Fla. residents cope with anxiety as tension mounts

Hurricane Frances

September 04, 2004|By Nancy Imperiale and Kate Santich | Nancy Imperiale and Kate Santich,ORLANDO SENTINEL

As the second major hurricane in less than a month continued to bear down on Central Florida, residents counted the hours until landfall with a tumult of activities and emotions.

"My mood? My mood is cautious," said William M. Vail Jr., 45, manager of Woodlawn Funeral Home in Gotha, where cemetery machinery was moved inside, debris from the last hurricane swept up, and business suspended. This freed Vail to head home for the evening, make popcorn and watch the movie Jersey Girl with his wife, Jillian, and two cats.

"And enjoy the air conditioning," he added, "for as long as it lasts." Across the area, folks were making final preparations for what might be a long haul.

Joyce Taylor of Orange County had two suitcases packed and waiting. One was for a planned seven-day Alaska cruise. The other was for several days in the Orange County Emergency Operations Center.

"I'm just waiting to see which suitcase I'm going to grab," said Taylor, 46, a 911 call-center supervisor. "I have sweatshirts and sweaters in one; T-shirts in the other." That's what was nerve-racking - the uncertainty of what was coming.

"What a month for you guys," said trauma psychologist Robert Butterworth of California. "You dealt with what happened with Hurricane Charley, and now you're dealing with the fear of what is going to happen with Hurricane Frances. It's called anticipatory anxiety - the fears you build up in your mind. You tell yourself, well, we went through this once, we can do it again. But maybe the next one could be worse?"

"I see a lot of restrained anxiety," said the Rev. Jack Jackson of New Hope United Methodist Church in downtown Orlando. His wife, Anna, and 4-year-old twins hit the road for Atlanta, leaving the minister to tend to his flock. "I grew up here in Orlando, and I've never seen one storm like this, much less two. I think there's just a realization that this one's gonna be different from Charley, maybe more damaging in some ways, certainly with more rain."

The unpredictability of the hurricane, revealed every three hours in reports from the National Hurricane Center, sent some scurrying for the peace of mind only chocolate can provide.

"We're loading up on comfort food," said Tami McGraw, 24, enjoying a java-chip Frappucino and cinnamon scone at Starbucks in Altamonte Springs. Her cousin Christyn Taylor, who had arrived from Homestead at 3 a.m. after a 12-hour ordeal on traffic-jammed roads, was having hot chocolate and a cinnamon roll.

"We tried to get cash, but no banks were open," said Taylor, 24. "I brought groceries and games, so we'll sit tight tonight and play Scattegories."

Teachers were feeling the stress of having schools repeatedly open and close.

"I spent one day on the ancient world and will have to rush into Greece," said Sarah McLeod, who teaches literature and humanities at Apopka High School and has taught only 12 out of a planned 20 days of school. "I was supposed to teach Plato and Aristotle, but we spent most of the class putting plastic on things."

New mother Lori Tantillo, 39, had endured three weeks of exasperation - of dodging downed oaks, five days with no power, more than a week with no work and no pay and a 4-month-old baby who'd already been through more than her fair share of turmoil. By yesterday, Tantillo and her husband, Don, were weary of watching the forecast change and had sought refuge - with the baby and their three dogs - in a Tampa hotel room. "I finally had to tell myself, I'm worrying over something I can't control," she said.

For Laurie Bobletz, 43, it was a week of making and breaking plans, virtually up to the last minute. Initially the Orlando mother of three was supposed to leave Thursday for a family vacation to a hot-air balloon festival in Pine Mountain, Ga. When the threat of Frances forced the cancellation of the festival, the Bobletzes booked a hotel room in Pensacola.

"That idea didn't work too well, either," Bobletz said. "It turned out the hurricane might head there next."

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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