Archive for September, 2017

Post Stormageddon Thoughts

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

Oh Harvey. Oh Irma. My curious, sciencey side marvels at you. But couldn’t you have just been wonders of nature out at sea?

We lived in Florida for many years. Early on we were spared the actual storms. We learned that storm season is six months long… except for that year it went on through January. We went through years of warnings that made me associate an impending storm with time wasting preparation and boredom. And just as I began to wonder if some weather pattern may have permanently changed, we had one, two, three, four hurricanes in one season. Direct hits, right over our house. Once we were already away from home. Once we evacuated. Twice we stayed. This is what I know.

The first big storm to hit happened while we were away. We failed to put up our shutters up before we left and so had to call a neighbor and ask if he could hire someone to put up our shutters. Of course we would repay him when we got home, and he was welcome to our hurricane supplies. “Your shutters are already up” he replied. He had gotten together with a couple of other neighbors and helped each other put up storm shutters. Knowing we were not home, they did ours too. Everyone has a lot to do before a storm. But they are happy to be cooperative and it makes the job so much easier. We got to be part of the team when we returned.

The next one was looking pretty big. We lived between the intracoastal waterway and the ocean, accessible by bridge, always an evacuation zone. It is an extraordinarily hard decision to go. I don’t blame anyone who makes a different choice. It takes planning, and resources – physical, emotional, and financial. You may not be able to leave a job, and delaying the evacuation time means traffic, fuel shortages and accidents. And of course, the storm tracks change and you might evacuate to an area that gets hit hard. Choosing what to bring was easier that I thought. You should try it. Pick one or two things that are precious to you that you really want to have when every thing else is gone. No thing ever looked the same to me after that day.

Seeing the weather channel in your neighborhood is a special kind of horror. I hoped that our home would be untouched or completely gone. I know I couldn’t handle the in-between, sifting through, salvaging, repairing. We drove home to find a home with no fences, no water, no electricity and a tree on our roof. Unbelievably the roof held. No structural damage. I remember calling my neighbor to say her house was okay, a couple of trees down but no damage. She laughed. She had already heard that her tree was on our roof. But she didn’t hear it from me.

We remained in our shuttered, well stocked house for the next two storms. After pummeling wind and rain the eye is a welcome relief. We rushed out side for a few minutes of clear sky and gentle breeze. Neighbors checked on each other. And then, one big gust ushered us all back into our caves.

After the storm the first rays of natural light are the best. We had no running water, no electricity and big messes to deal with. And it was okay. We shared tools, helped each other, played some music. I remember the guy across the street, a scuba diver, came over to say he was out of ice and he had lobster that wouldn’t last. We could offer nothing so luxurious, but had cheap wine, butter and lemon. We feasted. We swore it would never again take a storm to get us together for dinner, and it didn’t. For a few months at least we got together. After the next storm we had a small generator. Finally, we were the prepared ones! We shared it with other neighbors to keep their phones charged and their refrigerators cool. There was one neighbor with a big generator running their A/C and TV. We never saw them. I truly felt the saddest for them.

I did a little post-storm volunteering and saw how much people need the chance to tell their story. I learned to never minimize their loss, stress or trauma. Even those who had no appreciable losses still had unimaginable strain. I also learned that the effects linger. Months after the last storm passed through we drove through the farm lands and saw the mobile homes of farm workers still covered in tarps. They would never be repaired. The ground had not recovered and there was little work. Some businesses never reopen, some people never return home. For some there was no recovery, just a new way of life they somehow managed to live.

These storms have a way of focusing an eye on our strengths and our shortcomings. There is no extra time or energy to be wasted judging how we came to have those strengths or shortcomings, we just use one to overcome the other.