As Hurricane Frances whistled, howled and thumped outside, Paul and Ann Jutras comfortably watched college football, read and played cribbage in their home just two blocks from the storm-tossed Atlantic Ocean. They never considered evacuating.
“If you’re prepared, the biggest concern is losing power,” Paul Jutras said after the power briefly flickered off Saturday afternoon. The family later lost electricity for good but left their emergency generator switched off to conserve fuel.
The Jutrases, both 61, and son Paul Jr., 34, rode out the hurricane on this barrier island, snug inside a house they designed with a hurricane in mind. Paul Jutras, a retired Defense Department engineer who has ridden out storms on Navy ships, said he had it built twice as strong as the building code required.
At one point, as Paul Jutras stepped out onto his front porch, the neighbors’ shingles were flapping but his own roof was holding up well.
His house has a double roof, with an inner layer serving as a backup, extra beams, far thicker plywood than most builders use, and electric, self-closing hurricane shutters.
He tried to think of everything, removing larger trees near the house, building a fence with space between the slats so wind could blow through it and not blow it down, and reinforcing the screened-in porch around the pool.
Inside, the family cooked food and made sandwiches ahead of time, kept water and sodas in coolers so they wouldn’t have to open the refrigerator if power went out, and had morning coffee ready in thermoses.
As night fell Saturday, Paul Jutras stood on the front porch watching the sky, amazed you could still see lights from neighboring Merritt Island on the horizon. Then an eerie blue flash lit up the sky, brighter than lightning.
“Transformers,” he said.
Coming back inside, he said, “This is when it gets scary, when it gets dark and you hear all the noise but you can’t see anything.”
The family read briefly by flashlight and then went to bed, but sleep didn’t come easily.
“I had three good hours of sleep,” said Ann Jutras. “I didn’t shut off the radio because I wanted to listen for the tornado warnings.”
The noise outside didn’t help. They got up at 5 a.m. Sunday to watch the storm from the front porch, occasionally stepping around the corner — quickly — to look for damage.
“It’s really dangerous out there,” Paul said. “The yard’s covered with shingles.”
The shingles were from neighboring homes — not theirs, which held up well except for losing some strips of aluminum underneath the eaves.
After rolling up the hurricane shutter on the north side of the house to check on their screen-enclosed pool, they noticed a door flapping and part of their fence down and tried to secure both.
As they did, a neighbor’s back porch blew away, and sheets of aluminum flew past.
“It was just rocking and rocking and the whole thing came off the base. It just came apart all at once,” he said.
The TV cable was out, but they heard on the radio that Cape Canaveral, a couple miles to the north, had measured wind up to 125 mph. Fortunately, the storm surge they worried would come rolling up from the beach never came and streets remained unflooded.
Paul called an out-of-state friend.
“I’m getting blasted,” he reported calmly. “Yeah, we stayed here. ... It’s been at us now, rocking and rolling since 4 o’clock yesterday afternoon. Boy, are we getting hammered.”
Ann Jutras knocked on wood that the house would continue to hold up well.
“This was a real true test of what we did with the extra stuff,” her husband said proudly. “I can’t find any mistakes.”
Still, she wasn’t so sure she’d want to wait out another storm at home, especially if it was stronger than Frances.
“I don’t know if I’d stay if this were a (category) 3 or a 4,” she said. “Definitely not if it were a 4, even if I had to push him out the door.”