Thursday, September 18, 2008

Surviving Ike

Thursday, September 11, 2008:
This was the 7th anniversary of the worst attack on American soil. It’s a day that no one will ever forget but those of us in our area couldn’t really acknowledge this day because we were preparing for Hurricane Ike.
We kept watching the hurricane online and on TV. No one was certain of the strength at landfall or exactly WHERE this thing would land.
We felt certain it would be a Category 2 and some even said it would weaken to a 1 by the time it made landfall.
They kept mentioning the storm surge. I can’t really remember hearing so much about a storm surge before.
My city is completely surrounded by a levee that’s between 15 and 20 feet above sea level. We felt safe and even our city officials felt safe. They were making automated phone calls to the citizens declaring that they weren’t recommending evacuations.
It always makes me a little nervous waiting for a hurricane but I felt pretty confident we would be spared.
I took all the precautions at work to keep my computers safe and left early to take care of things at home.

Friday, September 12, 2008:
The city made another automated phone call and instead of saying they didn’t recommend evacuations, they said, “It looks like we will take a direct hit. Follow your family plan.” What the FUCK does that mean?

I knew I’d make sure that my mother and I were together during this storm but the question was where. Her house is pretty sturdy and has held up against several hurricanes in the past but she is not even a mile from the levee and I worried about storm surge.
I’m on the second floor so I wasn’t worried about rising water but I was worried about wind.
I talked it over with one of my sisters and we decided it would be best to ride out the storm at my mother’s house.

I packed up my pictures and other breakables, wrapped them in plastic and put them in a central location. If my place collapsed, maybe I could find them all in the rubble.
I took what I couldn’t live without (including my cat and dogs) and made it to my mom’s house by noon.

We watched the news, NOAA’s website and answered numerous phone calls. All they talked about was the storm surge and we watched on the news as even as early as 1pm, the surge was coming in.
This made me nervous. The storm was 12 hours away and things were flooding….and it wasn’t raining. This isn’t good.

I made the executive decision to move us all to my second story apartment around 2pm.

So, I packed my things and dogs (and cat) in my car; my mother’s things (and dogs) in her car and we convoyed back to my apartment.
My mother is almost 70 and the stairs are so hard for her so I sent her upstairs and I made the numerous trips up and down the stairs bringing our things in.
By this time it was pretty windy and it had begun to rain.
I got us settled in and we waited….the two of us….and 5 dogs and my cat.

We watched the news the rest of the afternoon, both of us nervous.
Our phones rang incessantly. My sisters called both of us a million times and my friends were texting and calling to check on me.

The wind steadily picked up as the night went on, shaking my bedroom window which faces the north. It was taking the brunt of the wind.

As the sun set, we grew more and more nervous, wishing this damn storm would just hurry and get here.

Around 9pm, it started to really rain and that north wind drove it straight into my window. It started to leak so I got thick towels and shoved them in the window sill.

An hour later, the two towels were drenched so I got two more but less than 30 minutes later they were dripping water onto the carpet.
I took those towels away and grabbed an old blanket to use instead.
I got that shoved into the window sill and turned away to ask my mother, who was sitting on the bed, what I should do.
At that very moment everything exploded. It sounded like the loudest shotgun blast.
The window had blown out. Large sheets of glass flew at me and hit me. Thankfully, I had already pulled my nightstand away from the window so all I had to do was move it out further.
I suddenly found myself in business mode. I instructed my mom to get the dogs out of the bedroom and into the living room and close the door.
I remembered that I had two extra boards in my closet that were actually shelves to my entertainment center that I never installed.
I grabbed the biggest one and put it in front of the window and just held it there to keep more glass, wind and rain from coming in.
The problem was that the board was too small and I had no way to nail it in. So, I just stood there holding it against the slamming wind, wondering to myself, “What the hell do I do now?”
I yelled to my mom that I needed help and suddenly the world went dark.
We lost power.

“NO!!!” I heard myself screaming. This was the worst possible timing.

I grabbed our flashlights which thankfully, I had placed nearby.
I had my mother hold the board while I figured out what to put over the window.
As I was thinking, I shoved the bed over to the other side of the room. Who knew I had that much strength?
Mom is the one that came up with the genius idea. “Do you have an extra comforter we can nail around the window?”
Yes! I grabbed an old twin size comforter that I had from my college twin bed days. It was super thick.
I loved that damn comforter but I wasn’t thinking about that. I was in survival mode!
Believe it or not, I knew exactly where I kept my hammer and nails too!
I grabbed those quickly and as my mother held that board against the window, barely holding on because of the incredible wind gusts, I nailed that comforter around the window.
The wind was blowing so hard that it would bow the blanket out and pull some of the nails out.
I was standing there replacing the nails when I happen to look over at my bed. I have a huge wooden headboard that isn’t attached, it’s just cute.
I pulled it out and laid it up against the window and comforter. It held.
I kept towels under for the dripping rain and I moved everything away from the window and all of our essentials into the living room.
I had to prop our luggage against the bedroom door to keep it from bursting open due to the wind.

So, there we sat, suddenly feeling VERY vulnerable. I never expected that window to break, even though everyone else in the world boarded their windows.
I guess our apartment maintenance never expected it either.
We sat there, in my living room, with candles blazing; wondering what was going to happen next. We were cramped because everything from my patio was shoved in my dining room and my dining room table was piled with all the things I didn’t want ruined from my bedroom.
Five dogs and two humans in an already crowded apartment is not much fun, plus, it was beginning to get hot.
I turned on the battery powered radio and we listened to the accounts of people on Crystal Beach trapped on their roofs or families tied together with ropes, fighting the surging waters. I didn’t feel so sorry for myself then.

The wind picked up and with each powerful gust, the entire apartment building would shake and sway.
Luckily, because my patio is facing the courtyard, buffeted by other buildings and a 6-foot privacy fence, it was like a normal day on the patio. It was two different worlds; one crazy hurricane fiasco in the bedroom, and a somewhat dark and rainy day out on my patio.

I’m not much of a praying person. I sometimes feel like I’m not even worthy of it. Why would God answer MY prayers?
But I prayed that night. I prayed for my neighbors in the apartment who stayed like me. I prayed for my mother who didn’t deserve to go through this. I prayed for my dogs that depended on us to keep them safe.
I just prayed.

It seemed like the storm went on for HOURS. My sisters kept calling and checking on us and vice versa.
Everyone seemed to be ok but we knew from listening to the news that the back part of the storm was going to be worse. The eye was coming and with it, a little calm….this is where they get the saying “The calm before the storm”, I guess.
I was praying for the eye, though. I didn’t know how long my bedroom was going to hold up. I knew the wind would come from the other direction after the eye.

It seemed like around 2 or 2:30 am, the winds died down.
The silence was deafening.
I ventured outside with my flashlight and so did several other neighbors. We saw tons of tree limbs down but no serious damage.
It was so utterly still outside; I couldn’t believe that there was just a horrible storm a few minutes ago and that another horrible storm would begin again soon.
It was peaceful…serene really.

I suppose the eye passed right over us because I had plenty of time to take each dog out and come back in and nap.
I actually dozed off!
Some say the eye lasted an hour and a half and some say 2 hours. I don’t know…I was asleep.

When the second half of the storm came through, it was pretty bad. I know people say the wind whistles but this wind roared like a monster. I could picture the wind as some kind of wild creature with giant sharp teeth, dripping with saliva.
The building shook and rattled and thumped.
I prayed for two things for the next two hours:
1. That the roof would stay on
2. That the patio glass would stay intact
If those two things would happen, we would be ok.

A few radio stations stayed on. I have NO idea which station I was listening to because it was so dark I couldn’t see the numbers but it was like a voice in the dark.
This man kept talking to me and taking phone calls from other people like us, stuck in the storm. Waiting.
I could see the sky outside my patio doors. Every minute or two, the sky would light up green. On the radio, they described that as transformers exploding.
After the brilliant flash of green, a deep mournful, groaning sound would follow. I kept watching this spectacle, feeling like the world was ending.

I was SO exhausted. It was 3am, then 4am, then 5 and I had been awake for 24 hrs. Between the fear and the radio, I couldn’t really sleep but I found myself dozing off and dreaming about what they were talking about on the radio.
Then a huge gust of wind would shake the apartment and I’d wake up and begin my prayer mantra all over again.
I could hear objects flying around in the courtyard and I begged God not to let something big fly into my patio fence and I cursed the idiots who left patio furniture out.

The DJ said the sun would rise at 6:45am. I kept looking at my cell phone: two hours til dawn then one and a half hours til dawn, etc.
I prayed for dawn because then it would be over.

About 6 am, I begged my mother to play cards with me….just to do SOMETHING to take my mind off of the sound of the wind.

We gathered the candles and flashlights and played Blackjack because that was the only thing I could remember how to play. My mind just wouldn’t reach back and find the rules to rummy or spades.
We actually laughed a lot and I felt so much better.
By the time sunrise reached us, the wind had died down and we would only suffer the occasional big gust. It was raining but not very hard.

I felt relieved. We made it. I just wondered what waited for us outside and what the next few days would be like.

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