up. Then continue to head north. So I started looking for a timetable when the hurricane would leave Florida and move into Georgia. My expectation was, we might be able to head back on Tuesday, but we just have to wait and see.
Sunday, what to do today? The family didn’t have cable TV in the house, but the internet box hidden behind the couch in the living room was still working. So, I guess I could at least read my favorite blogs and websites. I grew tired of the internet and decided to try and watch some television. The family had only one 32 inches flat screen in the house and no television cable box service, the only thing I could do was hook up a small pair of rabbit ears I found on a bookshelf. I plugged the rabbit ears in and by holding my right hand on the antenna and lifting my left arm to the ceiling and crossing my legs I was able to get a religious station. I fact I was able to receive 12 Christian stations, and one very fuzzy channel called CBS. So I painfully sat and watched as much programming as I could tolerate. In the afternoon on Sunday CBS was broadcasting football, without one word of Florida or the one word of the hurricane Irma. Life goes on I guess. I turned the fluttering television picture off.
NOTICE THE ANTENNA ON TOP OF CABINET
Then, there as a knock on the front door. Andrew, Larry and Sharon’s son decided we needed some lunch. He came with bar-b-que pulled pork sandwiches, potato salad, and baked beans for each of us in a Styrofoam box. Thank you, Andrew.
This would be an excellent time to show you the pictures of the family I found hanging on the walls of the home.
Anthony, Austin, Andrew, Aaron
Alaina, Amy, Angie, Amanda
The Dishman Family
AUSTIN was the young man who opened the home for us.
ANDREW brought us lunch on Sunday.
Monday, the storm, (Irma) while still marching up the center of Florida was not a threat. Irma’s winds are down to 60 – 70 miles an hour. But we still had to wait till it passes into Georgia. And it looks like that will happen Monday night late.
Monday about noon, I decided to go back to the Waffle House. I just had to get out of the house and experience life, people, ordinary activity. The waitress this time was wound up tighter than a twelve-day clock. She was a hoot. I asked her if her boyfriend was okay with her working at a Waffle House?
She laughed out loud, who cares what he thinks. I do whatever I want. She was a very confident young lady. She asked, “You are not from around here are you?”
“No, I’m running away from the hurricane. I live in Fort Myers, and I’m staying at a house up the road behind the church.”
“What church is that?”
“Wade First Church of God. It’s on Toby Ray Parker Road, do you know the church?”
She looked out the window, trying to place the church. “No, I don’t think I know the place. Which way from here?”
I explained where the church was as best I could. But, out here in the country, there are no landmarks. I decided to order a steak with my eggs this time. The steak was paper thin and cooked all the way through. It was an acceptable meal. I was out of the house for a few minutes. Clarice stood by my table and talked while I ate my lunch. The cook leaned over and wanted to know if the steak was okay? I lied and said, its great, it tastes really good. And the truth is when you are hungry, almost anything tastes good. I chatted with Clarice until it was time to leave. I paid the bill and walked back to the car in the parking lot. It’s Monday afternoon. Tomorrow morning, this place will be a faded memory.
Tuesday, it was time to hit the road, the storm, such as it is at this point has made its way into Georgia. I stayed up late Monday night watching the storm move across the state line into Georgia, and I wanted to go home. So, it was time to pull the sheets off the beds and put them in the washing machine. Empty the trash, clean out the frig and leave it as we found it. I had to put the bathroom door back on its hinges. Now you look to make sure you have everything you brought with you and put it in the car. It was time to load Dad and put his wheelchair in the trunk. I placed the front door key on the bookshelf by the front door and texted Austin that we were leaving and “Thank you very much for the use of the home.” I left a small gift on the kitchen counter, (all the spare cash I had) as a token to thank the family.
THANK YOU FOR THE USE OF YOUR BEAUTIFUL HOME.
We were off. I stopped at the “mature gas station” down the road from the home and purchased a couple cups of coffee, looked over at the Waffle House one last time and headed for highway 10. I was finally eastbound and down, headed home. What I didn’t realize was everybody else decided to head back at the same time. What should have been a 10-hour trip home became a 16-hour ordeal. Not only was traffic incredible, but now all the electrical repair trucks from every state you can think of were in the highway traffic mix too.
Now, think about this, because we had to think seriously about it also. Where are we going to be able to get fuel for the car? Gas stations were hammered with people trying to get out of Florida. That means the gas stations didn’t have time to have those big semi refueling trucks full of gas to come and fill the gas station underground tanks. Gas stations who had fuel had lines blocks long and some miles long with police cars and officers standing watching for anyone trying to break into the lines, which would start a riot, I’m sure.
I decided to get off the super slab and cut across country and take the two-lane roads hoping to find a small town gas station with fuel. At Tallahassee, I pulled off Highway 10 and started my gamble. Town after town gas stations was closed. Closed, I assume because they got tired of people yelling at them for not having gas.
A BUILDING IN PERRY
Finally, in the small town of Perry, I was able to find one station open. I filled the tank. It was expensive, but who is going to complain at this point. How expensive was the gas, you ask? I would have paid double what I paid to have a tank full of gas at this point. I noticed cars driving down the highway had strapped plastic gas cans to there truck. Some SUV’s had strapped five-gallon plastic gas cans strapped to the roof of their vehicles. I couldn’t figure out if I thought was a good idea or not.
First, was it safe? What happens in an accident? But, if you have no gas and can’t get home what do you do? I have heard stories of people waiting hours in line at gas stations waiting for the refueling trucks to arrive so they could continue on.
I now had a full tank of gas, and I checked the mileage for the rest of the ride home. If I get 20 miles to the gallon, I won’t make it. If I can pull 22-23 miles to the gallon, I think I will be able to go all the way home. If I slow down, I will get better gas mileage at 60 miles an hour than 75 miles an hour. But what kind of mileage am I getting sitting in traffic at a dead stop?
TWO LANES INTO ONE LANE – VERY SLOW TRAFFIC
The further south we went the less traffic. The last three hours 11:00 PM to 2:00 AM were relatively traffic free. I had my eye on two things. The number of miles left before we got home, and the fuel gauge on the instrument cluster. It was a race to see if I had calculated my fuel usage correctly.
A little after 2:00 AM I pulled into the driveway on empty and hit the garage door opener. The garage door opened. Well, we have electricity, that’s a good sign. I wonder how long the electricity was off? Now it was time to look at the inside of the house. Everything seemed just like we left it Friday night, 5 days ago.
The next day, after a long sleep, six hours rest is a long sleep at this point.
I walked outside. The street sign was bent, in front of the house.
The tree behind the house lost a limb.
A blade came off the ceiling fan on the Lanai.
Art Blum from northern Michigan called during the hurricane and was worried to death the hot rod would be under water. I took a picture for Art to show him the “Hot Rod” was just fine. When I talked with the neighbors, they said, during the hurricane, the lights flickered, but never went off; the cable TV never went off. There was no flooding. Lot’s of rain, however.
Other guy friends were not so kind to me, “So Duncan, you turned Chicken S***, and headed for the hills huh?”
I’m sure there are a million stories about Hurricane Irma. I am just one of the lucky ones.
One story that wasn’t so lucky.
Home on McGregor Blvd in Fort Myers, Florida.
NORTH FORT MYERS
NORTH FORT MYERS
By the way, the alligator was looking my way when I was in the backyard.