Editor's note: This article details my experiences with Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
Many of you know that I live in Daytona Beach Shores, and as I mentioned in an email to my readers earlier this week, I was busy preparing for the arrival of Hurricane Matthew.
Needless to say, it was a very stressful week.
By the end of the day Wednesday, most reports were that we were in for a very bad Category 4 or 5 hit, so with two little kids at home, we made the decision to evacuate inland to Orlando.
The (Not So) Calm Before the Storm
We are one of about 5 units out of 59 units in our oceanfront condo building with hurricane shutters, so we packed up the important things, rolled the shutters down, hit the road, and hoped for the best.
More than half of the residents in our building stayed behind, even though we were under a mandatory evacuation.
A “mandatory” evacuation doesn’t really mean they can force you to go, it just means “we STRONGLY urge you to leave and we’re not coming to save you if you need help.”
Built in 2003, our condo building is one of the newer properties along our stretch of beach, and it weathered the four hurricanes we had back in 2004 just fine, so people were confident that they would be safe.
That said, the police chief, who also serves as head of the pubic safety department for our city, actually lives in our building.
He was required to stay behind no matter what and run his department, but as we were leaving, we ran into his wife in the elevator.
Like us, she was also on her way out.
From everything the chief had heard about the storm, he pretty much forced her to leave and go inland.
You could tell she was sad to leave … worried about her condo and her husband … and this made us fully realize the magnitude of the situation, which did not help us emotionally.
What would we come home to?
When would we be able to come home?
I paid the insurance, right?
These questions and so many more would weigh on our minds for days.
The Eye of the Storm
Being away from your home in a situation like this is tough.
About the only thing that kept me from going insane worrying about our condo from 60 miles away were the email updates I’d get every few hours from our next door neighbor. Thanks Paul!
But even reading those updates could be a little bit unnerving.
Here's one of them:
We are right in the middle the eye now.
35 foot waves and 10 foot surge to the top of the sea wall.
Car parked in our basement garage; should be fine.
Very scary. So far no water intrusion with over 130 mph winds.
New Hyatt Place next door: entire roof blew off last night. South side of us.
Those in ocean front units (us) cannot see around the side but we keep in contact.
North side is taking the brunt with counterclockwise winds.
Talk about a bucket list check off!
Paul says we were getting 130 mph winds, but some weather people say that because the storm stayed an extra 20-30 miles offshore, it was more like 90-100 mph winds.
But you certainly can't fault Paul. In a condo, 90 mph winds sound like 130!
Another friend in a different condo who stayed behind (they said never will they again) described it as being in a tornado for 18 hours.
Pretty hairy stuff!
It definitely took a few adult beverages to help me make it through the peak hours of the storm.
Unlike most of the neighborhoods around us, the condo never lost power. We have an old-fashioned landline and answering machine at home, and I'd call just about every hour to see if it was still on.
It always was.
We also had several friends and family members who stayed behind in various parts of town, and we were worried sick about them too.
One thing that was nice was being able to keep in touch and updated on their status through text and Facebook, at least until their cell phones died because they lost power and couldn't charge their phones.
Facebook was just born in 2004, when Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne came through, and texting was not as prevalent then as it is today.
Our city and county governments are also active on social media, and that proved to be a great way to keep up with everything that was going on.
In the end, the storm stayed 20-30 miles further east that meteorologists had predicted, so we were spared the full force.
Our unit thankfully had zero damage.
A few leaves had blown in under the front door. A towel that we had placed in one of the sliding glass door tracks had a tiny bit of wetness.
But other than that, nada.
Our building itself is still being inspected for damage, but so far it appears we came away pretty much unscathed.
Here's an email from the property manager of the building:
The damage to the building includes broken flower pots, plants and trees missing limbs/leaves, debris in the pool and spa, broken/missing tiles from the roof (not a lot, just a few areas), the north stairwell exhaust fan cover came off the roof, a few of the a/c units have broken/missing hurricane straps (these are the older hurricane straps, the newer a/c units have a different strap that anchors it differently, but all the units on the roof seem to be in good shape), damage to two light poles on the top parking deck, the bench at the beach entrance is broken, and other minor things.
Like I said before, ours is a newer building, and a lot of the older buildings, houses and businesses around us weren't so lucky.
Here's a video from The Weather Channel of some of the havoc Matthew caused in our area:
Friends and family who stayed had lots of trees down, shingles missing, fences torn apart, and pool screens destroyed.
Yes, it will take weeks to clean everything up, but it could have been much worse.
Things to Consider
If you're new to all this hurricane business, this video does a great job of getting you up to speed on how they form:
If you're thinking about Florida for retirement, you shouldn't let the thought of hurricanes keep you away.
Since Hurricane Andrew destroyed Homestead, FL in 1992, Florida has enacted some of the toughest building codes in the country, and, they've only gotten stronger since the four hurricanes we had in 2004.
To be sure, the damage you see on the news is most often older properties, built well before the 1990's.
Where you build also has an impact.
Coastal areas will typically experience more damage than inland areas, usually due to flooding.
Homes on lots with few trees will experience less damage than homes on heavily wooded lots.
Common sense type stuff.
Building codes aren't the only thing that have improved since Hurricane Andrew in the 1990's.
Government response both before and after storms has also vastly improved.
I have to give credit to our state, county, and local governments. I believe the jobs they did saved lives.
At the time of this writing the Florida death toll stands at 6.
It could have been so much higher if we weren't so well prepared.