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Posts Tagged ‘Hurricane Dora’

This September, National Weather Service in Jacksonville celebrated the 50th anniversary of Hurricane Dora, the only tropical cyclone to hit the area in recorded history. I remember Dora quite well. It was one of my family’s many adventures. We weathered the storm in the men’s bathhouse at Ocean Pond Campground, in the Osceola National Forest, just west of Jacksonville.
Let’s back up. This was not my first hurricane. When I was a little girl, Hurricane Hazel ripped up through the eastern United States. All I remember was that she badly damaged our cherry tree.
In January, 1964, we moved to Florida, first settling in the Everglades, in Moore Haven, a small town on the shore of Lake Okeechobee. We rented a house on the bank of the Caloosahatchee River, a picturesque cottage on stilts, which had the distinction of having survived the 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane.
In the early 20th century, a small earthen dike had been built around Lake Okeechobee. In 1926, storm surge from a deadly hurricane breached the dike. The 1928 storm was even worse. Hundreds of acres were flooded, some areas under twenty feet of water. Thousands of houses were swept away and at least 2500 lives were lost. Many bodies were never recovered. Our house, and presumably its inhabitants, survived because, being built on stilts, the water washed under the house.
Thirty six years later, the disaster remained fresh in the memory of survivors and their descendents, who recounted the horror to anyone who would listen. The old two-story schoolhouse still stood, with scars on the walls of the second floor where boats had scraped against it during the flood. After 1928, the Army Corps of Engineers had erected a huge levee around the lake, but our neighbors said they didn’t really trust it.
August brought Hurricane Cleo. My parents stayed glued to the radio for storm predictions. I remember townspeople expressing anxiety as Cleo approached, but few made plans to evacuate. One of my friends said her family might shelter at the high school, but that building had a ground floor only. We didn’t take chances. We packed our camping trailer and tents and headed north on Highway 27.
After fifty miles or so the flat Everglades gave way to sandy hills. We pulled into Highlands Hammock State Park. Cleo followed. She snaked up the east coast of Florida as a Category 2 storm, slowing to a Category 1 as her eye passed fifty miles east of us. We were safe from flood, but the wind would have blown our tents away. Fortunately, the park rangers let us stay in the lodge, a sturdy building built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression.
This storm was unlike anything I’d experienced. Instead of heavy raindrops pounding the earth as in a thunderstorm, which finishes its business and moves on, falling rain danced all day at the mercy of the gale. Through the windows we watched trees thrashing in the wind and heard its incessant howl. I recall being more bored than afraid. There was little to amuse us in the dim light of the lodge. Once the weather cleared, we returned home. The Lake had remained within its banks and surrounding communities were safe.
For various reasons, not limited to hurricanes, my parents decided to move to the northern part of the state. A week or so later, we were camped near Olustee while my father looked for another job.
Were hurricanes out to get us? Two weeks after we fled Cleo, Hurricane Dora caught up with us. She headed straight towards North Florida as a Category 3 storm. For the second time, we found ourselves with only a few sheets of canvas between us and a tempest. At least we didn’t worry about a 20 foot flood, since Ocean Pond is a tea cup compared to Okeechobee. Other campers packed up and went home. We had no home to go to, having given up our house in Moore Haven. One other family remained, a retired couple in a pop-up camper.
The men’s bathhouse had a large open area surrounded by concrete block walls. We moved our bedding in as Dora slammed into Jacksonville as a Category 2 hurricane. The other couple joined us, their little pop-up no match for 110 mph winds. Cleo had been gracious enough to hit Florida during the day. Not Dora. She made landfall at 2 am, but we had felt her blast hours before.
The bathhouse was lit by an open skylight, practical in fair weather, but not in a major weather event. Mom and Dad put tarps over our beds, so we could sleep dry, but they did not sleep. As the wind roared through the night and rain swirled through the open roof, I woke now and then to see them pacing the floor. I remember Mom adjusting a tarp that had blown loose. Little splatters of rain hit my face, but I felt safe. Only when I experienced a tropical storm as an adult could I appreciate what my parents must have endured.
As daylight came, the storm subsided. By early afternoon she moved on. The retired couple crawled into their camper to get a few supplies and the lady cooked grits. What food supplies weren’t soggy must have run low and I was hungry. Those plain grits were the best thing I ever tasted. When it was safe to go outdoors, we went down to the lake. To our surprise, a plastic orange fish came bobbing across the lake toward us, carried by the wind and waves. My little sisters scooped it up. We had no way of knowing who it belonged to, so we kept it. That orange fish stayed in the family for years and is featured in several old photographs. I wonder what became of it.
After a few more adventures, my family settled in Scrambletown, Florida. More adventures were to follow, but the next time a hurricane blustered through, we had a strong cypress house to protect us from its wrath.

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