My mother taught me to be courteous when meeting someone new, but I had a hard time being polite when I met “Matthew” last week.
He was rude, destructive, unpredictable and downright ornery. He showed up uninvited and made a mess before abruptly leaving.
Matthew, as in Hurricane Matthew, made quite an impression on me.
Born and raised in the Midwest, I never have witnessed a hurricane firsthand, and although Matthew never made landfall in Palm Beach County – where I was staying with my father – I watched the Category 4 hurricane wreak havoc up and down Florida’s Eastern coast Thursday and Friday. Five people perished and close to a million people were reported to be without power between Palm Beach and Jacksonville.
Damage to my father’s home – and much of Lake Worth, Fla. – was limited to downed tree branches and uprooted trees. Considering what could have happened, we were indeed fortunate.
Meteorologists warned us as early as Monday that Matthew would be a “monster,” and local officials pleaded with residents to prepare early: Get supplies … gas up your car … evacuate if you live close to the water. This is the real deal and it’s on its way.
By Wednesday, Florida Governor Rick Scott set the tone when he told Floridians “It’s here.”
Dad and I were as ready as we could be: Shutters were up on the house, we filled 9 jugs of drinking water and purchased extra batteries and non-perishable food in case we lost power for an extended period of time. We even filled the bathtub with water just to be sure we had extra water.
Following suggestions from the Palm Beach County Emergency Operations Center, we came up with an emergency evacuation plan that included locating the nearest Red Cross shelter. We prepped duffel bags with extra clothes, blood pressure medicine and food; gathered critical insurance documents in case catastrophic damage occurred; and got a crash course in hurricane terminology as T.V. meteorologists made “storm surge,” “eye wall replacement” and “feeder bands” everyday words.
By Thursday night, just to be safe, I took one final precaution and moved Dad’s mattress to a central room of the house where we could sleep without fear of windows crashing in on us.
Turns out we didn’t need such precautions. Matthew took a right instead of a left – an unexpected detour several miles north just hours before its predicted arrival – which sent the storm northward toward Vero Beach and Daytona. We felt – and heard – Matthew brush by with 70-75 mph winds, but by 2 a.m. the howling winds had subsided.
We never even lost power.
By Friday morning, we were able to count our blessings. Damage was minimal. But it was bittersweet knowing close to a thousand people died just days before in Haiti and the Bahamas. And as we chopped up downed tree limbs and swept palm fronds into neat little piles on the driveway, Matthew was unmercifully pounding Jacksonville and St. Augustine – leaving five people dead – on its way to the Carolinas.
Dad and I got through it all unscathed, and I’m grateful for that, but I hope I never run into Matthew again.
Jim Davis is a copy editor and paginator at the Miamisburg Pagination hub. He was in Florida this past week after driving his father home to Lake Worth.