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Saturday, November 26, 2005

A diverted trip....

A planned trip to Australia this week was diverted to Florida due to a family emergency, and I have been getting lost around the area north of Ft. Lauderdale running various errands. As a result I have seen quite a bit more of this area than I would have otherwise. Some observations:

First, I suspect you really don't get a good idea about the damage of a hurricane unless you visit an area that has been hit hard several weeks later. We all get to see the wind driven rains as the storm is in progress, and we often see the damage done in the immediate aftermath. But even with Katrina, the visuals (and often the story) disappears or begins to fade with time.

It has been more than one month since Wilma crossed the Florida peninsula on October 24, and the cleanup and repairs are still very much in progress. I happen to be staying in the area of Ft. Lauderdale that took the main hit of Wilma, and it shows. Relatively neat stacks of debris are found on many streets as people are just getting around to clearing their homes of damaged carpets and furniture. There are some palm trees down, and many of those that are standing have only one branch emerging out of their long cylinder trunks -- and those with more have only one healthy looking branch among the bunch. The branches that did not make it are scattered all over the streets and roads -- a full month later, mind you.... Large stumps along the sides of the roads are evidence that a great many other mature trees of various kinds were casualties of Wilma. Cypress trees remain bent over and broken, as do street signs of all sorts You can almost track the strength of the wind and course of the storm in the commercial areas where store fronts and signs are mangled or broken.

Another dimension of the damage shows up in the health care system. I have been hanging about a local hospital over the past few days, and through the anecdotal evidence it seems that Wilma is having a delayed but long term impact on the health of some folks. For some, festering conditions were triggered and new ailments took root as the days (and in some cases weeks) without power, stress and accidents linked to the cleanup took their toll. Infections, respiratory and heart problems seem common. Again, this is with a month gone by.

Two things should be noted to put this particular storm event in context. According to one individual who has lived here quite awhile, despite the region's general exposure to hurricanes each year, Wilma was the first one in memory (45 years was the figure given) in which the community around Margate, FL got a direct hit from a major storm. In addition, Wilma was a bit of a unique event, coming through as quickly as it did from the west. (I was in the same location when another hurricane came through Florida several years ago – I believe it was 2001 -- and that was bad enough as I watched in awe as the street flooding and wind and rain created a lasting impression on me; the residents took that one in stride, so I can only imagine what this must have been like since every one I speak with tells me they had never experienced the conditions of Wilma in all their years in Margate).

Looking over the stack of mail in the household I am staying with, I notice that FEMA and the local authorities really do seem to be on top of this event. The city even leaves phone messages regarding cleanup schedules and related announcements. No one seems to be complaining (and it seems that this is a community prone to complaining), so all must be going well. It is clear from my roaming about the shopping areas during this "big sales" period that the consumer economy is doing okay as well.

On a personal level, my family member seems to be on the road to recovery, but I have several days remaining before I head back north. More observations -- and perhaps some pics -- to follow....

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