Hurricane Wilma blew through town nine years ago today, on Oct. 24, 2005. After a record nine seasons, it remains the last hurricane to hit Florida. For millions of South Floridians, it also remains a vivid memory, including me. Here I reprise an earlier blog I wrote about my experience with the storm:
Standing in front of a large picture window, nine stories up in a downtown Fort Lauderdale hotel, I saw the storm roar in. Below, the surface of New River began churning and frothing. Boats bucked at their moorings.
Then the winds came in sideways, howling, menacing. The hotel swayed slightly. Objects whistled through the air, mostly vegetative debris. Rain came down in sheets. The streets were empty.
Suddenly, some of the boats broke free, careening up and down the river, smashing into the seawalls and other vessels, like a violent game of bumper cars. The canvass and steel structure atop one large ship shredded right off.
In retrospect, I was darn lucky that picture window didn’t blow out, as did many of the windows in high-rise buildings on the morning of Oct. 24, 2005, when Hurricane Wilma galloped in on the back of a cold front. If it had, I might have been writing this from that big newsroom in the sky.
But that hotel, the Riverside, was where I had spent the night to be in position to report to work the next morning, and my perch provided a spectacular view of Mother Nature’s fury.
The storm was still in full force when four co-workers and I maneuvered our way through a maze of stairwells and hallways to find the bottom floor, as the electricity was out, and the elevators were iffy.
But once we hit ground level, we were delighted to find the hotel restaurant had managed to remain open. So we all wolfed down pancakes and scrambled eggs by candlelight.
By the time the worst of it had passed, this region had been badly trashed, including my own home, by the way. My entire pool screen had been ripped from where it had been attached to my house – and dumped unceremoniously into my swimming pool.
That evening, an eerie, deep orange and purple sunset settled in. After all that tropical turmoil, it was magnificent — and cold, too.
That, for many South Floridians, was the first real experience with the eye of a hurricane, and in the aftermath, their lives were thrown off kilter for weeks, even months. Millions were left without power. Long lines formed at gas stations. Blue tarps covered damaged roofs.
Many were amazed that Wilma hit most of the region with Category 1 winds, as they were convinced the storm had to be much stronger.
Therein lies Wilma’s real message: Even a minimal hurricane can cause tremendous damage and disruption, and compared to the likes of an Andrew or a Katrina, that’s what Wilma was – minimal, at least when it reached this region.
Nine years later, we’re lucky we have yet to experience another similar storm.