Hurricane Frances was enough to make a mother worry

September 07, 2004|ANNABEL GIRARD

My father-in-law used to say that you never stopped worrying about your children, and I would think, "Oh, yeah." I was counting the years until they would turn 18 and be adults.

This weekend, I learned how right he was. Daughter Mary Ashby, now 31, and husband, Rony Borges Goncalves, live in Lake Worth in Palm Beach County. Hurricane Frances, with wind speeds of 140-plus miles an hour, was headed towards them.

As I fretted during the week the storm headed westward, a friend commented that I wasn't prone to worrying about my children that much. It surprised me, too, but then this is the first time a storm the size of Texas has ever had a child of mine in its sights.

By Tuesday, Mary Ashby was busy making preparations both at home and at work. As the mother, I was proud. As a mother-in-law I was close to boiling over. Rony had a friend who had flown to Miami. He spent Tuesday through Thursday morning partying there before he returned home.


Meanwhile, back in Palm Beach County, there was plywood to buy, supplies to stock up on, arrangements to make. Rony didn't miss out on all the fun. While Mary Ashby had put up the easy window coverings, there was a window wall on the back of the house to board and several others that one person couldn't do. That part of the work, plus the final policing of the yard, took three people four hour to complete.

The hurricane also focuses attention on the important possessions. My daughter's 1963 Mustang convertible found a home in the warehouse of a friend. Important papers and valuable objects went in a safe at work. Rony's car went to another friend's building.

Mary Ashby works as an art conservator at Swope Fine Art and Conservation. That meant there were a few valuable objects and works of art that had to be safely put away. One valuable museum painting went back to the museum for safekeeping.

Because the building is sturdy and already secured by metal shutters for security reasons, that was where she, Rony and Safada the Cat planned to weather the storm, along with her boss and his partner.

The secure location also attracted friends of her boss, most with dogs. When the dog count reached six, she and Safada marked that location off the list. Eventually, nine dogs were secure there with their owners.

One of Mary Ashby's errands had been to pick up a single-burner propane stove and propane light for that location. Another errand had her taking an older friend and his wife off the barrier island to a hotel.

Another spot they considered hanging out during the storm was a friend's house close to I-95. When Frances slowed down and gave them a breather, they made a trial visit. A low spot on the road there meant flooding would likely keep them from getting home immediately after the storm passed.

They finally opted to stay put at their home, which is outside the mandatory evacuation zone, but I'd estimate little more than a mile from the ocean. Safada was in familiar surroundings, and they decided two people made a crowd when it came to sitting through howling winds and pelting rain.

Even when the electricity went off, they were not totally cut off. Their cell phones, which could be recharged in the car when weather permitted, let them stay in touch. Their gas stove meant there was hot coffee each morning. Laptops fully charged meant video games could be played.

Frances gave them time to drive around town before they headed back to the boarded up house Friday afternoon. Worth Avenue, the downtown shopping street in Palm Beach, was deserted. The sea was graying in their final shot before heading home.

Her calls were eagerly awaited

Her calls were eagerly awaited here in Danville. We ran through the house when the phone rang.

We could provide our share of information gathered from the TV. The pier in Lake Worth was damaged. Boats in the Intercoastal Waterway were being pounded; some had broken loose and were floating down the waterway.

Learning what is it like getting ready for the storm was an education. At 1 p.m., Thursday, she went to her bank to get money. It had already closed. Her bosses' bank didn't close until 2 p.m., so she was able to get cash.

Major gas stations were out of gas, but the smaller stations had plenty. Dunkin' Donuts was open Friday morning. The neighborhood grocery had batteries, ice and many of the other items she was looking for.

Living in a boarded up house was not fun. Mary Ashby's comment was that it was like living in a cave, especially when the only light came from candles. She has posted comments and pictures at her Web site,

Her phone call at 6:30 a.m. Sunday was the most welcomed. We had anxiously watched The Weather Channel and CNN, waking about every three hours without having to set an alarm clock. We knew they had not been the hardest hit. Still, this mother who never thought she'd worry this much, had visions of a roof blowing off, a tree blowing over, flood waters seeping in under the doors, blowing debris hitting one of them in the head.

The relief in Mary Ashby's voice Sunday morning brought relief to me. The wind had howled. Rain had pelted. They had heard sounds in the night. A quick tour of the outside found no structural damage to the house. Plantings and small trees had been destroyed. They were fine.

All they wanted was for the final winds to die down and the rain to stop. They had a mission: Hit the streets and take more pictures.

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