What it's Like to Live Through a Hurricane

In the past couple of weeks, the southern part of the United States has been dealt two back-to-back hurricanes, Harvey and Irma. As I read the news and see photos of the damage and destruction I can’t help but think back to my own Irma, Hurricane Ivan.

 

Hurricanes are nothing new to my family: I grew up in northwest Florida, specifically near the city of Pensacola in the panhandle, both of my parents grew up in Louisiana. Hurricanes, while incredibly serious, are pretty common for us.

 

We lived in the Florida panhandle, outside of the city of Pensacola, when Ivan hit. I had just started the first grade so most of my memories of the days leading up to Ivan are scattered: I remember helping my mom fill bags of sand to line up against our doors to keep any water from coming in, I remember coloring on the wooden boards before my dad used them to cover our windows, and I remember my parents discussing the possibility of my grandparents coming to stay with us while we rode out the storm. Our house was over a mile away from the closest body of water and on top of a small hill, and we had a generator and all the supplies we needed to survive the storm. However, my sister and I were young and the day before Ivan hit my hometown my parents ultimately decided that we needed to evacuate so they finished boarding up the house, quickly packed our things, and loaded my younger sister and I in the car. We were evacuating to Georgia to stay with family friends for a couple of days before it was safe to return home.

 

The drive to Georgia was awful; everyone was trying to get out of the state with whatever they could bring. Some people went north, some went east, and some went south (yes south, southern Florida was not at risk of Ivan’s wrath and my grandparents and aunt ended up down in the Keys). We made it to my parents’ friend’s house around three in the morning and stayed there for a couple of days before we decided to head home.

 

The drive home was unnerving. Once we reentered Florida I paid close attention to see if I could notice a difference, which I quickly did. The trees and the roads seemed barer than they were before, and there was a general feeling of tension and fear in the air and in the car. While my parents had secured our house, there was no telling what we would see when we arrived. A tree could have fallen on our house, the boards could have been ripped out, it could have been anything from looking the same to looking like something out of an apocalypse.

I noticed the downed fence as soon as we pulled up our driveway. From there we slowly retreated into our backyard and I suddenly became aware of two things: 1) my pea plants were most definitely dead and 2) there was a tree on top of my swing set.

Fortunately, our home fared well: the fence had come down in a few places, there was the whole fallen tree thing, and a little bit of water on the first floor, but the upstairs had areas that were soaked due to not boarding up the windows. However, it was in one piece and we could live there with very little complications which was important because my grandparents and aunt suddenly found themselves homeless.

My grandparents and my aunt lived on the water and their home had about four feet of flooding, so they couldn't move back in and a lot of their belongings were ruined. They stayed with us for at least a month before they found another place to live as they dealt with the tearing down and reconstructing of their home. First though they had to evaluate the damages, and that was promptly when my parents shipped my sister and I off to stay with other family so they could help without dealing with us kids. During the day they surveyed, went through, and gutted their home, with the Red Cross even stopping by to give them food and water as they worked, and at night they returned to our powerless house (we had a generator but we could only keep it on for a couple of hours a day).

The next month flew by quickly: my sister and I returned home, we didn’t have power for about a week and even though my school didn’t have much damages it was a month before classes started again. My grandparents found a new house in our neighborhood to live while they were building their nice, new house on the same property, just about four feet higher than their old house to prevent future flooding. We had to have our upstairs carpet gutted due to the water damages, the fallen tree cut up and taken away, and our fence put back up, but all and all we were very lucky.

 

I’ve lived through a few more hurricanes since then, the main ones being Katrina, where multiple members of my family from Louisiana stayed with us for a few days and some even longer, and Sandy, when I was living in Virginia (ironically my New Orleans suburb grandparents were in town and left us Virginians to flee south). Having seen the destruction and loss hurricanes bring, my heart goes out to the victims of Harvey and Irma. I urge everyone to donate whatever money they can and to remember, it doesn’t take a lot to help.

 

 

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-all credit to Brenda Bordelon