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Hurricanes
AUGUST 2005
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Multimedia: Global Storms
Multimedia: Birth of Isabel
In some cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.
Photograph by Rebecca Hale



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Hurricanes






    It feels flippant to offer up a personal "best" regarding a battery of storms that killed a few thousand people. But residents of the hurricane-ravaged areas were able to find bright spots among the gloom. Countless people found relief in the round of morning-after calls that established that family and friends made it through OK.
         There were other little things: A man I met in Navarre Beach, Florida—lugging heavy tools over a partially washed-out bridge to repair his damaged home—thanked heaven for the cool, low-humidity air Hurricane Ivan left in its wake. At the other end of the state, a woman who lives near Palm Beach, which had been brushed by the outer bands of Hurricane Jeanne the day before, reveled in the lack of tourists on the wide, sunny, and empty beach where her children played in the sand.
    I was impressed by the stoicism and good humor of people who had lost—in many cases—their homes and nearly all their possessions. I sensed an almost gung-ho enthusiasm to attack the problem and put things back together. There wasn't a hint of despair. But I wonder how many of them are doing now. As I did follow-up reporting months after my trip, I spoke to several people who still had not returned to their houses and were battling insurance companies for payment. While some of the lucky ones have been able to rent or buy new homes, thousands of people are still living in temporary shelters brought in by the federal government, and others are staying with family. The worst of it is, while they wait, a new hurricane season is already revving up.     Brilliant travel tip: If you're headed for a town that has just been, or is about to be, hit by a hurricane, and the word "Beach" is in the town's name, don't assume your online hotel booking is worth the paper you printed it on. That's what I learned after a travel agent reserved a room for me in Pensacola Beach, Florida. I arrived in the Pensacola area just after Ivan had passed over, so I never discovered whether that beachfront high-rise establishment still existed; Pensacola Beach had been entirely evacuated and shut down a few days earlier. Luckily I was able to make a deal with a friendly local businessman to bunk in his office in a nearby mainland town, sparing me the necessity of sleeping in my rental car. You'd think I would learn my lesson after that, but no. There I was some days later, standing outside an abandoned hotel in Delray Beach, Florida, with a foolish look on my face, holding a printout of my reservation. Having had my fill of beaches and with no fresh hurricanes out at sea, I called it a trip and flew home the next day.
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