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Friday, Sep 21, 2018
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Tampa Bay Hurricane Guide

Carlton: The destructive, unpredictable whim of a hurricane

Here’s what a lot of us think, truth be told, every time those computer models start stretching their colored tentacles toward the place we live:

Please not here.

Please not us.

A fierce and powerful hurricane hurtled toward the East Coast this week, another monster storm with another deceptively friendly name — this time, Florence.

And this time, not us. But we know something about how it feels for the people who live there.

We know the rush to get ready or get out. We know the dread and the weird quiet beforehand when there’s nothing left to do but wait. We know wind that sounds like no other wind.

You hope that the times in your adult life when you are actually afraid will be few, but a hurricane bearing down on your town is one of them.

By now a lot of us have prepared for, fled from or hunkered down for a hurricane. They are the dark side of an otherwise pretty good life here, like fiery red ant bites you will suffer if you live here long enough, or sinkholes, or alligators that turn up where you would rather they not, or stepping off our famous sugar-sand beaches into the surf and getting a jolting sting from a ray. It’s the stink and burn of a Red Tide algae bloom that leaves behind a stunning amount of dead marine life.

It was not good news that the politics of disaster were boiling over even before Florence hit land, before we got any glimpse of how well government will handle it.

But President Trump was already having his own Brownie’s-doing-a-heckuva-job moment, calling response to the disaster that left nearly 3,000 dead in post-hurricane Puerto Rico an "incredible, unsung success" and accusing Democrats of ginning up the numbers to make him look bad.

Get ready for a whole lot of that after this one.

Back in 1992 it was Hurricane Andrew slamming into my hometown of Miami, Charley hitting our west coast in 2004 — a terrible year — and Wilma hurtling across South Florida in 2005.

And one year ago this week, it was powerful Irma hitting Florida, tracking for us.

It is our ritual: You wait in line to buy your bottled water and canned tuna and batteries and you tell other people good luck and be safe. Things that mattered, like whatever the politicians were yelling at each other about at the time, suddenly don’t. The world goes basic: where to go, what you need, whether people you care about will be okay. If you are the least bit smart, you leave when they tell you to.

And you wonder what the world will look like afterward.

Irma left destruction, but by some whim of fate or piece of luck, Tampa Bay was largely spared as we hunkered down and the storm passed to our east.

The next morning outside my window were frogs that had been croaking in a chorus during the storm — hundreds of frogs, still going, lusty and loud. I’ve never been so happy to hear frogs. And even so, a massive tree lay across my neighbor’s crumpled roof, all the other houses untouched. A hurricane is mindless, deadly power.

You hope your neighbors — right now the ones on the East Coast — get to step outside afterward and take in the damage and start thinking about how to rebuild.

Because that’s what we do.

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