Hurricanes I have known

If you are in New Orleans or the Atchafalaya Basin area and you are reading this, for the love of God, leave!

I grew up in Louisiana so I know a little about hurricanes. The first one I remember was Hurricane Audrey when I was in elementary school. New Iberia was hit hard. We had no electricity for more than a week. Our television antenna was the only one still attached to a roof on Weeks Street, a fact my dad was particularly proud of. I can remember my dad went out to try to find milk and other food but couldn't get through the streets because of all the fallen trees. I don't think Audrey was considered a major storm in the grand scheme of things but it did a number on Louisiana.

Through the years, there were other storms. We usually rode them out. Don't ask me why, but evacuation wasn't even discussed. On two occasions, we did leave, driving to the northern part of the state to stay with relatives. I don't remember the name of the hurricane that hit those two times, but I do remember seeing the photographs in the newspapers. The pictures seemed like war-ravaged battlefields with nothing but rubble strewn across what once was a town.

When I was in my twenties, I said farewell to hurricanes and headed to the Far East where I was introduced to typhoons. I was a young military wife whose husband flew with the planes they evacuated when typhoons threatened. Since we lived on Okinawa, right in the middle of Typhoon Alley, this happened frequently. Of course, wives and children didn't get evacuated. We stayed behind to ride out the storms as best we could.

On Okinawa where I lived nearly six years, there were wooden and cardboard box shanties on the hillsides and a scattering of traditional Okinawan wooden houses, but most of the buildings, houses and businesses, in the civilian community and on base were made of concrete blocks with solid concrete slab roofs and steel doors. Windows and doors were equipped with shutters, thick slabs of wood or rolling steel shutters on businesses. When typhoons approached, we all knew what to do so eventually we took our safety for granted.

The first typhoon I went through was a horror. Nearly eight solid hours of shrieking wind, pounding rain, and anything left loose flying into the steel doors. The noise was unnerving as less sturdy buildings disintegrated and became shrapnel that pounded our steel door all night long.

Six years later though, after innumerable typhoons, a storm was an occasion for a typhoon party. It was nothing to see people down on the seawall below my house which perched on a cliff above the East China Sea. Partiers leapt from the wall and raced the waves bounding over the huge wall. I too was guilty of venturing out just to see what was going on. Being cooped up for hours on end makes you kind of stir crazy, especially when you're by yourself. So visiting with other wives and walking around and taking pictures during the storm had become commonplace to me. Often, I'd even ventured down to the sea wall, a ribbon of concrete bordered on each side by giant chunks of coral much taller than my five feet one inch height.

After one such storm, I walked down to the sea wall to observe the ocean, one of my favorite activities. A chill came over me as I noticed the huge coral boulders had been tossed about like a child's toys, scattered like rough marbles over the flat plain between the street and the sea wall. That was the last time I took a storm for granted.

Since then, I've lived on the Texas Gulf Coast, and I've never forgotten what wind, rain, and a storm surge can do. I've suffered flooding by tropical storms--lost a breakfast room one year and about ten years later a Chevy Blazer. I've had to drive flooded streets with water up to my wheel wells but made it through. I've boarded up for "small" hurricanes (category 3 and below) that changed direction at the last minute. A false alarm is a reason to say a prayer of thanksgiving.

To this day, I keep hurricane supplies (weather radio, batteries, candles, water, and food) at the ready. And I will never, ever, ignore a call to evacuate my home. Houses and furnishings can be replaced, but people can't. Trite, yes, but some people seem to forget that important fact.

Tonight as evacuees pour into the churches being used as shelters in the town in northeast Louisiana where my mother lives, I pray all of my many relatives, indeed, everyone in the state, will be safe.

God bless and keep you.

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