Into The Belly Of The Beast

This is an update to my previous post regarding the hurricane. In the past 2 days, I've gone to several of the towns which were hit by Hurricane Idalia and seen where they stand a week after they were hit. On Thursday I was in Madison, FL, then went back to Perry. Friday, I went through Perry to go to Old Town, FL and the surrounding area, and it all came to a head where I had to go into the belly of the beast, Steinhatchee, FL. Steinhatchee is a small town on the, wait for it, Steinhatchee River, which sees a lot of activity in the summer time due to scallop season. The entire town looks and feels like a small coastal town because that's what it essentially is. While the town isn't on the Gulf, it's close enough, and the hurricane definitely showed that when the storm surge left most of the town underwater.

To start the journey chronologically, we'll talk about my day on Thursday. As I drove down I-10 to get to my first stops which are right off of it, I started noticing a lot of fallen trees, some damaged bilboards, and just other evidence that the area had seen the high winds from the eyewall of the hurricane. I knew parts of I-10 were closed and I knew that Valdosta was hit, but for some reason it didn't occur to me that Madison is between Perry and Valdosta.My first stop was a truck stop which has a regular gas station and a diner and the only noticable damage seemed to be some trees in the area. It honestly wasn't much to write home about. Though moving back a little west to the exit just southeast of Madison told a different story. There you could see significant damage to the rooves of the diner and the hotels there, fast food restaurants were still closed, signs destroyed, it looked a lot like Perry did. The diner was actually closed too. I wasn't entirely sure why as there was damage but nothing that would close a business. My guess was it could possibly have been power but there's no way of knowing without talking to the employees, which I'll probably do when I have to go back in 2 weeks. That entire area, though, had seen a lot of damage. There was road work going on in a small section of the stretch toward Madison and now it had piles of trees laying on either side of the road in that section and the traffic cones remained. It's hard to tell what they're doing there but it looked like some trees had just so happened to fall in that small section.

It was later that day that I had been told that Madison had 100% power outage during the hurricane. Now, that report is a little sensationalized. During hurricanes, electric companies will often cut power to large sections of the area, if not the entire area to minimize electrical damage and that seems to be the case here. When I got into Madison, I noticed that there was very little damage to the building in the downtown area. Maybe an awning here or there but nothing that would have hinted at a category 3 hurricane having passed through it. The only signs of that were, again, the trees and related debris scattered throughout the entire town. Fallen trees on the sides of the road and powerlines lowered by damaged or fallen trees. And the trees are the biggest part of the damage with this storm. In many cases, it was the trees that destroyed the powerlines or the buildings and this area is heavily wooded. The most fascinating thing to me about hurricane damage is most apparent here. When I drove through the area last week, I saw many places where there were several trees down but in between them would be a small trailer home that was perfectly intact as if nothing had happened. In some cases, there was no significant damage anywhere on the property. Just some fallen trees on both sides outside of their property line.

Having completed all my stops in Madison and the surrounding area, I decided to work ahead a little and I went back down to Perry. The road there was mostly wooded and it was a lot of the same thing at this point. That said, it was still shocking. Large oak trees completely uprooted, ditches still filled with water, countless piles of wood and debris moved off the road. But the most chilling thing to me will always be the bent trees. I don't know what it is about them, I guess just the idea that something produces wind so powerful that it leaves fully grown pine trees bent over permanently that I find unsettling. I saw plenty of them on the way back down to Perry. On a few occasions, I even saw trees that were twisted by the storm. It's a less common phenomenon, but it happens when an area is hit by both sides of the eye wall. Wind bends a tree in one direction and then suddenly in the other direction. What's left is a tree that's fallen but the breaking point is in the middle where it looks like it's been twisted like a person could twist a twig.

When I got back into Perry, most of the damage was still there, but I'm happy to say that most businesses had power again and places had reopened. It looked less like a warzone and the town is quick on th path to recovery. Residential locations still seem to be out of power in some places, but at least now they're not deep in the dark and cut off from the rest of the world. I finally went back to the gas station where I told the manager to evacuate and I decided to ask how she and her family fared. Apparently they stayed and she said it was scary, but the house suffered no severe damage. The rest of the day was just servicing the few stops I had in town that I was scheduled to service on Friday and just observing the progress of the repairs.

Friday was the big day, though. The day I went into the belly of the beast. I had to service stops farther south than Perry. As I drove, I passed by the emergency services headquarters. It was a large clearing in the woods just off the highway which was filled with various mobile command, communication, and other trailers for seemingly all organizations involved in the disaster relief. The highway was filled with a lot of the same things as the road to Perry. Downed trees, bent trees, ditches filled with water. When I got to my first stop in the area, we talked a little about the storm. The store itself had power back the same day as the storm but the employees didn't get power back at their houses for about 4 or 5 days. The next stop was a gas station with one damaged pump but it still seemed to be functioning. The employees there told me they were out of power for most of the week following the storm. This area wasn't hit directly. It was just south of the bad part of the storm and that really showed. Places outside the eyewall saw small amounts of damage, but places in it were devastated.

The time had finally come for me to head to Steinhachee. At first, I was shocked with how little damage there seemed to be. I'm not sure how much of hurricane force winds the area received. But the vast majority of the damage in Steinhatchee was water damage due to the river flooding in the storm surge. There was one large bilboard as you drive into the area that was completely blown over. In the town itself, the water damage became abundantly clear just on the plain ground. There was less grass, you could see where water had flowed, and there were piles of building debris scattered throughout the town off the sides of the road. Overall, I was a little surprised. I expected more damage, especially having seen Perry.

But my expectations were suddenly met as I made my way over to the riverside area. I service a restaurant that is on the Steinhatchee River and I expected them to be closed, they were underwater a week ago. As I pulled into the parking lot, I noticed that all of the kitchen equipment was outside. I could have left right there, knowing that they were closed, but morbid curiosity took over along with my understanding that it's important to communicate with the owner if I could. I saw that the door was open and I walked in.

The entire building was gutted down to the 2x4s that made up the walls. They had to essentially rebuild the interior from the ground up. I found the owner and just got the rundown from him about the situation. He wasn't in the highest spirits, unsurprisingly, and he said he expected the place to be back up and running in November if they go by the same timeline as the last time they were hit 7 years ago. That timeline impresses me too. It seemed like they needed to replace everything. And in just 2 months? That's shocking. I gave the owners my contact information and I'll be staying in contact with them for the sake of my company and wanting to maintain the account but also just personal interest in this restaurant's recovery from the storm.

As I left the restaurant and began my trek back north, I took the riverside road to get to my last stop just outside of the town and the road featured what anyone might expect to see on such a road following a hurricane. But before I even got to that road, I got a bit of a wake up call by seeing a boat washed up on the other side of the road from a small runoff of the river washed up among trees and bushes surrounding something like a tiny retention pit about 30 feet at its longest point and 10 feet at its widest. On the road, though, there were people cutting up fallen trees, more piles of debris, and another washed up sailboat along the bank of the river. And the damage was sporadic. Some houses looked perfectly fine while others looked totally destroyed. Now, I imagine the water damage had the insides of the intact looking houses in a pretty terrible condition, but the outsides showed minimal damage despite everything.

The final stop was farther south and was just surrounded by some fallen and bent trees. There was nothing that really stood out like a washed up boat and the area was so remote that there wasn't much else besides trees. My drive home also featured nothing new since it was just driving through areas that I've already been through several times at this point. The thing that continues to shock me, aside from those damn trees, are the ditches and even some yards that are still filled with water because they are lower than the ground level. It's hard to believe that in the Florida sun, the water can still remain after over a week. Gladly, even the yards that have this problem don't seem to have any damage done to the actual houses and the residents are able to still get in and out of their houses without any significant effort.

This experience really drove home the urgency that I need to use the influence that I have to add to the list of people capable of helping during a natural disaster. Even if I find myself to be too busy focusing on other things to do it myself, I know that I have people who aren't too busy and will be capable and I'm the main line that keeps them between being able to help and not. So I'm simply going to do what I need so that they have that opportunity to help and I can be a source of encouragement rather than a burden.