Harvey, a Category 4 hurricane, plowed through Corpus Christi, Texas this past Friday. And reminded us all that hurricane season is upon us.
The pictures and video, from Houston to Alabama, of the soggy path, where the remnants of the storm have lingered and dumped rain for the past week, horrify the soul.
Images of Disaster
I’ve been following The Weather Channel on TV as I always do this time of year, out of necessity. These images linger in my brain:
- A view of a ranch style house, much like my own, with a flag attached to a pole at the corner of the front porch. Only, that front porch is under three feet of water, and all you can see is the star-spangled corner of the flag. The rest is submerged.
- A video of a man, playing an upright piano. In a living room, flooded knee deep.
- A scroll, saying Houston floodwaters contain 125% more e-coli than is considered a safe level for swimming.
- A reporter rattling off statistics:
- 136,000 structures flooded in Harris County as of last count
- Per the Department of Homeland Security, 100,000 homes have been damaged
- 40 confirmed dead. Untold numbers of people displaced.
(all as of this morning 9/1/17. Click for more photos from the weather channel)
Next in Line
So now there’s another storm behind Harvey: Irma.
If you’re unfamiliar with storm-naming protocols, it always goes in alphabetical order. Once upon a time (until the 1990’s I think), all the names were female, for obvious reasons, or at least it seemed so at the time.
Women were considered more fickle. More tempestuous, so to speak. Now, in our more politically correct, egalitarian time, we alternate between male and female names, for each “named” storm.
But they only name the storms once they get to tropical storm size, once the pressure drops and the winds reach a certain level. In my recollection, it is a rare event to have two storms, so close together in time, that start with consecutive letters. To have one of them bear, at its peak, a, category 4 label, and the other (so far), a category 3, is rarer still. These are serious storms, the very emblem of Nature’s fury. This year, it would seem, we will be shown little mercy.
Years ago, when I lived with my young family in South Florida, we had the pleasure of meeting Andrew. You can tell by its name, it was the first storm of the season.
At my insistence, my husband boarded up the house the morning Andrew was to hit, in early August. Such a quiet season! Nothing of note had popped up in the tropics since June first, the official start of hurricane season.
Even that morning, the weather was beautiful: clear blue sky and sunny. But the TV predicted the relentless approach of a Category 4 or 5 hurricane, aiming right for the spot where we lived. As soon as we could, we got in the car.
We rode in a little Mazda pickup truck, with a car seat in the back bearing our six-week-old baby. Our cat, who was notoriously car-shy, wandered from the back to the front seat in a nervous frenzy. We entered the highway northbound and immediately realized our mistake. After crawling for a half hour, we got off at the next exit and tried our luck with smaller roads heading north.
I still had to nurse the baby every few hours, and I remember stopping at a fast food joint. For that purpose, among others. The place was abuzz with nervous energy.
We ended up watching the brunt of the storm on TV from the comfort of Gramma and Grandpa’s home in Central Florida, a place which I, even then, considered “safe” from hurricanes. Throughout my teen and college years, far from the vulnerable coasts, I was often not even aware of it, when a hurricane was threatening Florida. The information was, for the landlocked among us, largely irrelevant.
It was not until years later that a hurricane would cross the waist of the Florida peninsula, without blinking an eye, so to speak. Dashing that illusion to pieces.
A monster storm does not respect boundaries. Nor does it worry about conforming to your expectations.
By the time we made it home after Hurricane Andrew, its name (like Katrina, and Sandy, and Camille, and now Harvey) had already been shelved. So memorable were its impacts, that no other storm would ever again be permitted to bear its name.
Our home was safe. Other than a few shingles in the pool and a wonky rain gutter, we had escaped the wrath of the storm. Andrew was a relatively dry storm, mostly wind, little flooding or storm surge, but horrific enough without them. Our neighbors, who had ridden it out next door, sent shivers down our spine as they recounted their experience of the wind beyond the walls.
The real impact of the storm settled over us in the coming days: Tales of price gouging, worst of all for bottled water, in a time of boil water orders and tent cities. Lines at gas stations. People trying to mark their destroyed homes with spray paint so that their insurance companies could find them, in a land without street signs.
The loss of cellular coverage then, with what little coverage even existed, has frightened me into maintaining a landline to this day, despite my friends telling me I am behind the times.
Lucky for us, the storm had veered south. Not so lucky for Homestead. My husband worked on a road crew sent down to survey the damage.
There were no signs, no signals. Whole areas were flattened. Trailer parks left no trace. Roofs were gone, metal buckled.
A year or so later, we went camping with a couple we knew from Homestead. The husband carried on the tradition of scary stories by the campfire, by describing how they rode out the storm in their suburban home.
Cowering with the small kids in the hallway, far from the broken windows, while the wind bellowed and moaned. While the front door flapped and the roof creaked. Eyes shut tight, desperately wishing the roof not to lift clean away.
His tales of the following days, the aftermath of the hurricane in Homestead, proved equally horrifying. Attempting to re-start, to clean up, a badly damaged business. Having employees straggle in, some now homeless, suffering in the ninety-degree heat from skin sores and rashes. Unwashed because there is no running water. Teaching them to bathe with a bucket. Teaching them how to survive.
Weeks and weeks without A.C. In Florida. In August. That alone was enough to scare me straight.
Those stories stay with me. Every hurricane season I think of them. They color my experience, heighten my anxiety. I pay attention.
And now, to see Harvey, drenching Texas and other Gulf Coast states, with the carelessness and indifference of a child, who has left the hose to run all afternoon in the yard! One cannot help but think back to the horrors of Katrina.
Close to Home
Last year, Hurricane Matthew came to visit our neck of the woods. Downtown St. Augustine went underwater. If you have never been there, it has a lovely, quaint, touristy Spanish Colonial “olde” town.
The Castillo de San Marco is a coquina fort that has changed hands between the British, the French, the Spanish and the U.S many times over the centuries. Right after the hurricane, it rose regally, the one dry spot above the flooded streets below.
The Oldest City is still recovering, and will continue to do so for years. The beaches have had to replace lost sand all along the coast. And loads of businesses and homes were destroyed or deluged in the storm surge.
With Matthew, as with Andrew, it was once again, a little too close to home.
Hoping for the Best
Every location has natural disasters of some kind. I would not like to experience a wildfire, or an earthquake, or a tsunami. All calamities wreak devastation.
But hurricanes, with their rain and wind and potential storm surge definitely pack a wallop. To a hurricane, male or female, the safety of human beings seems less than an afterthought.
You feel completely at the mercy of the storm. You make your preparations, you devise your plan of escape. You pay your flood insurance premium and then you wait and hope and pray. Even if you are not particularly religious.
I, for one, am looking forward to December, when we should finally be out of the woods. May the rest of the season be quiet, and may you and yours be safe.
But I fear Irma, a Category 3 out there in the Atlantic, has other plans.
P.S. Be sure to donate to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey if you can! I donated here, where Walmart has pledged to match donations 2:1 in cash and merchandise through September 6, 2017, up to 10 million dollars. Red Cross Walmart Matching Page.
P.P.S. Click here for The Weather Channel’s report on how storms that begin with the letter “I “are especially notorious. And thanks to The Weather Channel for all their fine and fearless reporting!