The day after and the chain sawing has begun. The street is completely covered with fallen trees.

Hurricane Kate
One Silver Lining Remembered

by Frank Howard
October 25, 1995

Each year Floridians spend hours getting their property ready to withstand the effects of hurricane devastation. November 1985 was no different as our family nailed up and tied down for a storm that promised to be worse than the one that had recently brushed by us and our coastal property (Elena).

In such bad weather it is always the hilltops that get the highest winds. We live right on top of one of Tallahassee's highest and most tree covered hills. Hurricane Kate, a Catagory 2 storm, held true in this instance as the wind picked up we could hear the crashing thuds as the tallest of the pines in the neighborhood succumbed.

Five of us in the low-ceiling hallway.

Explaining the "we" in that statement will give a better idea of our mind set as we managed ourselves through this ordeal. Neighbors would tell us later of crouching in fear in places like bathtubs while we seemed to have avoided this driven-by-fear behavior. The "we" was my entire family; myself, my wife, three daughters, and two sons-in-law, and three pre-teen grandchildren...ten in all. We always collect at my house in such times as it is solid masonry and getting together gives us strength in numbers (Besides, most of us get together each Friday at my house anyway- "Pizza Party Night!").

During the night as we trained lights out the windows to spot each falling tree (one daughter, Susan, and husband had their first new car, only a few weeks old, parked out there!) If you remember your first "new" car you know why one young man was out with a flashlight in the driving wind to see if that thudding tree trunk had missed his car. It had. Barely.

Tornado twisted tree tops were scattered for over two blocks.

A new sound suddenly came in above the din of the hurricane wind as the unmistakable roar of a tornado filled the house. No house is solid in front of a tornado. Everyone was sent scurrying to the hall to be under the safer low ceiling there. But it passed about 200 yards west of us twisting the tops off of about 50 trees. It stayed at near tree-top level for a distance of about two blocks before lifting away. The path of this tornado showed up later as twisted tree tops, all at about the same height, lay scattered around in all directions. Many trees fell from the hurricane's high winds, but these were whole trees lying down and mostly pointing North as they had yielded to the first fury of the storm.

Power lines and tree limbs...this house was lucky. But the leaning trees that didn't fall had to be removed.

One neighbor counted 19 trees down in his yard, another 13, still another had fifteen in a very small yard. The two streets which lead into our neighborhood had trees across them every few yards. My own yard contributed two 85-90 foot pine trees and a big dogwood to the other layers of trees holding the power and phone lines down on the ground and blocking the street. A neighbor's motor home was cut in half by one of her trees. Looking at photos and videos of the street now seems unreal. (It certainly seemed unreal - or surreal! - while it was happening!)

There were houses cleaved in two, one family trapped inside when a large tree caved-in the end of their house which contained both entrance-ways, and numerous other cases of damage on the hill that night. But there were also incidents, seemingly impossible, such as the neighbor with 13 trees down and no damage to personages or house.

Prior to either of the brushes with hurricanes that year one daughter, Diane, and husband, Larry, had been planning to build a larger home. They had decided on a design with one characteristic they particularly desired; water-clear finished wide board oak and cherry flooring.

One reasonable way to do this was to saw one's own lumber. Since he and I are both wood workers, it had been so decided and he had proceeded with the purchase of a small band-saw mill capable of sawing such lumber from hardwood logs up to 36 inches in diameter. In the few months preceding Kate we had sawed only a few logs. Just those being removed from building sites and one monster red oak taken out by lightning were available to us. Hurricane Kate changed all that. Right in my own neighborhood there were hundreds of logs.

North Meridian road, past the double bridges. We had to wait for the last trees to be sawed off the road before we could make it to the last daughter's house.

The next morning after Kate's onslaught was spent chain sawing our way tree by tree and block by block down off the hill. We were sweating and working side by side with neighborhood people we had barely known before. There did not seem to average 20 ft. between trees lying across the street with many lying on top of others. But as soon as homes were made as safe as could be with no water or electricity (and a way sawed in to one daughter's home, Regina,- she lives miles out in the woods on a lake!) we set up the sawmill on my well disturbed front lawn. We not only had a wealth of logs, we could now choose to saw only the more choice ones! There were simply too many!

But the hardwoods were soon gone. The need for common pine framing was readily satisfied as we sawed pine log after pine log. The very portable sawmill could readily be moved to another yard and another nine or ten logs sawed. Lumber was being hauled to the building site and stickered (stacked in drying stacks) to cure prior to planing to size. By this time there was more than enough pine lumber stored at the intended building site.

Setting up the portable saw mill.

As others heard of our milling operation reports of hardwood logs still available came to us. Soon our estimates of the hardwood sawed indicated we almost had enough for the two floors of the house. Only a few more logs would need to be sawed to complete our task. But we were running out of time as the logs were being hauled away faster than we could saw. And then, of course, as the hurricane cleanup time came to a close we each had jobs to return to.

Larry had become so proficient at the saw he could operate it alone and did so on days when I could not help. Such was the case for those last logs as they were sawed well after the cleanup from Kate was considered over and most of us were back at overtime on our jobs. Larry was, by then, working evenings and weekends to complete his task.

Rolling a tree trunk onto the saw mill could be difficult!

Damage to the homes of family members was minimal. Only one had some tree limb damage. We counted our blessings and the minor dings (tree limbs) in 4 of our cars. Larry had lost the roof of his wood shop with some attendant water damage but I think he considered it a fair trade for all the lumber Kate had given him.

Hurricane Kate had provided us with some terrifying moments, some lifelong memories of those moments of awe and brash excitement, and certainly, sights of much more than a little destruction. But in the end, it had helped provide enough lumber to build a variety of projects.

See Also

more articles by F. Howard
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