Part 6: The Buses

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"...Record levels of rainfall and wind," the voice said. "But early this morning, Hurricane James moved on from the Tampa area –"

The crowded shelter rang with cheers.

"...substantially weakened from making landfall," the voice continued, "and currently only a Category 1 as it passes over the rest of the state. The storm will continue to weaken, and is expected to break up completely before hitting the other coast."

Some of the people in the shelter broke off from the crowd, making cheerful conversation as they packed away any sleeping bags and gathered their belongings. Aaron pushed through to stand beside Hannah, while they and a small crowd continued to listen to the weather report. From it, they learned that Hurricane James had lingered for three hours in the Gulf of Mexico, battering Tampa with its rain and wind, then made landfall and hovered for six more hours over the Tampa Bay area, pummeling the city before gradually weakening as it started to move inland. Tampa, for once, had received the brunt of the storm. The rest of Florida was expected to suffer minimal damage.

Moments later, the Emergency Broadcast System blared its familiar tone. "This information applies to the following counties," the voice said. "Citrus, Hernando, Pasco, Hillsborough, Manatee, and Sarasota. Florida Highway Patrol is working to establish re-entry checkpoints, but some buildings and homes are damaged, and many roads and highways are closed. If you have been evacuated, please remain at your shelter until further notice. Please remember, residents of Pinellas County barrier islands must display an Emergency Access Permit to verify residency for re-entry. Local police departments are dispatching officers to shelters in all six counties, and food and necessary supplies will be delivered to each shelter as soon as possible."

There was a unified groan from the shelter guests, and people began to disperse into corners, once again unrolling their sleeping bags, and hunkering down to wait out their extended shelter sentence. Hannah went back to check on the kitten, and Aaron followed, putting his arm around her shoulders. "Why don't we walk a little?" he asked.

Hannah placed the kitten on the floor – it immediately went to the bathroom and she had to take a detour to the Supervisor's desk for paper towels to clean it up – and then the three of them ambled around the lobby, the scampering kitten taking the lead with Hannah and Aaron following closely behind.

The talk from the other shelter guests was a mix of friendly and frustrated, strangers commiserating about how they just wanted to go home and wondering aloud how much longer they would be here. Underneath all the conversation, there was a silent anxious energy of unspoken questions: How bad was the damage, really? Do we still have homes? Was anyone hurt? How well did the city come through the storm?

Less than an hour later, the Supervisor's cell phone rang. All eyes turned to the Supervisor as she answered the call. "Yes," she said. There was a long silence. "Yes. Okay. I'll let them know."

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