Hurricanes

Jeremiah 23: 18-20 (The Message) was part of my personal scripture reading today, one of those God-Made-Coincidences (GMC).

“Have any of these prophets (the king’s false prophets and advisors) bothered to meet with me, the true God?
bothered to take in what I have to say?
listened to and then lived out my Word?
Look out! God’s hurricane will be let loose—
my hurricane blast,
Spinning the heads of the wicked like tops!
God’s raging anger won’t let up
Until I’ve made a clean sweep,
completing the job I began.
When the job’s done,
you’ll see that it’s been well done.

NOTE:  The NIV says “storm” and “whirlwind”.

I have been fascinated by hurricanes from before I knew what they were.  That sounds incredible, but I remember what I did during my first hurricane, just not the hurricane.  It might have been Audrey in 1957.  When Audrey made landfall in Louisiana, I would have been almost 5 years old.

 

My parents owned a turkey farm in northern Mississippi where we lived from 1954 to about 1961 when the farm was completely closed.  We were over five hours from the Gulf Coast.  We were rarely affected by hurricanes, but this one was going to bring strong rains to our part of Mississippi.  It might last most of the night.  I was mustered into service.

 

The stories that have been told about dumb turkeys are true.  When they get scared, they huddle together.  The huddle gets tighter and tighter.  To breathe, they stick their heads up.  With such a long neck and narrow throat, a single drop of water can drown them.  This was explained to me by my mother while my father was calling as many field and processing plant employees as possible for overtime work.  My brother and sister were already outside in the wind and rain.  The family and the employees ran through the huddles of turkeys so that they wouldn’t drown.  We had thousands of turkeys stretched over about 50 acres and many hills.  I was working near the house.  They didn’t want me lost in the woods that night.  My work was cut short, though.  I was in an area where there were turkey feeders made of thin steel sheeting, bolted together.  I climbed up to knock a single turkey off the top of a feeder.  He wasn’t huddled with other turkeys, but his head was pointed skyward.  With the increasing wind and rain, I slipped on the slick steel surface and cut my left shin.  I should have gotten stitches, but my mother couldn’t afford two workers to leave.  We lived ten miles from town and someone would have had to drive me to the hospital.  I was bandaged up and sent to bed.  Now they were only one worker short.  I had already stayed up several hours past my bedtime, anyway.  I still have the scar.

 

I became interested in hurricanes after that night.  Maybe I was thinking of how I would be a better worker the next time and redeem myself.  With cousins that lived in Florida and living in Mississippi, it didn’t matter where the track might go in the Atlantic, I was hooked and looking for any information.  I’d take the map out of the newspaper and start plotting the track of the hurricane.  I was fascinated at how 2 or 3 hurricanes could start in the same general area and then make a crooked path in totally different directions.  What was lost on such a young enthusiast was the destruction and the loss of life.

 

By 1969, I had developed a sensitivity to hot weather.  It has plagued me ever since.  My mother refused to use air conditioning, and the summers in Mississippi could get oppressively hot.  When I heard that Camille was headed toward Mississippi, I understood that lives could be lost, but if it had to make landfall somewhere…  I hoped that we could get some rain to cool the air for just a few days.  Little did I know how strong the storm would be in northern Mississippi.

 

I was washing clothes.  The laundry room was across the open garage.  (We never installed doors on the two-car garage when my Dad and I built it the year before.)  When Camille came, the rain pounded the windows behind me as I watched TV.  I looked out the back door, into the garage, and saw the rain blowing so hard that it soaked the inside wall on the far side of the garage.  Then the rain and wind stopped.  That far from the coast, most hurricanes break up into just a lot of wind and rain.  I thought it was over.  I went to the laundry room built on the far corner of the garage, where the outside wall had been hit by the rain and wind.  I opened the door and there was six inches of water inside the closed laundry room.  The wind had blown so hard that the water found seams and cracks to fill the room with water.  I assumed a broken pipe.  I checked the pipes and found no leaks.  The water had gotten near the height of the dryer drum, but it was still dry.  I could dry the first load.  By the time I mopped the floor, started a second load of clothes, and walked back into the house across the garage, the wind was coming from the other direction.  I had been in the eye of the storm.  Folks, that just doesn’t happen that far inland.

 

I didn’t know until years later that my future wife was also affected by Camille.  She had graduated high school in 1969.  She went into the Air Force and was stationed in Biloxi, MS near the end of that year.  She had to sleep on a cot in the hallway of the hospital where she worked, months after the hurricane.  The barracks had not been repaired and reopened.

 

Fast forward to 1989.  I was working in South Carolina, southeast of Augusta, GA.  We lived in North Augusta, SC.  I had tracked hurricane Hugo the night before, but it had not hit Charleston, SC yet, about two and a half hours southeast.  Then next morning, I wasn’t thinking about the storm, I had a class to teach.  I had a lot of engineers at a nuclear plant who needed me to get there early to teach them their latest assigned course.  My haste had thrown the hurricane from my mind.  I got into my small pickup truck well before rush hour.  I was on the four-lane highway to the plant entrance fifteen miles further south.  I passed over the overpass crossing US-1.  The interchange was on top of a hill.  Without any ground beneath the road (I was on the bridge crossing a four-lane US-1.), the velocity of the wind increased so suddenly that my small pickup truck was picked up and deposited four lanes over, in the direction of on-coming traffic.  Since there was very little traffic, I hit no other cars and was able to get back on my side of the road.  (You could say this was another time God had saved my life.)  I turned on the radio, but I already knew what I would hear.  The announcer’s first words were, “People, be careful.  The hurricane has reached us in the area around Augusta, GA.”

 

Our church got a crew of volunteers to clear streets in Charleston, SC.  My job was to ensure that we had enough volunteers, enough chainsaws, and a truck big enough to haul trees, if needed.  I never ended up going.  We always had more volunteers than would fit in the van.  People today complain about emergency services not getting where needed, extended loss of power and telephone lines, and other things that are taken for granted in the good times.  Our crew, and many others, cut their way down city streets for the first week and then every weekend for two months so that the utility workers and city services could reach people in need.  I just threw this paragraph in to explain why relief efforts are slow at first.  Trees cover the road and power lines are on the ground or hanging at head height everywhere you go.  You never know what power line is live and what is not.

 

When Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, my heart was moved to help.  I remembered Camille.  I had to be there.  We got there in January 2006.  I wrote about the work and the people stories in the post, Love in Action, earlier this week.

 

One of the days, the PDA coordinator encouraged us to become tourists and drive around.  We went to the beach at Ocean Springs, MS.  Where there was oceanfront properties on stilts before the hurricane.  There were broken pilings and concrete driveways, nothing else.  On our way back north to Interstate 10, I spotted a washing machine stuck about ten feet up in a pine tree.  Had it floated there atop the storm surge?  I thought about my washing clothes when Camille hit.  We couldn’t take US-90 across to Biloxi.  The bridge was simply not there anymore.  We went to Interstate 10, the raised banks of which stopped the storm surge from further destruction, miles from the coast.  In Biloxi, my wife saw that the “White House”, a favorite bed and breakfast for people visiting loved-ones at the Air Force base only had side walls.  It looked like a bulldozer had plowed from the beach through the house and out the other side.  The people with us didn’t understand.  They were from Bridgeville, PA, but as we drove the beach road my wife and I noticed what houses weren’t there anymore, and what areas should have had trees.  We went to the east to see the damage to the casinos.  We got out of the van.  One of the ladies with us asked where a particular casino was.  I was surprised that she missed it when we drove by.  She pointed.  “It’s supposed to be there.  I heard it was damaged a lot.”  I turned her about 110 degrees.  “There it is.”  The lady protested that it couldn’t be, but it was.  The beautiful façade was gone and the former-floating casino, built in the water off from the beach was inland, on the far side of the four lanes of US-90.  Note that US-90 was only a two lane road at this point.  The other lanes were still covered in debris and sand, or washed away entirely.  We drove west toward Gulfport.  I wanted to go to a famous home that I knew was still standing further down the beach road, but by then, there had been so many empty blocks with no houses and gutted shells where fast food restaurants had been that the women in the van were crying.  They just wanted to go back to our camp.

 

My wife’s mother in Port Arthur, TX had her house shoved off the foundation when Hurricane Rita hit one month after Katrina.  The complaining people in New Orleans were still in the news, as they should have been.  There weren’t any people in portions of Mississippi to be in the news.  They were either gone or were evacuated.  As for Rita, the people in Texas didn’t complain so much.  They just rebuilt.

 

Hurricane Harvey affected my wife’s extended family in Texas, but all are safe.  Several lost a lot of possessions, but the people are okay in the family.  The next generation, our nephews especially, are now the ones dropping everything and helping others.

 

Now we have the Weather Channel and I am retired.  It is hurricane season, and I watch the progress of Hurricane Irma.  It is approaching Florida.  I have cousins there.  Their mother or grandmother, depending, was my aunt.  My aunt was my mother’s younger sister.  She was just like her mother, a very sweet lady.  She passed away earlier this year.

 

My aunt’s name was Erma.

2 Comments

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  1. Enjoyed reading of your personal experience with hurricanes. The two recent hurricanes Irma and Harvey got me thinking that my wife Deb, having grown up in Florida, was the only one of the two of us that has had any contact with a hurricane. It was then that I realized that I did also, although be it after the fact. Like your wife I too arrived at Keesler AFB in Biloxi MS. in December 1969. Even three and one half months afterward the damage was still widespread. reminding me of pictures of Hiroshima. Several months later I was walking just off Highway 90, a car with a middle aged couple pulled over, the woman (with a New York accent) asked me “What happened here. why is everything so gutted out?” I of course explained that it was Hurricane Camille.

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