Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hurricane Memories

The first hurricane I have clear memories of is Andrew.  I was eleven years old, and my family was living in a converted workshop on a piece of riverfront property in the country.  The place wasn’t exactly sturdy, but we’d ridden out hurricanes there before, and my grandparents’ solid brick house was just yards away.  My mother had memories of Betsy and Camille.  By the time Andrew got inland, to us, it would be nothing compared to them.  We stocked up on canned food, filled buckets and plastic pitchers with water, and tied the lawn furniture down on the porch.

Like with most hurricanes, it’s what happened after the storm that I remember best.  We had a couple of horses in a five-acre paddock next to an oxbow lake, and after the storm hit, the field was four inches deep in muddy water.  The horses stuck their muzzles below the surface and came up with dripping mouthfuls of weeds and soggy roots.  It took a few days for the field to drain again, and by then, the horses’ pawing for grass had turned it into a plowed-up, muddy mess.  The horses weren’t the only muddy ones.  Since our water came from a pump well, and we were out power for a little over a week, we were out water as well.  I remember my father, sweaty and tired after chainsawing fallen trees and hauling them off to a pile to be burned, washing his hair outside in one of the trailing rain showers.

Andrew was also the storm where a poplar tree split in half when it fell and formed a perfect right angle around my father’s old gray pickup truck.  Not a scratch on it.  Thirteen years later, during Katrina, my old bedroom in that same house was demolished when an oak tree from the front yard gave it a direct hit.  You can’t always be lucky.

The last storm I was actually in before moving the California was Ivan.  The Enabler and I stayed up until two a. m. layering sandbags across the back porch of his condo to keep the water from the canal out.  It turned out the water never rose that high, but early that morning, while we slept through the storm, a monster of a pine tree across the canal came down, taking out the fences fronting the water and lying down neatly between the buildings of the complex, right through the unoccupied portion of the parking lot.

I’d already left home when Katrina hit, but not being in the thick of things was almost worse.  The phone lines were down, and the cell towers were so overloaded, I didn’t hear from my family for almost forty-eight hours.  I found out later that a tree had come down across the only access road to their subdivision.  They couldn’t get out.  Once the worst of the wind and rain subsided, the neighborhood men came out with chainsaws and axes and spent hours hauling it off the road.  Then my parents got in a car and drove west with their cell phones held up like divining rods, waiting for signal and an open line.  It took over thirty miles.  While they were driving, The Enabler and I were calling everyone we knew who was from the South but not currently in it, passing along messages and getting a few of our own.  Lakeview under water.  Trees down at a family member’s home in Baton Rouge, but no serious damage.  My friend’s camp on the river in Mississippi gone, nothing but the concrete foundation left. 

Of course, for every hurricane full of downed trees and flooding in my back yard, there are two like Georges, the storm that looked like it was coming right for us and then veered off to hit Mississippi.  And then there are countless ones whose names I can't remember, starting out strong in the Gulf but petering out into mere thunderstorms once they hit land.  We'd end up in the living room with the lights on and the AC blowing, watching the Weather Channel try to squeeze drama from the lackluster wind and drizzle.  These are the storms that explain why folks don't always evacuate when they should.

Stay safe, East Coast, and don't forget the batteries.


  1. I remember watching Alicia on tv in 83. Like you, I remember some nameless hurricanes that blew through and were minor inconveniences, but the first that stood out in mind was Juan in 85. That was the first time I ever remembered leaving for a hurricane.

    We left to stay with friends in Thibodaux. Sandbagged the doors to the house and left. The protection levee broke (or was blown up to save someone's cows, I've heard both stories) and the water came within an inch of coming into the house.

    Andrew in 92 I was in college in Thibodaux. The school shut down, and I stayed in town with a family friend who lived there at the time, instead of going home, which was closer to the coast. We were without power for 4-5 days. After the storm passed we got out and video-taped the damage around town. One memory that stands out was a string of telephone poles. Like a series of photos of a single pole falling over, The first one was up-right, and each successive pole was leaned over a little further until it almost touched the ground, and then climbed back up until it reached an up-right pole again. None of the wires had broken either.

    Isidore & Lily in '03. Back to back storms a week apart. We had 28 and 32 inches of water on the shop floor. no sooner had we cleaned out the mud from the first storm and started to reset the warehouse than we had to pick it up again, and clean up once again after the second storm.

    Ivan we left and stayed in Houston. Traffic jam on Hwy 90, took 2 hours to go 2 miles at one point. 15 hours to make what's normally a 5hr trip. Came home to find everything was fine, which was a relief. For Katrina i wasn't so lucky.

    Again, for Katrina we left for Houston. Less of a traffic nightmare this time, only 7.5 hours to get there. The house however was damaged when we got back home. The electric line coming into the house was ripped out, and had to be replaced. water had gotten into the attic and caused the ceiling tiles to give way, which caused things in the bedroom to get wet and ruined.

    Work was off of the power grid for a few weeks until lines and equipment could be repaired or replaced. The yard ran on generators, and most of us were eating MREs for lunch until the local restaurants could clean up and re-open. And it was clear and hot for days and days after Katrina, with little or no wind at all. Miserable.

    Two days short of the 2nd anniversary of Katrina I was relocated to North Texas. I'd had enough.

  2. I have vague memories of Juan...I think that was the one that did a 360-degree loop over Louisiana before heading north.

    The power line pole image is great. Funny how things like that stick out.

  3. Just looked Juan up, and yep. It made a loop out in the gulf for 24 hours before coming inland. I remember being stuck inside the friend's house FOREVER before it finally broke. Our street had just been paved with six inches of concrete that year, right around the start of school, so that acted like a levee and almost flooded the house.

  4. It's always the aftermath, isn't it? Great post; it totally got me thinking back too.

  5. The worst storm I endured (I'm in Houston) was Ike recently. We had no power or water for 3 weeks. I kid you not. It sucked.

  6. Ugh. As a kid I thought losing power was fun (It's like camping! And no school!), but now I am fully aware of how much it sucks.