My mom left her home (where I grew up) Wednesday from southeast Houston to go and stay with my sister who lives in Huntsville. My brother picked her up early so they avoided all of the traffic and stuff that we saw on the news reports the past couple of days.
Although they will will be staying in Hunstville, approximately 100 or so miles inland, they are still expected to get Hurricane force winds and the spin off tornados all over that region. Back at my mom’s house, the winds are going to be raging at 135 mph plus with gusts much, much higher.
Now, if you have never been through a hurricane, count yourself lucky. In 1983, I was living in Houston and went through Hurricane Alicia in which the eye of the storm passed directly over Galveston, traveled up the I-45 and directly over our house. Now, although the storm surge of Rita appears to be much more dramatic, it will in all likelihood hit land as a Category 3 storm, the same as Hurricane Alicia.
I vividly remember that experience as one of the most frightening of my life. Sustained winds of around 100 mph for approximately 12-16 hours battered our house. First from the front, all night long, the winds were so strong, like nothing I have ever experienced. Frightening and maddening are words that come to mind. To be in darkness and to hear the winds and the banging of objects against your house….amazing. One man’s account of the wind is very accurate: If you’ve never been through a hurricane, it’s difficult to envision the perpetual sounds of nature’s greatest sustained wrath. It doesn’t sound like wind. Wind has a higher-pitched, swooshy sound. This is a deep, insidious, intense, powerful roar. It varies slightly in pitch atonally, irrythmically, and unexpectedly. It sounds absolutely demonic, like a mean, ill-willed chant. And through the prevalent blast, you hear desperate flapping and crashing of things out there. You wonder what the hell is going on.
And then the eye passed…with the most eery and strange calmness in the midst of the storm you have ever felt. It was surreal as my neighbors and I went outside, and I remember thinking, “How many times will I ever be able to walk around in the eye of a hurricane.” So we all met outside, talked about our experiences, helped pick up debris so that later it wouldn’t become airborne artillery against us.
Then the winds started again, beating us from the opposite direction for the rest of the day. What the first wave of wind couldn’t knock down, the next wave from the other direction took care of it. Several of our neighbors lost roofs to the winds, but flooding was not significant in our area so that was the good news. Downtown Houston was inches deep in glass as windows from high rises were blown out. Our home lost many roof tiles and our entire wood fence was blown away (literally gone). I remember watching in the middle of the night as six foot sections of the fence would lift off and become an airborne missile, narrowly missing our house and landing god knows where.
I laid in the downstairs den and remember praying (trust me on that night I believed strongly in the power of prayer), “Dear God, if we survive this, I will never, ever stick around for another one.”
My mom remembers praying that as well…so off she went to my sisters this time around. Of course with Hurricane Katrina fresh in their minds, most of the south east side of Houston faced mandatory evacuations.
So we sit and wait…and hope for a minimal amount of damage. It is strange to be here so far away and think that your childhood home will have to endure such a beating again. Hopefully it will survive, but the most important thing (for me of course) is that Mom is safe and sound and not alone to endure this traumatic experience. Of course my thoughts are also with all the others who will certainly be left homeless (the city of Port Arthur is expected to be completely destroyed according to the mayor there). It will be a definite tragedy for so many, as was Katrina. In the face of certain human suffering and pain, we can hope that we will respond in ways to serve and help those in need to the best of our abilities.