A Flood of Frances

Small hurricane stories pack a wallop

Weaving through the debris-ridden southbound lanes of Highway 1, several cars come upon two Jupiter police squad cars at an intersection near the city limits. "What's going on?" someone asks the cops.

"Where did you come from, and where do you belong?" shrieks an officer from behind the wheel. It's sprinkling, and his window is half open. A claim of journalistic inquiry is greeted less than cordially. The policeman's expression is that of a man who's just passed a kidney stone. A woman officer seated next to the screamer lumbers out of the car. She's wearing a yellow slicker with the hood up.

"Look, I'm getting tired of getting out of my car and getting wet telling people this: You need to turn around and go back to where you came from," she intones. "That's a power line over there. There's a curfew for the entire city." She strolls back to the dry comfort of the police sedan.

A monstrous ficus tree in Boynton Beach succumbed to persistent winds 12 hours before Frances made landfall.
A monstrous ficus tree in Boynton Beach succumbed to persistent winds 12 hours before Frances made landfall.
Businesses used spray paint and plywood to put overzealous customers and the vile storm on notice.
Businesses used spray paint and plywood to put overzealous customers and the vile storm on notice.

If it weren't for the police escort, the line of cars meandering past Palm Beach mansions about 2 p.m. Sunday might've looked like a bunch of tourists. In fact, the caravan was a collection of reporters brought by Palm Beach police to see the damage to the exclusive island. A local TV news crew and a cadre of newspaper scribes from across the state dreamed of being the first to spot destruction.

Instead, the reporters witnessed nothing more than a big puddle in front of the Breakers hotel, potted plants pushed over on tony Worth Avenue, and palm fronds strewn about on the lawn of Donald Trump's place. Luckily for the island, the north-south winds kept the ocean from drowning the island. Palm Beach police officers, looking like handsome action heroes in their gray-and-black camouflaged pants, seemed genuinely sad that they couldn't be better hosts. "Sorry there's not more to show you," Chief Mike Reiter explains at the end of the tour. "We just didn't get a lot of destruction."

At 2 p.m., the owners of the Hong Kong Café on Indiantown Road pull the plywood shutters off their front door. They fire up their gas grills and, in half darkness, begin stir-frying what might be the only restaurant grub available in Jupiter. Word of the Chinese food blazes through a nearby Hispanic neighborhood, and by 2:30, the place is mobbed with Spanish-speaking men deeply tanned from farm work.

A half hour later, the owners of a Citgo convenience store a few blocks east yank the plywood off their front door. Like cats hearing a can opener, the roving curfew-breakers -- who now number in the hundreds and ignore the police like New Yorkers disregard panhandlers -- flood the parking lot. Forty-five-year-old William Kernodle, with an unshaven face and newly buzzed head, is standing in a line of 25 or so. He's almost made it into the store, almost passed the plywood gates of heaven, when the owner looms at the door and pronounces, "We're closed for business," then locks himself in.

Kernodle takes it well but clearly feels he's been cheated again. Early this morning, he'd driven 20 miles through heavy rain, wind, and fallen trees into Martin County, where rumor-mongers had sworn there was an open convenience store. There wasn't.

He lives out in the western part of the county but wanted to be closer to the coast when the hurricane hit because he's a volunteer with the county's community emergency response team. For now, he and other volunteers are supposed to remain off the streets.

"I've been staying with seven Guatemalans up the street," explains Kernodle, who's small-framed but possesses an impressive gut. "Man, you'd think that these South Americans would understand hurricanes," he marvels. "But they had nothin' when I got there. No food. They had a generator but no gas. Jesus. They didn't have anything to put on their windows, so I pulled the plywood sheet off my pickup bed, and we nailed it to the biggest window."

The line has dispersed at the Citgo, but Kernodle notices a small human swell at a Shell station half a block down. "Gotta check this out," he mutters, fleeing toward the Shell.

Most of the tin-can houses of Kokomo Mobile Home Park near Lantana survived Frances intact. Not so Lucille Price's porch. Wind forced open the tacked-on, screened-in room, splitting and caving in its front as if a plow had moved through a snowdrift.

Outside, at 4 p.m. Sunday, Donna Schuler tries to figure out what to do. She lives a couple of doors down from Price. Her ex-husband, Jim, is visiting, so she enlists his help.

"Lucille's 83 years old," says Donna, her red-brown hair pinned close to her scalp, as she peels metal away from the gaping dent. "She's in New York right now. We need to do something to keep the elements out."

"We can't do anything," says Jim, a stocky man with white hair and a round nose. "Someone's going to have to repair this."

"She can't even walk up steps!" Donna shouts. "You think she can fix this?"

"No," Jim says. "I'm just saying, we can't do anything."

"I hope someone cares for me when I'm elderly," Donna says.

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