Storm-season refresher for Florida

Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Today is the start of hurricane season in Florida.

People around Tampa Bay didn't take it too seriously last year. It was statistically unlikely we'd get hit.

I allowed myself to get complacent, even though I spent Hurricane Georges in Pensacola with no power for two days.

That meant spending the day slogging through floodwaters, collecting people's sad hurricane stories for the newspaper, and then spending the night living my own sad story. Not as sad as the lady who heard alligators croaking near her window while she and a basket of kittens escaped the rising Black River on her bed.

But I was taking cold showers, eating SpaghettiOs straight from the can and living without "Law & Order." And for me, that's pretty sad.

Of course, all of us in the Tampa Bay area are taking hurricanes seriously after last year. Charley grazed us, Frances and Jeanne went right over us and Ivan came within a few hundred miles before spinning off into Pensacola. To tell you the truth, we're pretty freaked.

The worst part for me -- I'm a homeowner for the first time. Living in apartments, I thought, "Hey, take the roof off. I'll just use my renters insurance to replace all my lousy belongings with good ones." I'd pack my valuables with me, take off for work and hope for the best.

This year, I own the roof. And joy of joys, I live in the zone emergency management evacuates first, meaning my house will be looted before anyone else's is.

A weather reporter I know explains Pinellas County, Fla., this way: If you spill a glass of milk on a tabletop, there's nothing to stop it. It just covers the table. So being further away from the milk doesn't help you.

No sense in me being the only one freaked out, so I shared the illustration with The Other Half.

"Yeah, but there's a lot of stuff to absorb the water before it gets to us," he said. "Like houses and furniture and stuff."

House and furniture will absorb flooding? Like we're all going to be sitting around after a storm surge into Tampa Bay saying, "Man, that could have really been bad for us, but thank heavens Bob's highly absorbent sofa was between us and the water."

I thought about getting a glass of milk, a hair dryer and some Monopoly houses out for a little demonstration but decided against it. This was the man who, with Category 4 hurricane approaching the area last year, prepared by putting tape on the windows -- which does absolutely nothing except waste tape -- and putting my costume jewelry and a signed poster of Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel into a closet.

Another worry -- this year we have Stewie. Maggie, our cat, is pretty self-sufficient. If it looks as though the hurricane is going to be minor, she just hangs out at home until we get home from work. If not, we can easily pack her up and take her along. She just needs her litter box and a quiet corner to use it.

Stewie will have to be taken along no matter what.

And how do you take a dog outside in 100 mph winds to pee? I went to a hurricane expo to find out. Sure enough, there was a table devoted to pet care, being run by an obedience trainer.

"Can you tell me what kennels would take my dog during a hurricane?" I asked.

"Ummmm, no," the woman said. "You might want to look that up on the Internet."

What a brilliant idea! The Internet!

I'm just being mean because I'm petrified.

Wish us luck.

Heidi Hall is a former managing editor of the Southeast Missourian. She resides in St. Petersburg, Fla.

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