A Flood of Frances

Small hurricane stories pack a wallop

Why? It's the safety, stupid.

There are no invigorating glimpses of waves or romps with a football for shelter dwellers.

Cross to the beach? Uh-uh.
Colby Katz
Cross to the beach? Uh-uh.
This lone martini glass marked the beginning of a hurricane party at Georgie's Alibi on Friday.
Audra Schroeder
This lone martini glass marked the beginning of a hurricane party at Georgie's Alibi on Friday.

Melanie Guevara and her family were among the first to sign in at the Red Cross shelter set up at Palm Beach Central High School in Wellington. Like the rest of the 4,000 Frances refugees who ended up there, they were assigned a corridor but provided with no cots or sleeping bags. She; her boyfriend, Gildardo; her 14-year-old daughter, Marissa; and the girl's month-old baby boy spent Thursday night sleeping on the floor. So Friday morning, Guevara raced back to her Lake Worth trailer home to collect a couple of air mattresses.

Still, with the wind gusting outside, the 33-year-old with long brown hair and a pierced right eyebrow can't sleep.

"Even at 3 a.m., I'm outside watching the wind," she says. "I'm getting claustrophobia in the hallways, and I'm stressed about my kids."

Three of her daughters -- aged 8, 11, and 12 -- are staying with her mother in Greenacres.

Guevara has pitched in as a Red Cross volunteer, helping to make sandwiches for those staying at the shelter, participating in the cleanup squad, and translating for Spanish-speaking shelter-dwellers. So far, she has helped to break up fights and delivered lunches to the restless mass of people. She has also helped to clean up after a woman who arrived sick and bleeding.

By Saturday afternoon, the chaos of foam out to sea beyond Fort Lauderdale has coalesced into sets of colossal rollers ten feet high, breaking from left to right in perfect glassy tubes. On the reef a half-mile out, the surf is so massive that it looks like a snow-covered mountain range, the tops sheared off by the wind. But there's bad news for the Cutlar crowd. A visitor from the mainland has brought word that they are now outside the "cone of probability" that predicts Frances' landfall.

At 5 p.m., a neighbor spreads the news that the Hut, a bar and package store just off Sunrise on the mainland side of the bridge, is still open. Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle has banned liquor sales on the island, and there's virtually nothing open. The Cutlar party is running perilously short of booze and smokes, so they decide to make a supply run.

The Hut is packed with partiers. Cutlar and Co. lay in more supplies: Jäeger, whiskey, juice, and cigarettes. The loud music, lights, and crowd are disorienting after hours of isolation on the island.

By 10 p.m., they come to the sad realization that the storm will not get any worse. For a long moment, a feeling of gloom settles over the party as Cutlar and friends sit in the candlelight and listen to the rain against the storm shutters.

"I'm ready for this to be over," McClure says. She estimates that the storm has cost her $1,000 in lost weekend waitressing shifts.

Del Rosal brings over an ornate bongo drum, and they pass around the chilled Jäeger. The mood picks up. Cutlar fires up the propane stove and creates a concoction of Ramen noodles, eggs, tuna, and spices. The hurricane party gets rolling again; the only missing ingredient is Frances.

Alan Patrusevich, owner of West Palm Beach's bohemian Quonset hut art studios, heard his roof fly away sometime after midnight. He got out of bed just in time to see Mother Nature make a skylight above his head. Then he watched by flashlight as walls lifted into the darkness. "I wanted to see the end," the silver-haired Patrusevich explains later while sipping a bottle of Miller behind his cluttered desk. "Curiosity, morbid curiosity, that's all. It has nothing to do with courage."

Hurricane Frances claimed a hefty chunk of the rear portion of the barracks-style Quonset hut, which has been home to artists and musicians for more than a decade. Patrusevich says the weakest part of the building, an expansion "scabbed on" in the 1950s, drifted into space in the 100-mph winds. Even with a section of his home/business gone, Patrusevich sees Frances as a partial blessing. The fact that the Quonset hut didn't disintegrate in the storm could actually help him keep the place.

Last month, city officials decided that the Quonset hut was so dilapidated that it should be torn down. Patrusevich appealed. Now he hopes his success riding out Frances shows that the buildings are strong enough to withstand the worst. Besides, Patrusevich is hopeful the hurricane has given the city better things to do. "They've got bigger fish to fry than me now," Patrusevich says. "At least, I hope so."

Sunday morning brings a citywide driving ban to the sodden citizens of Jupiter, which has taken the brunt of Frances. The entire town is without electricity. High-tension power lines hang like black snakes over intersections. The stop-and-go lights that haven't smashed to the pavement swing impotently dark. Fallen palm trees block lanes, turning some routes into a path-shifting game of Frogger. Cherry-flashing police cars roam around.

A toothless curfew is in effect. By 11 a.m., a herd of cars is roving the streets, their occupants looking for an open store or a way back home. Hunger, curiosity, and panic has set them in motion.

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