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Brainerd Area Amateur Radio Club  

Hurricane Wilma Report from the Bradfields, November 26, 2005

Hi everyone,

As all of you know, Wilma has come and gone and Katie and I were very fortunate compared to many of our friends, neighbors, and lots of other folks in the Sunshine State. Although our power had been off in our absence, and it did go off during our first night at home, we did not lose our electric. We did not lose our water or phone, although on Tuesday following the leaving of Wilma we did have an intermittent phone problem when not all incoming calls were received. We suffered no structural damage to our house although the neighbors to either side did. the neighbors to our east lost their large screened in front entryway, and the neighbors to the west lost a number of shingles and several trees. We did not lose any trees or shrubbery, although there are a few trees that will require the services of a tree trimming company to remove some of the broken branches that are hanging in the upper reaches of some tree tops. I lost one radio antenna but the tower and other antenna are intact as is the weather station.

Our ALERT (All Lee Emergency Response Team) was activated late Sunday afternoon and we went to our assigned area, which happens to be the Cape Coral Emergency Operations Center.  We had an opportunity to listen to the emergency activity throughout the county. This included 9 or 10 shelters, 4 hospitals, and the county emergency operations center along with 3 remote emergency operations center, one of which was ours here in the Cape. Immediately in front of us, at the operating desk, were we had two ham radio transceivers on our desk, a weather station monitor, a TV set which was monitoring the combined reporting efforts of two local TV stations, and the county emergency radio which was locked on the emergency operations in Cape Coral.  So, we had an opportunity to keep abreast of everything that was going on in our county that was weather related.  One of the ham radios was for use in maintaining contact with the 3 shelters and 1 hospital in our sector which was essentially all of Cape Coral and Pine Island.  The second ham radio was to use in maintaining contact with the county emergency operations center, which as you well might expect was the nerve center of all emergency operations in the county and who maintained contact with the emergency operations in adjacent counties and the state emergency operations center as necessary.

From our center we were able to follow the progress of Wilma as she came ashore and moved northward towards the Ft. Myers/Cape Coral area. This included pictures and interviews coming from the 2 combined TV stations who had reporters scattered throughout southwest Florida. The worst of Wilma arrived in Cape Coral about 3:30.  We had the opportunity to go stand in the open door of the emergency operations center and listen to the wind and to watch the rain fall. One thing that impressed everyone who availed themselves of this opportunity was the scene of a swale just off the parking lot, which had filled with water developing whitecap waves on the small pond. Water had ponded on the parking lot and was producing small waves as well. The roar of the wind was horrific and it made it impossible to converse standing in the open door without almost shouting into the ear of the person standing next to you.  According to the anemometer at the emergency operations center, this was with sub-hurricane level winds. The highest wind speed observed by any of my colleagues in the radio room was something in the vicinity of 68 MPH.  When Katie and I went out to our car around 1:00 the winds were still blowing around 30 to 60 miles per hour and it was still difficult walking. If a gust of wind struck us, when moving forward into it, it would almost stop us dead.  When a gust would strike from the rear it had the opposite effect.  Several times I had to put the brakes on with the walker because the push was so hard.

During the heaviest rain and strongest wind, Katie made a bet with one of our colleagues as to whether or not our house would have water standing on the floor when we returned to it. The bet was that if there would be water on the floor, our colleague would take her out for dinner; and the opposite was also true. By the way, I was included as a dinner participant.  Katie is saying that this is one of the first bets that she will be happy to pay off since we did come home to a dry house.  Many Floridians were not quite so fortunate however. Due to flooding from storm serge, rain blowing in under doors, around windows, destroyed or damaged roofs, many people did have water in their abodes.  In some cases lots and lots of water.  So, we do consider ourselves as being extremely fortunate.

The projected time-line for people having their power back on is astounding. About three quarters of the people currently without power will have it restored by November 8th, and ninety-five percent restored by November fifteenth. That still leaves 5% of the currently powerless people without power into the last half of November.  Katie and I watched a crew restoring power up in Punta Gorda last year while we worked at Spirit Kitchen. We were surprised at what they had to go through and how long it took them.  It is not the company fault, nor is it that of the workers. It is simply a massive labor intensive job that must be done in an orderly prescribed manner. We watched while one crew removed the remnants of an old pole and wire while a second crew ran new wire and prepared the new pole before raising it. Then they used 2 cherry-pickers to raise the new pole, attach a new transformer, other necessary hardware, and the new wire. The total time required to do all of this before they were ready to move onto another new pole was about 2 hours. When I think of the thousands and thousands of new poles and miles of new wire that will be required for this complete restoration project, I can understand why it will take so long before the last people have power restored. One news report this afternoon stated that there are 6000 electrical workers in the state from all over the country including Canada working on the power restoration project.

Governor Bush stated that the local, state, and federal emergency programs were all in place to work swiftly and efficiently in meeting the needs of any hurricane victims.  I also heard that on the eastern side of the state, in one community, people were standing in line for as much as 12 hours to receive a bag of ice and 3 bottles of water. In Clewiston yesterday, people started lining up for water and ice about 10:00 AM, and they were still standing waiting at 4:30 PM waiting for someone to show up with the supplies. Their concern was that there was a curfew in place to begin at 6:00 PM and they were afraid even if the supplies did show up they might not be able to stay in line long enough to obtain them. They showed 3 streets with cars parked bumper to bumper as far as could be seen, and they said that there was one more street just the same as these 3 streets. Down in Naples they had a similar situation. The water and ice was to show up sometime in the morning.  Fairly late in the afternoon, two National Guard trucks showed up and distributed what they had available.  Then, as in Clewiston, they sent the rest of the people home. Any political considerations aside, this does not seem to suggest that things were quite ready to go in the victim relief-assistance program to me.  It has been made clear that no one is doing an finger pointing, but there is a report that they are opening 20 new distribution centers in the state tomorrow. That is still a long time for people who have not had access to safe water and food since last Sunday or possibly even Saturday. 

Here is another reason why we consider ourselves to be fortunate beyond imagination.  Late this afternoon Katie called some friends of ours who did not have power to offer them the use of our house while we are gone beginning this Saturday.  However, they had just had their power restored a few minutes before and were appreciative of our offer.

For a while this weekend Katie was concerned that things would go horribly wrong and that we might not be able to leave for our cruise this Saturday. However, everything has worked out just fine and we will have no problems keeping our schedule.  Now you have our tale of Wilma's coming and going and what we experienced and now think of that experience.  So, with this I will sign off for this round and extend our best wishes to each and everyone who will be reading this. We hope this finds you well and safe. Until somewhere on down the line, remember to stay healthy, to keep safe, and to take care. We will be in touch again soon.

Best wishes and fond regards from Gene KØTIW and Katie KBØDKD Bradfield, former members of the Brainerd Area Amateur Radio Club, now living in Florida.       

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