I write this week’s column about 35,000 feet somewhere between Milwaukee, Wis., and Dallas. I tried to stay “on vacation” —as I mentioned in last week’s article. Along the way, though, I heard about the tragic situation in Texas regarding the floods.
For those of our friends in San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Houston and the Hurricane Harvey area, you have our thoughts and prayers. How do you plan for 50 inches of rain, regardless of how prepared you are? How do you prepare for a Category 4 hurricane when it has been 13 years since one hit the U.S.? (I remember that one!) If you are a business owner, how do you cope when your business no longer exists?
It was Friday, August 13, 2004. I lived and worked in the Tampa, Fla., area and Hurricane Charley was about to come through Tampa Bay, also projected to be a Category 4 hurricane. I’m a Midwest kid. I understand a forecast of 20 inches of snow, but I didn’t understand what it is like to face a hurricane—regardless of what category it is. When you are in one of the ‘tracks’ the experts show the hurricane is project to hit, you pay attention very quickly.
Those who have already survived one know the drill. Get water. Get a generator and get plenty of gas for the generator. Board the windows. You don’t know when your electricity will go off/come on. You also don’t really know where the hurricane is headed.
The experts told us that Charley was coming up the mouth of Tampa Bay. This meant that on Thursday night, before leaving the office, we covered all of the computers by the windows with plastic garbage bags. Many people boarded up their houses. Others decided to head over to Orlando since it wasn’t in the path of Charley.
We closed the office on Friday for the protection of our employees. On Friday, I drove the 20 minutes to Walgreens from a condo in St. Pete to get some medicine. It was eerie. Again, I didn’t get it. Walmart was boarded up! Yes, Walmart. Everything was closed: McDonalds, all stores; it was a ghost town. Then I started to get it: This was serious stuff.
When I got back to the apartment, I went upstairs and put on the Weather Channel. I didn’t care what was on ESPN or any other station. All I wanted to see was Jim Cantore on the Weather Channel and what he was saying. I didn’t know what Category 4 winds at 145 mph would look like. I stared out the window in anticipation.
We had a house being built in Bradenton and had no idea what would happen to it, or if it would even survive.
During an event like this, everyone sits and watches the Weather Channel waiting … and waiting.
Suddenly, Charley changed its mind. The hurricane came inland about 100 miles south of Tampa through Punta Gorda and headed straight to the center of the state to Orlando! All of the people who escaped the coast to go inland were about to get hit. In fact, three hurricanes hit Orlando that year.
We had a franchisee who lived in Punta Gorda, though. In fact, he called Mary Kay on Sunday to ask us how we were doing and if Harvey would hit our house. He knows the pain, as only one who has survived a Category 4 knows. I remember him telling me that one of the worst things he remembers is not being able to open the windows because the screens were destroyed. If he opened the windows, bugs would come in the house. The house became a sweat box.
When we drove down to see how he was doing, we noticed hundreds of houses with blue roofs. Some roofers are known as storm chasers—they follow the storms making quick money fixing roofs. Many times they get the money and run and don’t come back to fix those roofs. Sad.
But there are wonderful stories of people helping. I was able to watch live TV aboard this flight and see Fox News interview some FEMA workers from Utah. This is what leadership is all about: understanding, helping, praying and doing what others won’t do.
As you watch what is happening on TV, I hope this gives you a better understanding. It took me living through it. I hope you are much smarter.