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CJ: Far from normal in Wilma's aftermath

A family from Boynton Beach, Fla., describes the aftermath of the hurricane

Editor's note: Gena McCown of Boynton Beach, Fla., describes the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma on her community, which is 55 miles north of Miami. This essay was submitted Thursday, Oct. 27

On any given morning, from my apartment window, I awake to the sounds of people hustling and bustling as they rush out to work.  My husband being one of them, a quick kiss and out the door he goes.  I follow shortly after, joining the parents on the road to drop children off at school.  Traffic is tough, there never seems to be enough time.  I come back home with my littlest, who isn't school aged yet, and go about my day.  The traffic of the neighborhood is at all hours, people coming home from work for a quick lunch break, moms with their children, retirees walking their dogs, school buses, taxi cabs, and new tenants checking out the model apartments to determine if they want to live here.  It is business as usual... but not today.

This morning I awoke to the hum of generators echoing through the neighborhood and chainsaws ripping through the downed trees.  The smell of gasoline from the equipment replaces the light salty air, and enters my windows.  All the windows are open because it has been 48 hours so far without power, without phone, and terrible cellular reception.  It has been 48 hours since the eye wall of Hurricane Wilma first began to rush by South Florida.  My husband is here, because there is no reporting to work this week.  My oldest is home, because there is no school this week.  It is hardly business as usual.

The good news is that there are a few stores with power!  We get dressed, load up the kids and drive.  Not because we need anything but mainly because we just want something to do, something to get us out of the house.  What luck was in store for us as we approached Wal Mart.  Traffic was too bad, despite there being no streetlights.  As we enter we see the food center is OPEN and serving HOT meals.  My husband gets in line for a HOT pizza to bring home, as the children and I shop for anything.  We restock on our non-perishables, as we have heard by this point it could be many weeks without power.  We luck out on trying to find a camping stove, they are all sold out, but luck would allow us the last chaffing dish in the store.  We come home enjoying the pizza, and dropping over a second pie to our neighbors. 

We take stock of the neighborhood.  Trees are down everywhere and cars are smashed, some beyond repair.  We try and get a decent cellular reception to get in touch with family to ensure all are okay.  Good news from the relatives, some damage but all are ok and accounted for.  The children play outside in the thankfully cool air from the cold front that followed the hurricane, while we discuss how we are going to handle household things during the weeks without power.  We discuss the new house we are in the process of buying, at this point we can't get in touch with our realtor, the sellers, the mortgage office or the inspector who is supposed to be inspecting the home this week.  Not even knowing if that home still is standing, or what condition it is in.  We spend our evening playing board games by candlelight again and enjoying another night of soup for dinner.  Finally it is just too dark, too quite to stay awake.  We head to bed.  Usually in the evenings, we hear cars coming and going at all hours due to the variety of ages and people who live here.  Not tonight, we are under curfew and the neighborhood is quiet and pitch black.  The one advantage to having no city lights, is the beautiful showing of stars in the night sky.  Breathtaking.

Around 1:30 a.m., we hear the strangest noise, something right out of a horror movie.  This loud crushing and snarling mechanical sound.  It takes a moment to sink in, but then suddenly light a bolt of lightening it hits us... the power is ON!  We have electricity!  The mangling sound was the sound of the AC units starting up, with all the branches and leaves that had fallen on them vibrating off the cases and leaves crunching inside the fan.  We are one of the lucky ones again!  First the hot pizza, second the chaffing dish and lady luck struck a third time as we felt the air conditioning flow in the house.  We were on the last of our ice, so we threw the cold items in the freezer and went back to bed.  Over 72 hours have passed, and we are heading back to business as usual in the neighborhood.  We have power, we have internet access, still no regular phone, still no strong cellular reception... but we are connected to the rest of the world once again.  The sound of chainsaws still to be heard in the early morning, but muffled by the sound of some people returning to work.  The gasoline and hums of generators are not to be found here.  Happy faces are seen on the faces of all you pass by as you are taking out the trash, checking for the morning paper or to see if the mail actually came today.  The apartment managers are taking stock of repairs that need to be made, residents are sharing stories and life resumes. 

Then you go down the street and see that life is far from resuming for many more.  We are a part of the few, the lucky.  We are blessed, and we are very thankful.

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