Friday, September 01, 2006

Hurricane seasons

I have hurricanes on my mind today -- and not just the kind that are playing my alma mater on Monday.

Over the past couple of days, with Ernesto on the horizon, several people asked me about what a hurricane is like. You see, I spent 12 years of my life in Florida, so everyone thinks I should know something. But what no one really understands is just how much of my life was impacted by hurricanes.

Some of my earliest memories are about storms. In 1979, when I was real little, my family was living in our first house in New Jersey, and we were hit by a bad storm, causing a tornado to rip down our street. Our house wasn't damaged, but a lot of our neighbors' houses were. One even had a gigantic old tree fall through their chimney and roof. I had dreams about the storm for years. Many years later, I would figure out that this was Hurricane David.

When I was older, and living in another house in another part of New Jersey, we were hit by Hurricane Gloria. Most importantly, there was no school that day. But what I remember the most was that, in the middle of the storm, my dad ran outside and brought back a large hailstone for us three kids to inspect. Evenutally it just melted on the orange dining room carpet. I also remember driving around afterwards to survey the damage. Lots of uprooted trees, but nothing really that bad. We were lucky.

Then we moved to Southeast Florida in August of 1988. We were barely in the new house when we had relatives fleeing from some tropical vacation to stay with us due to Hurricane Gabriel. The next year was Hurricane Hugo -- our first experience with preparing for a major hurricane -- and my first glimpse into my mother's hurricane paranoia. Lucky for us, it didn't hit Florida.

For a while, nothing ever seemed to hit South Florida. The weathermen were the boys who cried wolf. And then there was Andrew.

Andrew hit on the Sunday before what was supposed to be the first day of my senior year. My friends and I were so used to nothing happening that we thought it was a joke. We tried to get stranded together at my friend Sam's house, but the hurricane wasn't supposed to hit until late, and we all wound up having to go home. During the early parts of the storm, we were on the phone, on three-way, business as usual. Then it got bad. I slept in my closet for a while, worried that the window would break. Again, we were lucky -- the storm veered a little to the south.

But the people in Homestead weren't as lucky. For much of the next week, my friend Allie and I volunteered at the United Way camp in Homestead, handing out food, water, and other supplies to people that had been devastated by the storm. We drove down there, watching the devastation unfold. To this day, I've never seen anything quite like it. Most of the time, when you see reports of hurricanes, the buildings are battered, but still mostly standing. When you see reports about tornados, you see the demolished houses, the rubble -- but on a relatively smaller scale. This looked like a tornado took out an entire town.

The next storms I remember hit while I was in college and law school. They were mostly nameless inconveniences. One hit Tallahassee twice -- once on the way towards Texas, and then another time on the way back towards the east coast. Another hit the week before my college graduation, which caused my parents to freak out a bit. I vaguely remember my mom threatening to not come to my graduation because of it. Several weeks later, another one hit, right as I was moving my sister into her first dorm room. We thought that hurricane season was bad; we had no idea.

A couple hit while I was in law school and getting my masters' degree, but none of them were that bad. I vaguely remember worrying about my apartments -- I thought one was too new and shoddily constructed and another was old and falling apart. Mostly I remember sleeping through the rain. I always sleep well when it's raining outside.

Then I moved back up north. You'd think that I'd be done with hurricanes, but no. A couple have struck the DC area since I've been living here and some have interfered with my work-related travel. Mostly, though, they keep on traumatizing people I love. In 2004, my family was struck by a number of storms within a couple weeks of each other. The first time, my grandfather was out of town without my grandmother -- who was sick, but refused to stay with my parents -- and we were unable to get in contact with her because they had no phone service or power (which means no air conditioning) for days. Several days later, they got hit by the next storm, while my grandmother was in the hospital with a horrible case of pneumonia that almost killed her. I went down to see them in October, and again, was amazed by the landscape. Trees uprooted and roof damage everywhere. To add insult to injury, the President used it as a campaign tool. It was outrageous.

And then last year. As always, my family was hit -- even before they had fully recovered from the last year's storms. My sister lost a window. My parents and my grandparents didn't have power or phone service for days. Mostly though, my best friend lives in New Orleans. She lost her house in Katrina. She and her husband just bought a new house, but she says that it's been a struggle to fully move in -- the fear of another loss is too overwhelming. And all I keep thinking about is that I have a cd of pictures and other nonsense from high school that I need to send to her -- a meager attempt to replace the unreplaceable, at least a little bit.


mad said...

I hope those dire predictions about global warming increasing the ferocity of future hurricanes is bogus. Amazing you can remember all of them and what you were doing.

Dara said...

Mad: I have a really good memory. I can generally remember what I was doing for holidays and other big events going pretty far back.

Some of these -- Andrew & Gloria in particular -- were very memorable. Others, I don't remember the storm, I remember the consequences. It's hard to forget your mother threatening to skip your college graduation because of a storm, or having to worry about power generators in a hospital when your grandmother's in the ICU.