Sunday, January 2, 2011

Cliff Notes and Hurricanes

A Cliff note here and then we will move on. Here goes.
Around 1972 I packed up and escaped from the town where I had lived most of my life. I moved to Providence, R.I. for about a year. If I got into the stories I could tell from that one year there, this would no longer be a Cliff note version of a part of my life so we shall move right along.
Illinois was my next stop and again, life stories we all have, a year there and after that, it was one state after another for years and years. My travels were better then any two week vacation. I got to spend from 6 months to a year in each location which gave me plenty of time to know the locals, their activities, where the parties were and whose house to hang out at. I was young. What else can I say?
I could be a tour guide for the lower 48. I was every where.
Eventually my travels led me to Morgantown, WV...this was sometime around 1987.  I had never been in Morgantown though I had grown up in WV.
 22 months there and then to Mississippi for a year  and finally to Louisiana in 1990. While in Mississippi, I started college and finished here in Louisiana in 1993. Hold on, I'm getting there...the Cliff notes are just to catch you up a bit.

The year was 1992 and I was sitting in a classroom listening to a professor's lecture, taking notes and paying close attention. I was a better college student then I ever was a high school student. Age does inspire wisdom sometimes, besides...this wasn't free.
For a week now we had watched a storm in the Atlantic. As it got nearer to land, it was predicted to hit south Florida. A few days passed before it made landfall in Homestead Florida. The Gulf states believed they had escaped this storm. We watched the televised reports of the devastation left behind. That huge storm moved over Florida, slowed by striking land but not enough to prevent it from entering Gulf to begin it's journey toward another landfall. Alert now, we begun another period of waiting and watching as it roared across the Gulf picking up the speed it had lost when it hit Florida.
The days passed and the path was watched closely.
Never knowing until the last few hours of a storms approach exactly where it will make landfall, many do not evacuate and by the time the landfall is predicted on a bullseye, it's too late to leave. The roads are conjested and the exiting is impossible.
Classes were in session and that's where I was when word came that it would be making landfall in our area. Hurricane Andrew, the third largest hurricane to hit the US shores blew in and hit  Florida, crossed through and into the Gulf and would soon be on our shores! We were on full alert and glued to the weather reports watching the barometer drop, while observing the high pressure bands from the north determining  it's path and hoping it turned more north or south from landfall to this area.
 The sky was dotted with helicopters, their whirling blades cutting the air with a whap whap whap as they began heading into and out of the Gulf to evaucate the rigs. My husband was off shore and I was in class. Evacuating the rigs is typical when any large storm enters the Gulf. The whirring of those chopper blades resemble an attack of locusts. There air strip is directly across the four lane from this house and there was a trail of them flying two abreast both coming and going. Every chopper that PHI (Petroleum Helicopters Inc.)  has is in the air. It's a busy time for the transport carriers bringing the rig workers to town  after the choppers deliver them to the docks.
Back in the my classroom nobody  was concentrating on anything that professor had to say. Shortly she announced that those wishing to leave, could and we did. Everyone hurried to their cars and to their homes to begin the boarding up and stowing away and tying down of their possessions. The race was on!
I watched the sky filled with offshore evacuees, knowing that as soon as they made it home, there would be no rest for them.  We had hours before the storm would arrive and even then it wasn't pinpointed to exactly where it would make it's second landfall. Everyone had plenty of work ahead of them.
I'll cut right to that night right here. We stayed up most of the night. It was our first hurricane and early on the stores were packed with people stocking up on water and batteries. The home building stores were sold out of plywood and the noise of hammers could be heard from block to block in the neighborhood. Everyone had one thing on their minds and that was protection. As soon as the husband arrived, he finished what the neighbors had started. The windows were covered, the bathtubs scrubbed and filled with water, propane tank filled and we began the wait.
It was still dark outside when I passed out. It was still dark when it hit Morgan City, Louisiana. When the husband heard the winds, he woke me up and we both moved to the patio door. 
I could see his lips moving and knew he must have been speaking. Actually he was yelling. The roar was deafening. If train tracks had been attached to the top of this house and Amtrak was roaring along on those tracks, the sound of that hurricane matched what I imagine  the noise that Amtrak would make. I worried about the water oaks that easily uproot. The roots of those trees spread across the ground instead of seeking depth to support themselves and they are the first to fall. We had two of them that provided shade for the patio. Soon after this storm, they were taken down and hauled to the road.
The huge maple tree on the front lawn was another worry. It survived though not without having it leaves shredded and branches ripped off.

We waited. Expecting the roof to be lifted away and the walls to cave in, we waited.  

As the eye passed over us, a false sense of safety cocooned us. Quiet. Calm and clear. We went outside to see trees blown down along with power lines and rain being blown sideways in sheets. A large tree across the street lay on its side, the roots a perfect circle resembling  splayed out fingers. Tree limbs were scattered across the lawns up and down the street.
 Then the other side of the storm  hit but we knew it would be coming and as the winds started their roar we moved back inside as the outer wall moved over us again.
Once again, we huddled in the lightless room darkened by the hurricane wall passing above and listened and waited. It finally passed. We stepped out to investigate.
More rain and wind and for the remainder of the day we received gusts that were staggering. The barbeque pits were on and coffee was being perked on the old fashioned perkolators and poured into carafes to be delivered to the neighbors.
Plywood was being taken down to let light into houses that were without power. The heat and humidity were stifling and there was no place to run to cool off. All the power in the town was gone and it was time to exercise coping abilities.

Warnings were out to stay off the roads. Danger was in the form of power lines and power poles and trees that were shedding big limbs in the gusts. A nurse lost her life at an intersection where the stop lights were without power. She was called in to the hospital on emergency status.

We got into the truck and drove from the subdivison to the main road and turned around and went home. Trees and power poles blocked both the right side and the left side and leaving was not a option.

Back home the cleanup began. The sound of chain saws replaced the sound of hammers. Trees were being cut and hauled to the road. The trees had been stripped of their leaves. Those wet leaves were plastered like those plastic  stick ons the children use on windows at Halloween and Christmas. They were stuck the walls of the house and to the vehicles. Debris in the air had deposited where the wind gusts lulled. Everyone was busy.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner was cooked on the pits lined up on the driveways. This was an "after the hurricane" party and not the jolly one with food and drink before it's arrival.
We vowed to never stay for another one. We would pack and leave.
Each year we say this during hurricane season and we have never left when one is heading this way. Neither have our neighbors. We have decided when we see our neighbors, who were born and raised here, pack and leave, we will be following right behind them.
It's always a relief when hurricane season is past. We have been very lucky since Rita and Katrina blasted through Louisiana. Both of those storms wreaked havoc and destruction and though Rita struck within 20 miles of where I live, we were spared any effects of that one. Katrina that caused all the destruction in New Orleans and  Mississippi was 2 1/2 hrs from here and we sat and watched the television reports from our living room. Both storms were within weeks of each other. Those stories are told in books later. I visited New Orleans a few months later and wrote a blog on that visit. Rita's legacy is still visible from the slabs of concrete of whole neighborhoods that lost houses, the blue tarps still in use in Lake Charles and the pictures I have of the coffins floated to the streets in Abbeyville.
Since those two storms it has been mostly quiet. We wait. We wait for the next season and sigh with relief when we have a calm year.


  1. I had no Idea you had been through all that, I am sure that no one could ever really imagine what that woild be like if they hadn't lived it.

  2. What a terrifying experience. So well described I almost felt I was there!

  3. John..the last hurricane, we were in WV and headed back this way. We made it to Tennessee and knew we couldn't travel any further. We would have been stranded without gasoline as the closer we got to home, there would be no electricty to power the fuel stations. We spend a couple of nights and the headed in. It was a caravan of people heading back to their homes.

  4. Linda, I know it sounds bad..and is at times but I would rather face a hurricane then a tornado.


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