Temas Especiales

22 de Jan de 2021

Nacional

Hurricanes kill stupid people

You know who I’m talking about.. Residents who care more about their homes than their lives. Revelers who show their ‘bravery’ by tryin...

You know who I’m talking about.

Residents who care more about their homes than their lives. Revelers who show their ‘bravery’ by trying to walk upright in 100 mph winds. Surfers who feel it’s ‘cool’ to ride giant hurricane-generated waves. And, CNN weather reporters who are sent outside because it makes a better video backdrop.

The smart people are the 2 million plus who got out of town.

Hurricane Gustav was a dangerous Category 4 storm that caused millions of dollars in property damage and killed over 90 people before blasting Louisiana’s coast as a Category 3 storm with 115 mph winds accompanied by 140 mph gusts. Three years ago, hurricane Katrina, also a Category 3 storm, killed 1500 people.

Why were fewer people killed this time?

They smartened up—because they were scared. Residents knew that hurricanes are one of the few natural disasters that give days of warnings before striking. Days that were used to relocate inland to higher ground, or spend boarding up homes and apartments.

Most people living in Panama, well outside of the ‘hurricane belt’, have probably never experienced a hurricane’s fury and have no real idea of the force and random destruction associated with these storms.

In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, I have gone through two Category 1 and one Category 2 hurricanes in my beachside condo. I had stayed behind because storm shelters would not take my two cats.

Even though they were several rankings below the deadliest Category 5 hurricane, these storms, created strong winds, gusts and tornadoes that caused many deaths and horrendous damage to property and the environment.

I was stupid to have stayed behind. Knowing what I know now, if I hear a hurricane is approaching, me and the cats will be long-gone before the first winds start to blow.

I’ll never forget what happens when Category 2 Hurricane Wilma blew from dusk to dawn:

You are alone.

The day of the ‘cane’s arrival, skies were clear with a gentle breeze that picked up in intensity as clouds moved in. TV and radio stations switched to an exclusive hurricane-news format with repetitive ‘what to do’ segments, even after it was too late to do much of anything. No gasoline, ice, batteries, flashlights, or plywood and supermarket shelves were bare.

Civility crumbled as people cut into line, ran through red lights, and fought over cans of milk. Police were too busy to respond. Firefighters went door-to-door handing out ‘toe tags’, so people who wished to stay behind could be easily identified at the hospital or morgue.

Wind is the enemy.

The breeze became a wind later that evening, with frequent gusts of 50 mph and stinging sheets of rain.

Approaching midnight, those gusts doubled in force as the wind blew about 105 mph and telephone pole-mounted electrical transformers began ‘popping’ all over the city as they exploded in balls of flame.

No electricity, no water, no elevator, and no phone. But, plenty of kitty litter.

At 96-110 mph, with 140 mph+ gusts, the wind becomes a Category 2 killer. Anyone caught outside will likely be speared or crushed by flying debris, blown away, or electrocuted by downed wires.

Remember how you’d stick your hand out of a car’s window as it speeded up to 50 mph? The more vertical your palm the more it would be blown backwards? Imagine, what would happen if you walked out into a 100 mph storm.

Other dangers

In addition to the wind, the tidal surge waters will destroy many homes and crush or drown their occupants. Others will be swept away into floating debris, rocks, and overturned cars. Doesn’t matter if you can swim or not; the rushing waters are just too strong.

As the storm passes, there’s an all-enveloping blackness and loud, deep rumble that many liken to a train or 18-wheeler passing beside you. The wind becomes shriller where it leaks through your doors and windows.

Metal shutters bang as they are struck by rocks, tree limbs, flower pots, and lawn furniture. Unshuttered windows shatter. You cannot look out, since any opening can create a pathway for the wind to blow down the apartment walls or blow off your home’s roof.

Beware the ‘eye’

After a few hours of this, everything may become dead calm and quiet for a half-hour or so (all these times depend upon the size, speed, and intensity of the storm). Peeking out, you will see an eerily, clear night sky with stars shining brightly, without any distracting lights from the city. This is the eye of the storm.

It is the time when many people are killed because they mistakenly believe the storm has passed.

Soon the winds will pick up to their former intensity and blow from the opposite direction. Palm trees and roofs that were bent or loosened earlier will be uprooted or blown away because they are too weak to withstand another onslaught from the opposite side.

“See it like a native”

Finally, by mid-morning, the skies will clear, a gentle breeze will blow, once again, and you will be thankful you’re alive.

That’s what a Category 2 Florida hurricane is like. As the Florida Chamber of Commerce says, “See Florida like a native”. Then, move to Panama.