From the Deep South

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 3, 2004

This came from my kid brother down in Florida who lives on the same island from where we send rockets into the heavens. Twice in September hurricanes came hard through his neighborhood, put trees on his roof, left privacy fences twisted and flattened, and filled his pool with Florida forms of plant life. He left with family the first time but waited it out when Hurricane Jeanne came ashore. He wrote the following that gives you an idea of what Florida residents went through, four times.

&uot;These are times that try men’s women’s souls, test their mettle and open their hearts.

We’re weary of the waiting and wondering: how big, how fast, what track, when do the lights go out, the AC and refrigerator shut down and will it hit us!


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&uot;Neighbors draw close as they counsel each other about stay or go. Thousands of us live on &uot;barrier&uot; islands (natural architecture that tries but fails to protect the mainland from the onrushing hurricane). Officials give us a deadline to comply with evacuation orders, or, understand that the causeways will close and we cannot get out and emergency services cannot get in. Easy decision for families with kids, sick people and ailing elders: Go!

&uot;The rest are &uot;boarded up&uot; or not and, it seems that, as each additional hurricane comes on the screen, more decide to stay – an impossibly difficult decision made more so by advice phoned in from safely distant friends, and by news media reports showing different fates for neighboring houses. What should we do? I’ll tell you when it’s over. When &uot;it&uot; arrives its menacing eye might miss you by 100 miles but you do get hit. Bad enough during daytime, it’s terrifying in the night which seems to magnify its whistling, screaming, thumping effects. But you know that.

&uot;Opens hearts? Yes, when it’s over the people who really get hit go silent. Lesser victims say it could have been worse and we’re luckier than some, and we can fix it. If they can get around the trees, brush, signs, light poles and wires, they go looking for food, ice, repair stuff they hadn’t thought about, service stations, insurance agents and advice. Houses are laced together by long orange electrical extension cords as people with power share electricity with next-door neighbors without. Sirens are ominous and they never stop wailing as emergency vehicles begin to operate. Communications are the last to get back on stream and we really want to know what’s going on, or coming next.

&uot;Police are out early (even though each of them have a family of their own to take care of) putting up signs at intersections where traffic lights are out or down. In the days that follow as traffic picks up, every intersection becomes a four way stop. Cars and trucks crawl through with the only problems resulting from the exceptionally courteous or indecisive drivers offering first passage to others when it’s their &uot;turn.&uot; Some police cars park just off the street and become information booths for people in need, even if only to reassure that ‘Things will probably be opening up tomorrow, but they’re all closed now.’ Even that is information.

&uot;Out on the highways, huge convoys of National Guardsmen, fuel trucks and

&uot;first responder&uot; vehicles are underway to help us, and apprehend looters. We’ll be OK. Maybe we’ll cry later.&uot;

Robert Pocklington lives in Suffolk and is a regular News-Herald columnist. He can be reached at