Three Days to Disaster?
Wednesday, September 6, 2017, 8pm
When l was a kid growing up in Jersey in the fifties and sixties, hurricanes were crazy, mostly rain storms that came and went. Now, in three days, Irma, the most powerful Atlantic hurricane in recorded history, may plow into Florida with a vengeance and take away my home in Fort Lauderdale and just about everything I own in my life with it, the price, as one buddy put it, of living in paradise.
I use the word vengeance because those of us who have come to take up residence like me or buy snowbird getaways, say, the last dozen years or so in Florida, especially South Florida where the endless summer the rest of the country and most of Europe covet – Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Miami and the Keys – have been lulled into a false sense of reality: that the era of destructive storms is over or even that global warming is steering them away to other unfortunate parts of the country like the Carolinas,the Gulf or even the East, i.e., Sandy.
One unexpected surprise or l should say shock when you buy a home in south Florida is the hurricane insurance which is based on the purchase price of your home. Now l bought my home in 2001, just a few years before l semi retired and before the Great Real Estate Boom and Bust, for $140,000, three bedrooms, two baths, with an inground pool and screened-in patio on a canal. Today this same house goes for $300,000. My insurance, again based on the value of my home when l bought it, is close to three thousand dollars a year, not the seven or eight hundred for the typical house insurance back North. And the deductible is not five hundred or a thousand dollars but a percentage of the value of your home which means l would have to incur $4000 in damages before l get a dime. People who paid more for their home pay even more for their insurance. Plus your home needs to pass an inspection before a company will give you insurance: your roof must be in good condition and have at least three years of life in it, and your power box, water heater and central AC also need to be of recent vintage.
Now, while i’m in a flood plain and the level of water in the canal behind my home can be controlled within reason, my concern has always been water damage from the front if the sewers clog or the street gets flooded. So besides the three thousand for the hurricane coverage l spend another $500 for flood insurance.
Since Wilma in 2005, South Florida has not seen a direct hit in at least eleven years and l know friends, if they had no mortgage, who decided not to have insurance at all. When l look at the close to forty dollars spent on insurance over that period l wondered if they were right.
Until now …
I was there for Wilma which was classified a Category 2 hurricane after the fact. While there was no damage to speak of in my neighborhood, we were without power for three weeks because Florida Power and Light had failed to replace many of its old wood poles for concrete which they did after they got their caught with their pants down. At the time none of the gas stations had emergency generators so there was no way to pump gas and without power the supermarkets were empty warehouses. Most people’s priorities was how to charge up their laptops or phones.
But now that is the least of our worries. Someone will get hit and hit hard, and it’s a terrible statement on humanity but when you live in hurricane alley as l do you hope it’s someone else, not you.
I had spent most of the summer up with my ex at our home in northeast Pennsylvania and was hanging around to take George for his one week post-op visit for his cataract surgery which was successful, and head back this week for Lauderdale and home.
But why? Every summer before l come up l also put up shutters and pull in my patio furniture and do whatever else as if a hurricane was coming tomorrow, so there was little l could do if and when Irma hits except put myself and my three dogs in harm’s way. (Shelters do not accept animals.) Sadly all these precautions are to avoid or mitigate wind damage. I have sand bags inside my two front doors but not much can save you if you get extreme flooding like Texas did.
As of today the weather experts say it is likely to hit Florida Saturday night into Sunday, but where is a roll of the dice and where after that could involve the entire Southeast. My neighbor here in PA who recently retired as a meteorologist for one of the major TV stations in New York City, which is an hour by car from here, says it’s only going to kiss southeast Florida and head for Florida’s West Coast but that still means thousands if not millions elsewhere will suffer.
And so l sit and wait here at our home in PA in between frantic texts from my Florida neighbors about the panic at the supermarkets and the gas stations, a change from the overly complacent attitude people had in previous threats.
Maybe Texas taught us all a lesson.
Or maybe after twelve years of nothing Florida’s luck has run out.
Are we once again in the viscous storm cycle of my youth or has global warming already done us in?
Does it matter now?