Saturday, August 30, 2008

Hurricane Havoc

I hate hurricanes. Why do I live on the gulf coast of Florida, then? I don't know - maybe it's in my blood. My roots here run deep - as far back as 1784, when Pedro Suarez and family were first listed on the Pensacola, Florida census, and from that hardy stock we came. I've moved away and back twice now. Having said that, there is bad weather everywhere, and at least with hurricanes you have the time to get out of town, or at least to batten down the hatches.

The weather is the hot topic. It doesn't matter who - strangers, friends, neighbors, family - everyone is talking. At work, suddenly all my vendor reps from around the country, people who I never hear from, are calling under the guise of other things and then saying, "So what about this hurricane?". Everyone is sick of talking about it but can't stop talking about it. It looks like we are going to escape the worst of this one, although we will probably get some wind and rain. We got some of Katrina, too. Katrina was a terrible tragedy, and I can't imagine what those people went through. Going through Hurricane Ivan was a horrible, almost traumatic experience, so I can't imagine going through Katrina.

When Katrina hit Bella and I were living with my in-laws here in town - Brian had been temporarily transferred to Panama City, and we were living there until his return. So living there at the time was: my mother-in-law and father-in-law, Bella and myself, and my sister-in-law and her husband. Then some of my MIL's family from New Orleans evacuated to her house, adding another two adults and three children to the mix. Still being sensitive because of Hurricane Ivan, most of the town shut down for Katrina, so everyone was home. The wind and rain were bad but bearable, as was the tension level in the house. The evacuees were having a tough time of it - the husband and wife were fighting, viciously and almost constantly, the older boys weren't listening to anyone and were being disrespectful to their stepfather, and the 2-year old girl was...well, acting like a two-year old stuck inside during a hurricane.

The cable went out first, around 8AM or so, and without the television around the three kids went slightly insane. My father-in-law and I were discussing making a pot of coffee when the power went out, but he wasn't having it, saying "Oh, no way I'm getting through this day without coffee" and promptly went and got the generator fired up. As the day progressed the house got uncomfortably warm, thanks to the lack of electricity. The kids were miserable and acting out, and my mother-in-law was miserable and acting out, and so my father-in-law grabbed me and my sister-in-law and off we went to Wal-Mart in the middle of a hurricane to buy a fan. We lingered in Wal-Mart, enjoying the AC and lack of naughty children. Eventually we went back to the house. Wind and rain, rain and wind, things eventually slowed down. We got power back the next day at home, and we had this weird half-power situation at work, but we opened up anyway. A few days later things were pretty normal, except for all the yard trash. We were lucky.

Hurricane Ivan? Not so much. The home we were renting at the time was in a mandatory evacuation zone, so I packed up my musical instruments, pictures and important documents, squeezed Bella into her carseat and off we went to my in-law's house. Oh, and Brian, he was there too. My sister-in-law and her husband came, as well. We lost power fairly early on, and phone rather quickly afterwards. We played poker, or Phase 10, or Skip-Bo, or Uno, or solitaire, or anything else we could think of to keep ourselves occupied. Bella, only two at the time, alternated between her Leapster and other, non-battery-operated toys.

After dark, things got really bad. You could barely see what was happening during the daylight hours - once it was dark you could only guess what was banging its' way down the street. We had a huge Mag-Lite flashlight that we used to attempt to see out the screen door, but the only things that could be made out were large items - as in, "There goes Mrs. Thelma's carport cover" as the huge sheet of aluminum whipped down the street at top speed.

We were all in the formal living room (where we could open the windows without being doused), trying to sleep, when we heard a suspicious noise from the den at the back of the house. Upon further investigation (with flashlights and kerosene lamps) we found the ceiling leaking, copiously, in multiple places. We started taking pictures off the walls and moving furniture around. We got out some big woks (I mean, big woks - think three feet across) and started putting them out to catch the water. My sister-in-law was headed towards the kitchen when the ceiling started collapsing on her head. Ceiling tiles and insulation started falling everywhere - all over the furniture, the floor. We made mad dashes to save whatever else we could in the room before putting up a tarp over the entry to it from the rest of the house and hoping for the best - if the ceiling completely collapsed and there was a hole in the roof we would be open to the outside world and the hurricane blowing through it..

While we were recovering from that, someone was looking through the screen door with the flashlight and asked for a second opinion: "Does it look like the oak tree is moving?" Dread - that is the only word I can come up with. That oak tree was huge - think a good 6-8 feet in circumference, and easily twice as tall as the house. And it was moving. Slowly, but when there was a particularly good gust, it would tip a little bit more. And over the course of the night, it started listing more and more towards the driveway and house. When I saw it moving (this was at the peak of the storm, around 2AM, when the eye was hitting Gulf Shores, Alabama, to our west) I moved a sleeping Bella from the living room to the hallway. I don't mind admitting that at that point I was genuinely scared. I had been uncomfortable before, but now I was downright afraid for our safety, if not our lives. And that might sound overly dramatic, but in the middle of the night in the middle of a category 3 hurricane with the ceiling collapsing and a huge oak tree menacing your living room, would be scared, too.

Bella had gone back to sleep, blissfully unaware of what was going on, and I was laying beside her trying to sleep but unable to, thanks to the constant howling of the wind. I rubbed my eye and felt something wet on my forehead that I thought at first was sweat. I thought it was sweat, I hoped it was sweat, I was ready to pray that it was sweat, but it was not - it was water leaking down from the ceiling in the hallway. I called for backup and as we stood there, peering down the hallway with our flashlights, watching leak after leak start dripping along the hallway. While getting pots and pans to try and catch the water the kitchen ceiling started leaking, and water started leaking from almost every AC vent in the house. I wish I could explain how it felt, just running around the house and finding all these leaks popping up and not knowing if the ceiling and/or the roof would hold up, or if the tree was going to fall on us while we slept or what was going to happen. It was panicky for a while there for all of us, but the leaks seemed to be content to just leak and not cave in the ceiling anymore, so we eventually got something (a pot, a pan, a bucket, a big cup) under the all the leaks we could find and then settled back in the living room (with a lookout on the tree) to try and get some sleep, probably around 4AM.

Morning dawned as best as it could against a hurricane. It was literally too windy to go outside until around 9 or 10AM, but even then there were gusts that came close to knocking us down. We went outside and just couldn't speak. There were fallen trees everywhere. Our tree had held up, but was listing dangerously over the driveway. All the cars in the driveway had been damaged in some way, with my windshield and hood getting the worst of it. There were branches and limbs and shingles and pieces of indiscernible debris everywhere. It was terrible, and the following weeks were terrible (the aftermath is another post entirely), but we made it through, and that is what matters. So I will leave you for today with the following cheesy thoughts on hurricanes and Florida:

Things Hurricane Ivan Taught Me:
-An oak tree on the ground looks four times bigger than it did standing up.
-Even after all these years, it is still nice to spend time with Colonel Mustard in the ballroom with the lead pipe.
-When house hunting, look for closets with lots of leg room.
-Water from the shower is much colder than water from the sink. .. and it tastes just as bad.
-The four-way stop is still an ingenious reflection of civility. If people follow the rules.
-Radio can be the best way to watch television.
-Chain-saw-wielding men are nothing to be afraid of.
-SUVs are the best makeshift tents on the market.
-You can use your washing machine as a cooler.
-It's your God-given and constitutionally protected right to sit on your back porch and eat Chinese takeout by candlelight in your underwear.
-We shouldn't complain about "useless" tools in the garage. .. we actually do need a generator.
-You can't spell "priceless" without I-C-E.
-Cell phones: Breaking up is hard to do.
-The need for your dog to go out and take care of business is inversely proportional to the severity of the storm.
-Candlelight is better than Botox. .. it takes several years off your appearance.
-Air conditioning: Best invention ever.
-Water is comfort food. But three-day-old Cheetos are, too.
-Shadow animals on the wall are. .. still fun.
-There's a plus to having nothing in the refrigerator.
-The movie theater can be a most pleasant place, even if the feature is Alien vs. Predator.

How to Recognize a Floridian
-Their freezer never has more than $20 worth of food in it at any given time. *This is so true- as soon as hurricane season starts I and many people I know don't keep more than a few meals worth of food in the freezer*
-They are looking at paint swatches for the plywood on their windows to accent the house color.
-They talk about their hall closet/safe room as "cozy."
-They have a collage of roof shingles from their neighborhood on their driveway.
-They each own five large ice chests.
-They always stop what they're doing and clap and wave when they see a convoy of power company trucks come down their street.
-They are depressed when the trucks don't stop.
-They know the definition of bar chain oil.
-They think the $6000 whole-house generator seems reasonable.
-They get really passionate in discussions about the merits of cubed, block, and dry ice.
-They ask their friends and relatives up north to start saving the Sunday real estate classifieds!

Believe me, although hokey, anyone who has been there and done that are nodding in agreement. Groaning, but nodding. Happy holiday weekend to all!


Jen said...

Amen, sister. I told Resa I'd email her my list of things to have on hand for hurricanes since they were caught off-guard with Fay. Those things they forget to list in the official brochures. You just reminded me. :)

Jennifer said...

The token Texan agrees that hurricanes are slightly easier to deal with than tornadoes. There's time to prepare, gather supplies and whatnot. With twisters, it's "get in the bathtub NOW!" and barely enough time to grab the laptop on your way there.