As I write this, Florida has been socked by three hurricanes in five weeks, and the last one, Ivan, was one nasty storm. Fortunately I missed that one, though I rode out the other two.
The Pensacola area, which got the worst of Ivan, looks like a war zone. Big chunks of a concrete Interstate 10 bridge were knocked out, and train tracks on the shoreline twisted like wet noodles. And all that was in the Escambia Bay, several miles from the Gulf of Mexico. I spent many years living around that bay, and it's hard to visualize waves large enough to do the damage that was done.
Those lucky enough not to be where hurricanes are have to rely on the media to get an idea of what they do. If you would like to see the power of a hurricane, go to www.gulfcoastgateway.com. This is the Web site of the Pensacola News Journal, my old alma mater. The newspaper has used its Web site better than anyone I've ever seen, and it has gallery after gallery of pictures showing the damage. The staff members did a fine job and performed a great service to their readers, even though some of the staff lost their homes during the storm, and the newspaper itself was damaged.
It's ironic that television, a visual medium, does such a poor job that you have to rely on the print media to get a good view of a storm's damage. Television has misled itself with its star system. It seems important to TV networks to show people "live" standing in the rain and yapping. After the storm passes, you get to see the same people "live" standing in one spot talking about damage they never get around to showing you. Television has become just another form of talk radio, which is perhaps why so many of its "stars" are graduates of that field.
The other problem television has is the fidgets. It jumps from one topic to another like a grasshopper on hot pavement. While the cleanup from the storm is just beginning, television this past week was all in a lather about Dan Rather and his Texas National Guard story.
At any rate, the only way to get a good idea of a storm's devastation is with aerial views, and the Pensacola newspaper supplies plenty of them on its Web site. Hurricanes are like enormous tornadoes. Ivan's hurricane-force winds extended 100 miles from the eye, creating a 200-mile-wide swath of damage. And, of course, it caused more misery inland with flooding rains.
It will be tempting for some to blame this year's tropical-storm traffic on global warming, but respected climatologists say it isn't so. Hurricanes seem to run in cycles, and it just seems to be Florida's turn in the cycle. Going back 100 years, the Carolinas have been hit by far more hurricanes than Florida has. The idea of wild storms caused by sudden climate change makes for a good movie, but the facts don't bear it out — so far. Floridians have just run out of their long stretch of good luck in regard to tropical storms.
Storms, like everything else, create their own clichés. "We will rebuild" is one of them. Like a lot of cliché, it's true. People will rebuild, as people have been doing throughout mankind's history. Whether it be fire, plague, storm or volcanic eruption, people always recover and rebuild. Human beings are a resilient species.
It's useful for us all to remember that. We have short, mostly insignificant roles in the long play of human history. Only fanatics believe the fate of mankind rests on their shoulders, and they are all crazy. As Ernest Hemingway once put it, everything that we have to endure, others have endured before us.
Endure and persevere is what every generation of human beings has done and will continue to do. It's true that there's nothing we can do to stop a mighty force of nature like a hurricane, but it's also true that there is nothing a hurricane can do to prevent people from rebuilding everything that was destroyed.
And, needless to say, as I write this I am "live" in my office.
September 28, 2004
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969—71, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on LewRockwell.com. Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner. Write to Charley Reese at P.O. Box 2446, Orlando, FL 32802.
© 2004 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.