Audio clips from the interview
It was 2005. Radio and television reports sounded the alarm that Hurricane Wilma was expected to make landfall by the early morning of October 24th. Jennifer, her sister and parents lived near the water in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Her parents, hard working restaurateurs, had purchased their home in a new suburb built to then current hurricane standards - Jenn and her family felt secure their house was safe to face the forces the predicted storm would present. They figured this storm would pass uneventfully by morning as so many others had, so they went to bed. Hurricane Wilma was different and terrifying and would impact Jenn and her family for a long time after the storm had passed.
Jennifer Tang is a 30-something year old accountant now living and working in New York City. She was born in Florida where she lived with her parents and sister until she left for college. When Jenn was 17, still living in Florida with her parents, she experienced Hurricane Wilma.
During the night “something” woke Jenn from her sleep. She couldn’t tell what it was but as she lay listening to the wind howling outside, her bedroom window suddenly exploded, sending shattered glass everywhere. Terrified, she leaped out of bed and ran to her parent’s room, screaming. Jenn’s parents jumped out of bed and ran to Jenn’s room, her father grabbed Jenn’s mattress and struggled to push it against the open window frame while the rest of the family ran around the house closing doors as they had been instructed to do in the event of a hurricane. They understood that if the wind started to circulate inside the house, it could literally lift the house from its foundation.
After closing doors on the first floor, Jenn headed back upstairs. As she rounded the stairway corner, the large floor-to-ceiling plate glass window in the front of the house shattered. Jenn, unhurt but terrified, flew up the last steps and to her parents, sure they were all going to die. Inside her room her sister and mother were as terrified as she was and her father was struggling to hold the mattress to the open window frame. Her father started to tell jokes. He joked loudly to drain out the noise of the storm. He joked to calm his panicked family.
The night ticked on with the storm raging outside. Morning finally came and somehow they had survived the violent storm unscathed, at least physically. When they found the courage to move and look outside, they found their neighbors had gathered around the house. They’d been worried about the Tangs and wanted to make sure they were okay and to help with anything needed. Jenn and her family were grateful and made new friends that day.
They were lucky. Unlike their neighbors, the Tangs didn’t have shutters on their windows. They assumed the building standards they’d bought into in their new development would safeguard them. When neighbors installed shutters on their windows, Jenn’s family thought the neighbors were being overly cautious. They now knew, shutters weren't overly cautious, they were essential.
Jenn's family could have been less lucky and the results of Hurricane Wilma on the Tang family could have been devastating. The hurricane changed Jenn. Because of her experience, Jenn has a go-bag and a plan. During Hurricane Sandy in NY in 2012, while others were making light of the impending hurricane, Jenn gathered emergency supplies and advised others to do the same. If she were to buy a house in Florida at some point in the future, she would do so while leveraging her experience in determining where she would live, and in what kind of house.
Jennifer is heartened that Florida building codes have changed so new homes are more hurricane ready and there is at least some planning mandated by the government. Unfortunately, many Floridians have the attitude that this won’t happen to them. She hopes people will learn from her experience, respect the power of nature and get prepared.