My Father and Florida's Deadly Tornado
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Severe storms and at least one tornado struck central Florida last night, smashing hundreds of homes and killing 19 people, according to emergency workers. The storm has hit four counties and were some of the worst in Florida in nearly a decade.
Writer Dean Olsher was there last night, near the town of Lady Lake. He was visiting his father in a retirement community called the The Villages.
DEAN OLSHER: When I was a kid, my dad liked to repeat this story about safe places. He told me that as the Second World War seemed more and more likely, some people determined that the safest place to wait things out was the island of Guam. So they moved there and arrived just in time to find out that it was in fact one of the worst places to be during the war. It was a good lesson. You think you're so smart trying to escape fate. Good luck with that one.
A year ago, my dad was living on the Atlantic coast of Florida. And after two hurricanes destroyed his neighbors' property, he moved inland. And now he lives in a community that's all about safety. The gates, the activities. Seemed like the perfect place to live out the remainder of a life that was in many ways controlled by fear, starting in childhood when rising crime prompted his parents to flee the Bronx.
And then came last night. I've lost count of how many times the suddenly homeless people of central Florida have been telling reporters that a tornado sounds like freight train. To me, I'd say it's probably more like finding yourself inside a jet engine. At three o'clock this morning, that jet engine sound rushed toward my dad's house and touched the button in my lizard brain marked danger, run for your life. I saw a flash of amber light, much warmer than the super bright lightning crackling directly overhead. And then, part of someone's roof smashed the living room window.
Inexplicably, my father walked toward the window to inspect the damage and put what he called hurricane shutters, which are really very unconvincing panels of plastic and Velcro. And so, I grabbed him by the arm and walked him to a utility closet to wait until the winds died down. It scared us both. But the real feeling of dread in the gut came after the sun rose and we saw how - just two streets away, the wind had ripped roofs off homes and had torn clear through the newly built houses and left many neighbors dead.
I spent the day thinking about Guam. And I've come to the conclusion that I had not extracted enough from that fable. The lesson is not simply that fate is inescapable. Really, it's that you should do the opposite of what reason and instinct tell you, which is why I have gotten back as fast as I can to New York, where its safe.
BLOCK: Writer Dean Olsher, who says he did not literally kissed the ground when he returned home to New York today, though he did want to very much.
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