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Hurricane Charley

Storm pulls plug on leafy Winter Park's luxuries

In the Orlando suburb of million-dollar homes, water mains leak and children make do without electronic toys.

By JAMES THORNER
Published August 17, 2004

WINTER PARK - Charley didn't snare Mickey Mouse, Sea World is sound and Orlando has escaped the worst. But the powerful hurricane continues to wreak havoc on some of Orlando's ritzier suburbs.

The oak canopy that gives leafy Winter Park its charm did more harm than good when the 105 mph gusts went to work Friday.

A high-income suburb of 26,000 north of Orlando, Winter Park on Monday suffered through Day 4 without its usual luxuries. Starbucks was on generator power, BMWs and Cadillac Escalades lay under fallen tree limbs. Electricity was days away from restoration and cable TV was only a distant rumor.

Among the few signs of normalcy were the peacocks that pecked at expansive lawns - lawns now snarled with hundreds of fallen oak limbs and downed power lines.

Scott Larabee, was locked away in his $1.5-million lakeside home Friday when Charley ripped across the lake about 9 p.m.

He bought a gas-powered generator, but it didn't produce enough juice to fuel his air conditioner.

"I was arrogant and didn't really prepare," the 30-something property developer said in front of his stucco-and-Spanish-tile spread. "But it was very intense. You didn't know what was going to happen. The house was shaking."

Winter Park's Park Avenue shopping district - think Talbot's and Ann Taylor - was still a darkened caricature of itself Monday. City Hall hobbled along on generator juice. Lexuses pulled up at boutiques on Monday, and their owners drove off unsatisfied.

Rather than suffer inside their darkened homes, Martin Hering and his neighbors shared war stories on the street as tree cutters, some from as far away as Atlanta, left behind a soft brown carpet of sawdust on the pavement.

"You heard anything? You think they're close?" Hering asked a passing city employee about the power. "I don't know about close," the public works guy said. "Maybe another five days."

Hering, an entrepreneur who made his fortune by placing ads on sports stadium turnstiles, accepted the bad news about the continuing blackout with good humor.

Eighty of the city's water mains had sprung leaks, mostly from pipes pried from the ground by emerging tree roots. A river of drinking water flowed down Hering's street, where average annual household income approaches $100,000. After the storm, the city's rights of way were choked with 400 downed trees and limbs.

By firing up his generator, Hering managed to get a ceiling fan and the refrigerator humming, but no air conditioning.

Cut off from the Internet, cartoons and shopping malls, children walked the streets begging to do chores. One boy said he dreamed of electricity so that he could once again microwave his favorite dish, Hot Pockets.

"I haven't seen anyone bickering or moaning or groaning," Hering said. "We could have been counting bodies instead of trees."

From Winter Park east to the campus of the University of Central Florida, traffic was a headache as officers directed cars through still-inoperable traffic lights.

The UCF campus was littered with snapped pine and oak trees. Its wellness center had a hole torn in its roof, but damage was mostly cosmetic, and classes were to begin on schedule Aug. 23. Most of Greek Row, home to the university's fraternity and sorority scene, limped along without power and phone service.

A Sun Belt city built on automobiles, Orlando suffered the indignity, by order of Orange County, of gasoline rationing. Lines snaked into gas stations that limited each automobile to $15 worth of gas.

The greater Orlando area suffered an estimated $3-billion in damage, and about 1-million people were initially left without power. Though many areas were back on line Monday, including the downtown Orlando business district, suburbs such as Winter Park remained in the dark.

The city plans to begin distributing ice from fire stations just blocks from $5-million mansions. Lawyers, doctors and captains of industry made due with cool showers in darkened bathrooms. Backyard gas grills cooked evening meals that were eaten off paper plates.

Hering resorted to washing up with baby wipes. He, his wife and their two children slept in one bedroom under the only functioning ceiling fan.

"You see stuff like this on TV," he said, "but this is live. You can't switch the channel."

[Last modified August 17, 2004, 00:54:02]

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