Sunday, September 21, 2014

Hurricanes and Rainbows

Last evening, we had a glorious double rainbow. It was only after it faded, that I realized it was the eve of the 25th anniversary of Hurricane Hugo coming to visit the City by the Sea (and the rest of the state.) That got me contemplating many things, including the "never again by flood" promise in a certain book. Whether you believe or not, a rainbow is a beautiful thing to behold. And a double rainbow/full bow is a true wonder.

Rather than rewrite, I decided to repost and entry from my old blog, from 5 years ago (September 20, 2009) which in turn is a repost from even earlier.:

It was 20 Years Ago Today (well tomorrow, really)

No, not Sargent Pepper teaching the band to play, but that Hurricane Hugo rolled into town. I was going to write my memories, but realized I did that when Katrina hit a few years back. So, instead, I lifted the earlier journal entry and am putting it here. Today is blustery, much like that day 20 years ago. Hugo came ashore right around midnight so the front end hit on the 21th and the back side on the 22st.

Hugo Memories 

With the horrible devastation brought on by Hurricane Katrina, I find myself remembering what, until Katrina, was one of the worst hurricanes to hit the US in recent history. What we went through was a piece of cake compared to what folks on the Gulf Coast experienced. And ours was bad enough.

We went about our business at the hospital that September, caring for the kids, teaching parents new skills to help so that they could take their recovering children home. There was occasional mention of a tropical depression, then tropical storm brewing out in the Atlantic, but we tended to ignore it. There were always tropical storms brewing in the summer and fall months. That's part of the routine here in coastal South Carolina. No biggie. We'd stock up on water, batteries, bread and toilet paper when the time came. If it looked bad enough we'd add bleach and beer to the list and maybe peanut butter. Life rolled on.

The storm grew-- gained a name, and seemed pointed our way. Voluntary evacuation orders were issued for the coast. The administration at the Medical Complex where I worked, kicked into high gear, in a way we'd never seen before. Staff was divided into 3 groups: Those who would be in the building when the storm hit, those who would be nearby for relief immediately, and those who were "non-essential" and could get the hell out of Dodge. I wanted to be of help and service- that's why I became a nurse, after all, but my application to be on the crew that stayed in the hospital was turned down. Even though my family could have come and stayed in the hospital with me, the fact that my family included a 4 month old baby(still nursing) and a disabled mother, I became a liability rather than an asset. I was assigned to the second group- the ones that would come immediately after.

The storm grew--and shifted slightly so that Charleston looked most likely to be the welcome mat for Bad Boy Hugo. The voluntary evacuation orders became mandatory. My supervisor called me and told me to move inland, out of the city. The storm was expected to hit at high tide and the storm surge would flood us. "Get out", she told me. "You're no good to us dead." 

My brother had actually flown in to Charleston to help us prepare for the storm and to evacuate my mother. What ended up happening is that the car loaded up with baby boyczuk, bumma and the few things we chose to take, plus relief supplies, made it a little ways inland, out of the city, while the duo of javaczuk and elder brother waited too long to leave had to ride the storm in Charleston. They had been so busy helping others batten down things, and taking care of our home, that the roads had closed.

Bumma and I had hoped to get to join some friends in the midlands of the state. That didn't happen. We never really made it out of the low country (the coastal region of the state). Our refuge was a hotel along the interstate. We got the last room, and settled in for the long night. I tried to make her as comfortable as possible- we'd brought a few things like an afghan she made and a picture of my father, but she was frantic with worry about javaczuk and elder brother. The winds had picked up, and the bands of rain were whipping in. "Call them," she begged, so I did. 

They were fine, having the time of their lives, a merry adventure. We kept in touch by telephone as the sky grew dark and the winds grew louder. The swearing from my mother grew louder, too, especially when it really sank in that they couldn't leave, the roads were closed. It was more dangerous be out trying to get out than to hunker down and stay. "If you die," my mother said to them, "I'll kill you."

My darling baby boy, just 4 months old, was a delight. He entertained us both and it calmed my mother to hold him. At times, I would see her weeping silently, while he nestled in her arms asleep. The winds howled. Bumma wept.

Outside, the rain beat against the flimsy hotel, battering, pounding, while the winds whipped around us. I filled the bathtub with water, so that we'd have clean drinking water afterward if necessary. The television reception and radio reception was fuzzy, but present- Charleston stations were falling by the wayside. Other stations reported that the eye of the storm was just at Charleston. The phone rang. It was elder brother and javaczuk, calling from the eye. They were high on having ridden the first half of the storm out, of boarding windows up as they blew out, of watching the walls shake and the roofs of neighbor's homes fly by. They told how they could see the water pouring through the streets and how they saw a neighbor's chimney fall, and how the roof slates from another home had sliced into ours, and one even flew in through a window, breaking the glass, and embedded itself in our kitchen. All I could think about was that it could have embedded in one of them, rather than the wall. Bumma was swearing at them again for making her so upset and terrified- I was wondering how they would do when the fiercer back half of the storm hit, they were saying "uh oh" when the line went dead. 

Bumma turned ghostly white, holding my baby boy, worrying about her baby boy. The wind, which had been impossibly strong where we were, got stronger. I could see the window of the hotel room buckling in and out. My mother, in her fear and worry, was making it hard for me to think straight. I did something I shouldn't have- well- two things I shouldn't have. The first was to venture out into the storm to get a soda from the soda machine. The second was to take said soda, mix it liberally with the scotch we had brought and give it to my mother to drink. Which she did, and promptly passed out. Bumma out cold was a whole lot easier to deal with than a frantic bumma. Trust me on this. 

When I had ventured out, I realized that the hotel was surrounded by trees. They were tall, beautiful pines, bending and swaying in the winds. They looked like ethereal dancers waving their arms in time to a hidden drummer. I was mesmerized- probably would have stayed to watch, had I not had a mother and child to care for. And had I stayed, I would have been crushed by the same trees, that twisted, broke, fell, and crushed the part of the hotel where I had been standing.

With bumma down for the count, I could do some more serious safety measures. I lined the bathroom floor with pillows, blankets, towels and anything soft I could find, to make a nest for my mother and son. The bathroom was the only room without a window, and I wanted them safe if the window in the main room blew. Bumma weighed all of 90 pounds at the time (to my whopping 125), and I managed to carry her in to her safe haven. Baby boyczuk went in too, as well as all the documents etc I had carried out of Charleston. I hefted the mattresses against the bulging window and threw my own force against them as well. I wedged the few towels I didn't use to soften the bathroom under the front door. In the morning, two things were true. Our window was one of the only ones on that side of the hotel that didn't blow in, and we were the only folks in the hotel with clean water, thanks to our tub-full.

There was a strange sound that I couldn't identify--and then I realized it was silence. We were in the eye of the storm. I couldn't resist- I went outside. Silence. Nothing. Void. All the trees which had so enchanted me, were matchsticks toppled and splintered. The rear side of the building was crumpled. Cars in the lot were bashed in from flying debris, though ours was still fine. I got my keys and with heart pounding because I knew the back wall was moving closer by the second, moved it to the clear center of the lot. In the morning, it was there, safe, while a large piece of hotel roof would be occupying the space where our car had ridden out the first half of the storm.

In the morning, we began the long drive back to Charleston- a drive that should have taken the blink of an eye, became a journey of hours. The landscape was totally unfamiliar. Everything was battered, bend or broken. Wires were down- though there was no way of telling which were live and which were dead. Roads were only cleared as people passed through. Sometimes a few folks could move the limbs and branches, sometimes, heavier machinery was needed for the trees. The National Guard was there at work before we even began our journey home. 

We headed back to Charleston, hoping for the best, but trying to prepare each other for the worst. My mother shrieked at every broken tree and toppled building (in other words, it was a continuous wail.) I gave her the task of watching for downed power lines so I could avoid driving over live ones. She wasn't really able to concentrate and be of much help, but the task gave her a purpose, and me some peace as I headed back to the coast and Charleston.

I had my medical ID and was repeatedly stopped on the way back in the city, only allowed through when I showed it. We wound our way through our familiar town that suddenly was strange- driving the wrong way down one way streets to avoid flooding and blocked roads. Finally, we turned onto our street- or what should have been our street, but now was a empty sketch of what had been lush tropical greenery. Our house still stood, but it was totally empty, devoid of husband and brother. Part of our tin roof was on the front steps, and one of our chimneys was in the street. Worriedly, I headed back to the car, unsure of what to tell my mother. I stood in the now unfamiliar street, trying to figure out what to say, and looked down the block, at the fallen oaks and broken houses. There walking towards us, were javaczuk and elder brother. They'd weathered the storm and were out surveying the calling card Hurricane Hugo had left.

They say that hurricanes have a voice- a particular sound. It is true. I have heard it. It is the sound of my mother, weeping.

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