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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Mother Nature Throws Hissy Fit by Joan Reeves

A few years ago I was asked to write a piece for a hurricane hunter since I have quite a few of the storms under my belt, so to speak. I thought about this article tonight since many of my relatives in Louisiana are under siege by Hurricane Isaac at this very moment and decided to share that article with you today.

Experience Is A Great Teacher

One thing hurricanes will teach you is to respect Mother Nature. You can spend billions trying to protect property, but, in the end, it may be for naught because the force of wind, rain, and the ocean is unimaginable.

Going through a hurricane or typhoon is great fodder for the writing grist mill, but it's not an experience I'd encourage anyone to seek out. However, I must say the storms I've experienced have cropped up in various books I've written. There's nothing like Mother Nature to provide the ultimate external conflict.

My Storm Story

You see, I grew up in Louisiana so I know a little about hurricanes. The first one I remember was Hurricane Audrey when I was very young. We lived in New Iberia, and it was hit hard. We had no electricity for more than a week. Stores had no food. Our television antenna was the only one still attached to a roof on Weeks Street where we lived. My dad was particularly proud of that fact. I can remember Daddy went out to try to find milk and other food, but he 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 she 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 in those days. There was no media hoopla as occurs now from the first day of hurricane season to the last. 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 times, but I do remember seeing the photographs in the newspapers afterwards. The pictures seemed like war-ravaged battlefields with nothing but rubble strewn across what once was a town.

Entering Typhoon Alley

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. The men left, and all the women and children stayed behind. Since we lived on Okinawa, right in the middle of Typhoon Alley, this happened frequently. We who were left stayed behind to ride out the storms as best we could.

On Okinawa where I lived, there were wooden and cardboard box shanties on the hillsides. The cardboard box our stereo console came in adorned the side of one of those shanties. Some traditional Okinawan houses were made of wood, but most of the buildings, residential and businesses, in the civilian community and on the military bases and posts, were made of concrete blocks with solid concrete slab roofs and steel doors. Windows and doors were equipped with shutters, either thick slabs of wood or rolling steel shutters. 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.

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

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. Those who liked to party hearty would stand on the seawall, leaping and racing the waves that bounded over the huge concrete 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 venture down to the sea wall, a ribbon of concrete bordered on each side by giant chunks of coral about the size of a small SUV. Needless to say these boulders of coral dwarfed my petite five feet one inch height.

Wakeup Call

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 child's toys, scattered like rough marbles over the flat plain between the street and the sea wall. That was the last time I went down to the seawall during a storm.

Since then, I've lived on the Texas Gulf Coast. I've never forgotten what wind, rain, and a storm surge can do. I watched a 50 foot tall pine tree next to my kitchen window start to uproot during Hurrican Alicia. I've suffered flooding by tropical storms—lost a breakfast room one year and about ten years later a Chevy Blazer in another storm. I've had to drive flooded streets with water up to my wheel wells but made it through. (This is one reason we always have a 4 wheel drive SUV or pickup. You never know when you might get caught in street flooding in Houston.) I've boarded up for "small" hurricanes (category 3 and below) that changed direction at the last minute, but I don't let that stop me from doing it again. Instead, we say a prayer of thanksgiving if it doesn't come our way.

To this day, I keep hurricane supplies (weather radio, batteries, candles, water, and food) at the ready. One reason we bought a house in the Hill Country was to have an evac home for us and our family should the call come to evacuate. I'd never hesitate to leave. Houses and furnishings can be replaced, but people can't.

Post Script

The photo you see here is one I took of the sky above my home on the evening that Hurricane Rita was bearing down on the Texas Gulf Coast. No special colorizing filters or anything were used. That's exactly the way the sky looks when a hurricane is approaching. My mom pointed out that color when we were kids and told us if we ever saw the sky that color, to take cover.

(Joan Reeves is a Kindle bestselling author of romantic comedy. Her books are available at all major ebook sellers. Beginning in August, you will also find them as audio books at Audible.com and iTunes. For more information, please visit Joan's website or SlingWords, her blog.)

14 comments:

  1. Joan, you've led an adventurous life. I've never seen the sky that color, for which I'm grateful. I grew up first with earthquakes in California, then with tornadoes in Texas. Mother Nature is not to br trifled with, is she?

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    1. Oh, the stories I could tell about my adventurous life -- earthquake in Japan, anti-American riots, floods, blizzards, etc. You name it, and I've probably been caught in the middle of it. I sometimes think I missed my calling. I should have been a globe-trotting photo journalist. I could have taken some amazing pictures.

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  2. Very scary Joan. Being from Idaho, we don't have many horrendous storms like you describe. I did live in Washington, D.C., for a few months and had first-hand experience with a hurricane. Wasn't fun and then lived in Killen, Texas, for two years and hated it. Tornado watch or alert almost every day and one did touch down about a mile from where I lived. My then husband was on base and I was alone in a small trailer park in a trailer with no tie downs, so I grabbed the baby and the dog and ran out and laid down in a ditch until it was over. Scared me so bad. Was so glad to come home. Great post.

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    1. Oh, a trailer has got to be the scariest location in any kind of natural emergency! I certainly understand your fear. All that primitive fear is certainly a source to be tapped, isn't it?

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  3. Joan, I met with one hurricane before Isaac, it was Hurricane Wilma and the tornado that hit Pompano Beach at the same time in 2005. We had to run down eighteen stories to safety when the sofa I was sitting on started shaking. No elevators working. I will never forget the sight of cars flying and smashing on top of each other. Life was a mess for days after, with no electricity and water. Wilma gave us a holy respect for hurricanes. We were very anxious about Isaac, especially that I have my grandchildren visiting for two weeks.

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    1. Oh, that gives me cold chills, Mona. Glad Isaac missed you. My brother's home is getting pounded by heavy rain at the moment. Hope Isaac speeds up and gets out of there before the whole state floats away.

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  4. I am so glad you ladies survived such "hissy fits". Can you tell I love the title? Awesome blog!

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  5. Mother Nature finds us whereever we are. But since I'm deathly afraid of water, we sit high in the Texas Hill Country--we definitely won't flood. If we did, the entire town of San Marcos would be underwater. We have face fires and harsh thunderstorms, and I grew up in tornado alley, but hurricanes. I'll keep to the high ground. Very good post, plus the photo. Good luck with your story!

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  6. By the way, girls throw hissy fits. Boys throw wild-haired tantrums.

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  7. I loved the photo, Joan, until you explained what it foretold. How frightening for you... We don 't get storms like those in Canada. My respect to those of you who live with this threat all the time.

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    1. Thanks, Mimi. I guess we're so used to hurricanes that we don't get too upset because we know we can evac, and property is insured -- for the most part.

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