A mere three weeks after Hurricane Charley barged through Florida we found ourselves with Hurricane Frances heading our way. It became clear very quickly that Labor Day weekend wouldn’t be filled with cookouts for most of Central Florida, but instead a rush to find shelters that weren’t already full from the last hurricane. In an effort upstage Charley, Frances hit Florida not once but twice. Clearly there was a little showing off there from one storm system to another.
Unlike Charley, Frances was planned to cross from the east coast and that immediately made me fear for my parent’s safety on the barrier island that I still think of as home. With 2.8 million being urged to evacuate, Jeb Bush once again declared a state of emergency. Classes at the University of Central Florida were cancelled and my fellow students were encouraged to leave their dorms and seek safety. Getting out of my classes for the week seemed the least of my troubles as I tried to figure out if I would sign up to ride out the storm working at Disney or evacuate with my family. Hurricane warnings increased and so did panic for those who were still living in shelters from the devastation caused by Hurricane Charley just a few weeks earlier.
Charley moved so quickly that the rain wasn’t as much of a concern as the winds were. In contrast, Frances sluggishly traveled through with Category 4 winds and excessive amounts of rain that lead to flooding. For citrus crops that were already holding on by a thread, Frances didn’t leave any opportunity for survival. The same was said for Patrick Air Force Base and Kennedy Space Center as there was an estimated $100 million in damage that occurred just from Frances. This was a part of what earned Hurricane Frances the 9th spot on the top ten list of NOAAs chart for costliest US Atlantic Hurricanes after the total property damage was estimated to be about $9.51 billion.
Disney once again elected to close their parks doors for the 2nd time in a month to ensure the safety of the travelers who were staying on property. I remember the hotels being on lock down during the worst of the storm as many travelers were not familiar with the unpredictability of hurricanes. Although Florida is known for its summer rain storms, when a hurricane is in town it’s a whole new ballgame. Disney did its best to keep resort guests happy and entertained while they were confined to the walls of their hotels, but some travelers demanded the ability to leave since they didn’t understand the severity of the natural disaster at hand. Many changed their mind upon watching the news and seeing that there was no way out after the airport and many roads had been shut down.
President George W. Bush declared Florida to be a federal disaster area after we suffered through two Category 4 hurricanes in less than a month. Volunteers started heading south as soon as Frances left the upper peninsula of Florida and quickly the site of blue tarps popped up as far as the eye could see. Over 41,000 roofs were estimated to be damaged for those who were lucky enough to still have a roof that was somewhat in place. As the Central Florida communities attempted to rally together and start the rebuilding process announcements of new storms brewing left many of us feeling hopeless in our fight to return to business as usual.