When I first told my friends I was moving to Florida, one of them questioned the wisdom of relocating to the hurricane state. Of course that was after Katrina and that wasn’t Florida. But I was confident – it wasn’t California with mudslides, earthquakes, massive fires and punishing droughts. Nor was it Oklahoma or any state in Tornado Alley.
I bought a house on a barrier island just south of the oldest city in the US and quickly found out that Old A1A, which ran right between my house and the seawall and ended a couple hundred yards south of me, washed out in Hurricane Dora in 1964. But since my house had been built in the 1920s, I still felt confident it could withstand another hurricane. Photo by Jeff Greene as he prepared to evacuate before the storm.
So, along came Matthew. Roaring across the Caribbean, decimating Haiti, punishing the southern tip of Cuba and now headed our way. I’m just daring enough to buy a house by the sea, but not crazy enough to stay here when told to evacuate so off I went to weather the storm with my friend Betty Johnston in Jacksonville. As the storm barreled through the Bahamas, we hunkered before the television listening to the ever more alarming forecasts from weathermen who sometimes looked as if they hadn’t had much sleep. Then the storm got to St Augustine. Summerhaven is south of the city and if the streets of the city were underwater, what was happening to my little neighborhood? Betty and I brainstormed our books until nearly four in the morning with images of the storm parading in the background, and the fate of my little beach bungalow continued to worry me.
Finally, two days after Matthew had moved on to torment the Carolinas I got to go home. All I can say is that I have two very busy little angels watching over me. Summerhaven was one of the hardest hit areas of the ancient city, yet my house stood, sturdy and welcoming in the afternoon sunshine, surrounded by devastation. The house right next to me had the ocean crash through the front door and trash everything inside. Two historic houses down the street are just shells and will have to be taken down. And there is no more Old A1A – only just a couple short sections remain. The rest was rolled up like an old carpet by the pounding surf.
A little water had squeezed under the sliders so I washed my floor. I found a way to barricade the hole in my fence where my neighbor’s fence crashed into it, on the way down the street on the crest of the breaking waves. God only knows why that rush of tons of water driven by hurricane force winds on a storm surge of 6 feet or more didn’t find its way into my house, but the SandCastle stood strong. My powerline mast was bent but a friend splinted it with a split truck muffler and u-bolts. After spending most of the afternoon helping my neighbor shovel water, sand, and silt out the door and hauling ruined furniture to a pile by the street, I needed a shower and something to eat. Photo by Jeff Greene after Matthew got through with us.
Another neighbor had made a lasagna right before the power went out and he heated it up on his grill so we had a hot meal. Then I headed for the shower, already cringing at the thought of icy water sluicing over my tired body. Imagine my surprise to discover my water heater still had hot water. That was another wonderful little blessing. I woke up on Monday feeling every year of my age – more clean up, more helping others.
In the midst of so much loss, there is a lot of goodness we don’t always see in the news. A friend up the street brought me a cooler filled with ice to put my perishables in. A state trooper went door to door asking if there was anything we needed. A group of Mormon teenagers armed with buckets and mops went around asking if they could help folk clean up. Another group from the Anastasia Baptist Church showed up with hot meals for anyone who needed one. A local preacher I have never met before stopped to pray with me, thanking God for my home having survived and then we asked for Him to care for all those who were still in trouble in North Carolina and Haiti. And I’m thankful for all the friends who called, texted, emailed or messaged me on FB to ask if I was okay and offered to help out if there was anything I needed. I am truly blessed. Jeff Greene has a sense of humor - this is where my mailbox ended up to allow for mail delivery with the road closed.
This used to be Old A1A. Once a bluff overlooking the beach Sea wall and road gone
Two historic old cottages a couple hundred yards down the street from me. Fences down everywhere