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Date of Issue: March 30, 2005

Sandscript

Hunkered down, awaiting the next big blow

And here we go again.

Fresh on the heels of Charley and Frances comes Hurricane Ivan, a strong Category 4 storm as of this writing Saturday, packing 150 mph winds. "Strong" may be an understatement, since Category 5 starts at 156 mph.

Jeez, can't we get a break from these storms?

On Sunday, as reports of a more westward turn were issued, Ivan apparently answered "Yes."

One good snippet of news comes from Florida Power & Light, though. As of late last week there were something like 12,000 workers from 38 states and Canada here in Florida to restore electrical power, and they'll be staying around for a while. Let's hope we don't need them.

Waterway alert
Another somewhat understatement comes from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission regarding boater navigation. The FWC is urging anyone going out on the water to "use extreme caution in operating vessels and personal watercraft on nearshore or inshore waters, local lakes and rivers in the aftermath of hurricanes Charley and Frances. Channels have silted in, sandbars have shifted, and floating and submerged debris from the storm is causing hazardous boating conditions."

FWC Capt. Richard Moore said that "boaters' past experience may no longer be a dependable tool for piloting their vessels." Be on the lookout for downed power lines, submerged trees and missing channel markers.

Repairs are being made as soon as possible, FWC officials said.

Toxic legacy of Hurricane Frances
Bad news: Hurricane Frances caused a breach in a phosphogypsum stack near Ruskin, dumping more than 60 million gallons of highly acidic water into Hillsborough Bay and, eventually, Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

The good news: Fish haven't died in the nasty water. Yet.

The water is a byproduct of the phosphate industry, and is stored in huge lakes. The dike that ruptured from Cargill Crop Nutrition was atop a 180-foot-high levy.

The gang from the Tampa Bay Estuary Program estimates the wastewater dumped 93 tons of nitrogen into the water. On an average two-day period, about 12 tons of nitrogen gets loaded into the bay in that same area, so it's about eight times greater than average.

To bring it into another realm of perspective, the average nitrogen level allowed to be discharged as treated effluent in Florida waters is 3 parts per million. The gunk that flowed into the bay has been pegged at 345 ppm.

The nitrogen spurt has the potential for creating an algae bloom in the bay, with accompanying fish kills and the potential for seagrass loss as the algae gobble up the oxygen in the water.

Oh, and there are about 24 stacks in Central Florida like Cargill's.

More Frances facts
Sea turtles also took a beating on Florida's east coast due to Frances. "Wildlife impacts will probably be greatest on the sea turtles nests being destroyed or buried due to beach erosion, inundation, or deposition of additional sand over the nests, reportedly up to 2 feet at Hobe Sound," according to the feds.

Boating tips
Although it may be too late for Ivan - but the way this hurricane season is going, it may be timely for the next big blow - the folks at FWC have offered some boating safety tips.

"Late preparations could result in a dangerous situation for boat operators and rescuers," according to the FWC. "People who are responsible for vessels on the water should seek safe harbor, properly moor their boats, remove loose objects from decks and properly tie down anything that cannot be removed from the deck. Boats on trailers should be moved inland, away from potential tidal surges. Letting some air out of trailer tires, blocking wheels and adding water to the boat will add weight, and hopefully, keep it in place."

Speaking of boats, there was a pretty neat description of boat mooring published in something called "The Masses" by none other than Ernest Hemingway, quoted in Les Standiford's really great book, "Last Train To Paradise."

Papa realized that things weren't boding so well in Key West on Labor Day 1935 when the big storm came calling, so he started securing his vessel, "Pilar."

"Sunday you spend making the boat as safe as you can," Hemingway wrote. "When they refuse to haul her out on the ways because there are too many boats ahead, you buy $52 of new heavy hawser and shift her to what seems the safest part of the submarine base and tie her up there."

Later that afternoon, after securing his house, he went back to the boat.

"You go down to the boat and wrap the lines with canvas where they will chafe when the surge starts, and believe that she has a good chance to ride it out ... provided no other boat smashes into you and sinks you. There is a booze boat seized by the Coast Guard tied next to you and you notice her stern lines are only tied to ringbolts in the stern, and you start bellyaching about that ...

"From the last advisory you figure we will not get it until midnight, and at 10 O'Clock you leave the Weather Bureau and go home to see if you can get two hours' sleep before it starts, leaving the car in front of the house because you do not trust the rickety garage, putting the barometer and a flashlight by the bed for when the electric lights go. At midnight the wind is howling, the glass is 29.55 and dropping while you watch it, and rain is coming in sheets. You dress, find the car drowned out, make your way to the boat with a flashlight with branches falling and wires going down. The flashlight shorts in the rain, and the wind is now coming in heavy gusts from the northwest ... you have to crouch over to make headway against it. You figure if we get the hurricane, you will lose the boat and you never will have enough money to get another. You feel like hell."

Hemingway, "Pilar," and some of Key West did survive the Great Labor Day Hurricane.

Sandscript factoid
September 2004 has been designated National Preparedness Month by the Department of Homeland Security, and also marks the Fifth Anniversary of the Emergency E-mail and Wireless Network.

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