Reporter's Notebook: Waiting for Wilma

Published October 24, 2005

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Jeff Goldblatt

Sunday, October 23 — 6:00 pm:

Not that the NFL needs proof of its popularity, but football was on the menu today in Ft. Myers Beach at a place called the Tiki Bar. (I kid you not, that is REALLY the name of the place.) Instead of boarding up or sandbagging, I counted nearly 50 football fans ingesting grub, imbibing beer, and digesting a Sunday ritual.

One guy wore a Ravens jersey, another had on his Giants t-shirt, but the Steelers fan was the loudest. He was the most intoxicated too, asking his buddy to recap nearly every play.

If Sundays were meant for football, hurricanes were meant for booze — so goes the thought process of many. The Packers fan told us, "I'm not worried about the hurricane. I'm just here to see the Packers play." That's cool. America is all about personal freedom. But honey, Brett Favre throws touchdowns. He can't pluck you from your roof should your house fill with water.

Chances are there will be water in this beach community. Most of the island is no higher than five feet above sea level. At this hour, the town grocery store parking lot is packed with vehicles. Obviously, Thanksgiving is a month away, so the cars aren't a direct reflection of a food rush. Instead, residents are abandoning their cars on what little "high ground" there is on this barrier island.

So far, we've seen nothing more than a spit of a sprinkle at our location. We know we're in for a soaking. The question is, will the Steelers fan even notice?

Saturday, October 22 — 2:00 pm:

The evacuation of Ft. Myers Beach began in earnest two hours ago — town order. If my 2 year old son disobeyed me the way some residents here are defying their town, I would be in a heap of hurt!

From the park bench where I have planted my behind, I can see locals by the handful sucking down suds at open outdoor restaurants. One of which just served this writer a tasty tuna sandwich on toasted rye. If you're interested, you can still get your hands on a raft or a beach umbrella. Suntan lotion is also for sale on a day when the rays are far from ideal for bronzing. And rather than leave this town, I'm seeing cars race across a bridge to get back INTO town. When I was a kid I used to get in trouble for failing to listen to my parents' orders. This day reminds me an order isn't always an order. Oftentimes, it's merely a strong suggestion.

Considering this town's recent hurricane history, I find the complacency I'm seeing, at least at this hour, somewhat startling. It was only last summer that Hurricane Charlie slammed into Punta Gorda, just a 45-minute drive to the north of us. That day, a storm surge washed across this town from the Gulf of Mexico to the back bay. Several feet of water covered the entire stretch of this barrier island. A hotel owner told me it took four days to get his power restored. A few businesses here have yet to reopen.

My perspective, as I'm playfully reminded by my wife at times, is far from the gospel. The mayor says the evacuation order is going quite well. He's characterizing the downtown as "dead," compared to a typical Saturday this time of year. Hizzoner speaks from history. I'm just an interloper with a starkly different take on the definition of "evacuation." To the mayor's credit, however, his administration seems to be doing everything it can to prepare the town for Wilma. He can't help it if residents opt to stay put.

Friday, October 21 — 10:20pm:

$458.57 — That was the damage inflicted at the Wal-Mart in Ft. Myers as we stockpiled necessities for Wilma. Tom's flashlight made the cut. Picked out a stainless steel Mag-Light for myself. Amid, the heap of ecclectic non-perishables, the light blue boxes of baby wipes were the most colorful items purchased. I've never been sure why the manufacturers of baby wipes make their packaging so bright. Perhaps, it's to help the bleary-eyed parents of the world during those unspeakable hours of the night.

Pardon the digression. Back to Wilma and our preparation.

My shopping spree at Wal-Mart was far from "mission accomplished," as some of the most vital items were picked clean from the shelves. An irony of these storms is that although meteorologists predict rain by the inches, there's typically NO bottled water to be found in the supermarket. Ice coolers were sold out too. A few stops later, we found enough water to supply a parched camel. Shopping complete.

A mandatory evacuation order has been issued for Ft. Myers Beach, where we have decided to ride out the storm...at least for now. Typically, my fate during a hurricane is about as unpredictable as the storm itself. Just because you start out in Ft. Myers does not mean it's where you will end up. It's all up to Mother Nature and the "mother ship" of FOX News. One place, however, I hope to be nowhere near is New Orleans. No one deserves a hit from a hurricane, and those people have already suffered enough!

On the most miniscule of levels, this writer is currently grappling with a gut-wrenching situation himself. The karaoke, tone-deaf rendition of Bon Jovi, belting from the stage where I am trying to eat, is one of the more mind bending things I have ever heard. Kind of reminds me of a hungry dog howling for his food.

Thursday, October 20:

Sleeping bag. Check. Rain gear. Check. Flashlight. Forgot it. @#$%!!! Looks like I'll be picking one up in Ft. Myers. Same with my photographer. He usually packs three flashlights, or so he tells me. Left them at home along with ALL of his clothes. At least he has a plausible explanation. Tom is a first-time father. This is his first out-of-town trip since the birth of his daughter two weeks ago.

Speaking of babies...@#$%!!! Just realized I forgot another essential: baby wipes. Those dainty sheets of soft material go a long way when a water system is knocked off-line and you're sorely in need of a shower.

After covering three hurricanes this summer (Dennis, Katrina, Rita), and many more over the years, you'd think I'd have the knack of packing for these trying and, some might argue, maddening journalistic adventures. The flashlight forgetfulness shines a light on reality.

Wilma is a frightening beast. It's foolish to think that just because we flirt with Mother Nature's fury, that we don't weigh the dangers of these storms. Preparation is the key: mentally, physically and logistically.

In my book (not that I have any intention of writing one), logistics take top priority: A sheltered hotel, an experienced and technically savvy crew, a capable and sound-minded satellite truck operator. They are all of utmost importance in the fight to keep you on the air. If a car is missing a key part, it won't run. Same goes in my business — more so during a hurricane when a string of sleepless nights is as inevitable as the meals of tuna fish, beef jerky, and chips of all varieties.

URL

http://www.foxnews.com/story/2005/10/24/reporter-notebook-waiting-for-wilm-116013066