Powerless, many can only wait

Residents ride out storm with battery-powered radios, phones at ready

Tropical Storm Frances

September 06, 2004|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - For an 87-year-old man, Harry Weinberg is in pretty good physical shape. When he is not caring for his bedridden wife, he walks in the mornings, and plays golf four times a week.

So when he found himself breathless hours after Hurricane Frances pounded his Lake Worth retirement community, that meant things were quite hectic at his house.

"I have to keep running into the bedroom to get the phone. The other ones don't work," Weinberg said over the telephone while taking a break from feeding lunch to Jean, his wife. "Mindy, my daughter, calls 10 times a day."

For people stuck at home without power after Hurricane Frances, the action came in fits and starts yesterday.

Weinberg and many of the 1.3 million residents in Palm Beach have heeded safety warnings from public officials since Thursday to not leave their homes. Tropical storm-force winds were expected on the Florida coast through last night.

A curfew was in effect from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m.

The telephone and battery-powered radios have been the only human contact possible from outside of the home for many.

"I wanted to put the phone in the room where my wife is, but the couch is in the way of the phone jack," Weinberg said. "I was going to move it, but it was heavy. I said the heck with it. So I run to and from the bedroom."

When the phone isn't ringing and he's not fixing a meal for himself or his wife, there isn't much to do. When night falls, it's even worse. He has a flashlight that he takes with him when he walks around, and he has a lantern he placed in his wife's room.

"We just sit. We listen to the radio," Weinberg said. "There is nothing else you can do. You can't read, you can't write, you can't do anything. I sit down, walk around the house, I open the door. Then sit down again."

Some roads were impassable because of flooding and debris, and all traffic lights were either not functioning or had completely blown away.

Even people in shelters were instructed to stay put yesterday.

The slow-moving storm kept residents on edge for days as they waited for it to hit.

It finally lashed Palm Beach early yesterday morning.

"The wind was pretty loud out there," Weinberg said. "As the eye was supposed to pass, I opened the door. Whooh. Then I closed it pretty fast."

But the instructions to stay inside didn't change after the edge of the eye passed over, and the day wore on.

"They tell me not to drive anywhere, and I follow directions like a good citizen," Weinberg said.

He has been making tomato, onion and cheese sandwiches for lunch and sardines and onions for dinner. And he continues to use the refrigerator, even though he hasn't had power for almost 48 hours.

"I took everything I knew I'd need and I put it right in front - the butter, margarine, pineapple, and cantaloupe chunks," he said. "When I need it I just open up real quick and grab it."

Weinberg said he is relieved that his house was not harmed. Blocks away, an eight-story building in his retirement community was evacuated because the sides of the building started to come apart.

"I was wondering how those condos did," Weinberg said. "We really got lucky over here."

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