After the hurricanes: Ordeals persist
Florida residents encounter challenges with everything from taking showers to caring for dislocated pets.
PUNTA GORDA, FLA. — After hurricane Charley peeled off roofs like a can opener, Beverly Gill's home in Punta Gorda was both flooded and powerless. Suddenly, the simplest parts of her daily routine - such as bathing - were formidable challenges.
"Now I get so excited about the little things," says the schoolteacher, who has resorted to showers without hot water. "An ice-cold shower used to sound awful, but now it sounds so cool."
As Florida residents battle to recover from three powerful hurricanes in one month, they find hurdles - many unexpected - that are testing their grit and wits. Although people across the state had braced for disruption as well as destruction, millions have now realized that they couldn't fully envision the storms' aftereffects. In many cases, that has meant living without things that most 21st-century humans consider necessities, such as a shower, flushing toilet, and an air conditioner on a sultry 95-degree day.
It has also meant running into challenges that are seemingly far removed from the hurricane paths - such as high prices on some items at the grocery store and a revised school calendar for many students.
Indeed, Florida's educational system has already felt a big impact from the hurricanes. Because schools are often used as hurricane shelters, many closed days before a hurricane struck. That's even in areas where hurricane winds ultimately didn't hit, such as Tampa. Some school and university closures were so long they seemed like Christmas breaks.
Some schools ended up losing as many as 13 days to Charley, Frances, and Ivan. So now, students and teachers face an extended school year and loss of holidays. One St. Petersburg teacher who enjoyed the time off with her newborn son says, "I don't want to lose a Thanksgiving holiday," which is one of the options that her school board is considering.
Volusia County in central Florida is spreading the makeup time throughout the school year by extending school days by seven minutes and eliminating early-release days.
In addition, Florida teachers are pleading for a reprieve from the state's controversial FCAT exam, upon which Florida schools are graded and funded. Teachers in St. Lucie and Marion counties say they don't have time this school year to prepare students adequately for the crucial test, but the state Department of Education isn't budging.
"We are being flexible and sensitive to the counties affected by the hurricanes, but doing away with our accountability measures we believe would ... send the wrong message to say that student achievement is not going to count this year," said Frances Marine, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, told The Palm Beach Post.
The hurricanes have even affected the state's already stressed education budget - oddly enough because of the closure of lottery outlets and convenience and grocery stores during the storms.
Forty percent of Florida Lotto revenue goes toward education, but state lottery sales dropped by $13 million during the month of storms, compared with the same period last year. Florida educators are now faced with finding funds elsewhere.
Such financial effects are being felt in many sectors. Everything from homeowners' association fees and power bills to the cost of grapefruit juice is expected to rise at least temporarily.
In cases such as the seafood industry, the losses are proving to be a double whammy. Fishermen have lost more than a month's revenue, and their inability to fish now because of damaged equipment and facilities threatens to increase the price of Florida seafood, at least temporarily.
Florida fishermen, being the third largest US supplier of shrimp and the No. 1 supplier of stone crabs, spiny lobsters, and mullet, are facing estimated losses of more than $8 million. "They're killing us," says Bob Jones, executive director of the Southeast Fishing Association, of the hurricanes. "Usually when you have one you can have a pretty quick recovery. But to have three, it's impacted almost every part of the state."
Even home buyers out of storm's way have lost sleep due to the hurricanes. Michael Dean of St. Petersburg was one of many who couldn't buy homeowners' insurance while the state was threatened by hurricanes. In Florida, insurance companies won't issue a real estate policy once a hurricane watch or warning is in any part the state.
The environment has also been hurt in unexpected ways by the storm rampage. Besides the anticipated beach erosion and downed trees, central Florida suffered a toxic spill due to the cumulative effects of hurricanes Charley and Frances. A 180-foot high earthen dike holding highly acidic waste water from a Cargill Crop Nutrition phosphate plant crumbled during hurricane Frances, spilling more than 65 million gallons into an adjoining creek that feeds into Tampa Bay.
Gray Gordon, Cargill Nutrition vice president, describes the water as concentrated "liquid fertilizer." Environmentalists warn that it's deadly to plants and fish in Tampa Bay.
But for other creatures, the outlook is more promising. The ironically named Charley, a large mongrel dog, had turned up at the Wauchula Hurricane animal relief center in central Florida with severe cuts around his neck.
He was one of more than 200 pets rescued from the path of hurricane Charley. Many were transports from damaged animal shelters, some were found wandering the streets, and others belonged to people who longer had homes.
Initially not expected to survive, Charley is now recovering after two surgeries, says Rick Chaboudy, executive director of the Pinellas County Humane Society. To volunteers, he's much more than a dog, Mr. Chaboudy says. He's "symbolic of the struggles of the Hardee County area - down but not out, beaten but not defeated."
Such resilience is probably the only way that people like John Misak have purchased needed gasoline. After hurricane Charley, the Punta Gorda man drove 40 miles from home to fill eight gas cans at a Citgo station in Nokomis, Fla. "It was fine early on ... kind of like camping," he says, but adding that the thrill had worn off.
For Chucky, a 12-foot alligator who lived at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo in Gulf Shores, Ala., hurricane Ivan has certainly broken up his daily routine. The flooding waters of the hurricane freed Chucky and eight other gators.
Wildlife officials fear Chucky is a more of a threat than the average gator because he is used to being fed by humans. "The problem is that alligators become conditioned to associate people with food," says Henry Cabbage, one of Florida's leading wildlife authorities. "That makes them dangerous. You wouldn't want to come across him."
• About 440,000 homes and businesses remained without power Monday in Florida and Alabama.
• The Pensacola, Fla., airport is closed, and it is unclear when it will reopen.
• In Point Pleasant, W.Va., roads flooded or blocked by debris closed schools across four counties this week. Statewide, 289 homes and at least 31 businesses were destroyed, and 473 other homes severely damaged.
• The American Red Cross opened 43 shelters across Pennsylvania for 700 evacuees.
• More than 100,000 residents near Harrisburg, Pa., were ordered to boil tap water before drinking it.
• The Ohio River crested a record 12 feet above flood stage Monday at the Racine Lock and Dam in Ohio.
• The hurricane and its remnants were blamed for at least 52 deaths in the United States and 70 in the Caribbean.
- Associated Press