A Memory of A Hurricane

A Memory of Hurricane Katrina

 

With the hurricane in the news today, I’m reminded of the last major hurricane to hit the US. It was, of course, Katrina, and when it made landfall at Gulf Shores, Alabama, Ruth, our dog Charley 1 (as opposed to our current Charley 2) and I were there to greet it.


 

Palm tree in wind

I had seen tropical storms, and even a category one hurricane before, but this was a cat three, and I planned to stay. Yes, I was well aware that we would lose electricity for an extended period of time, but I was prepared for that. At the time, we owned a Road Trek, which is a small, but very efficient RV. It had everything we needed….electricity, water, a bathroom, a cooking stove and a microwave. It also had a TV set….and though we would definitely lose cable, it had an inside antennae that would allow us to pick up the Mobile station.

The Dunes Compound consists of 23 homes along, and just back from the beach, at the tip end of Pleasure Island. Here, we have the Gulf to our south, and Mobile Bay to our north. It is a beautiful location . . . but at that location the strip of land that separates the two bodies of water, is barely over a quarter of a mile, and it won’t even slow down a storm. As we were moving survival gear into the RV, a sheriff’s deputy came out into the nearly deserted Dunes.

“Are you getting ready to leave?” he asked.

“No, sir, we’re going to ride it out.”

“How many in your family?”

“Just my wife and me.”

“The reason I ask is I want to know how many body bags we will need.” Before I could respond, he rolled his window up and drove away.

As the wind got stronger, we moved into the RV….and watched the storm approach. By now there was no beach left, it was completely covered by the sea. The wind grew stronger and stronger, and sitting in the RV looking through the windshield, we began seeing things blowing by, larger, and larger things, up to, and including roofs. I was reminded of a joke that Ron White tells: “It isn’t THAT the wind blows, it’s WHAT the wind blows.

I decided that Charley should probably go to the bathroom before the rain started, so I took him outside. The wind was blowing so hard that he couldn’t stand up. Truth is….I could barely stand.

“Pippi for me, Charley. Please pippi for me so we can get out of the wind.”

Charley lifted his leg a couple of times, but couldn’t follow through with it.

I needed to go as well, and since The Dunes was practically deserted, I thought I would give Charley a little demonstration of peeing down wind.

When Charley and I returned to the RV a moment later Ruth said, “Dick! What happened to you?”

I said, “Do you know there is no downwind in a hurricane?”

“You need to change pants!”

“Yeah, I guess I do.”

The rain started then, and to say it rained hard, is a complete understatement. The rain didn’t come down…it was horizontal driven by a 100 plus mile per hour wind. And at this point we were no longer “watching” the hurricane. It was impossible to see anything more than three inches in front of the windshield, or, through any other window.

The storm continued until about three in the morning, and since we weren’t at the center of the storm, there was no “eye” to give us a temporary respite. By mid-morning, the next day the rain had stopped, and there didn’t appear to be that many things blowing around.

Our neighbors just down the road from us had also remained. James was the unofficial “mayor” of the Dunes, he was sort of a go-to guy when people….especially the absentee owners, had a problem. He had keys to all their houses, and before the hurricane hit, many of them called and begged him to go clean out their freezers. James had a big, gas, camping stove….and we had already planned, along with some other folks who stayed….to have all of our meals with James and Cille. That meant roasts, prime rib, steak, lamb chops, shrimp…we were going to eat well.

On the first morning, when we got out of the RV to go have breakfast with them, even though the hurricane itself had passed, the wind was still blowing so hard that we could barely walk, so we decided to drive the car over. I opened the door and the wind jerked the door out of my hand…it went beyond the stop, and broke the delimiter so that it was standing straight out.

“Dick!” Ruth said. “You should be more careful!”

She opened the door……AND THE SAME THING HAPPENED! Yeah, it wound up costing me a couple of hundred dollars…..but the laugh was worth it.

One of our Dunes’ residents had turned up missing, and we were worried about him . . . but the mystery was solved that morning. A new condo, The Indies, was being built, and he had gone up to the top floor to get a better look at the storm. He managed to get inside, but when he tried to leave, the wind was too strong for him to open the door…and he was trapped there all night.

We were without electricity for well over a week. National Guard and Sheriff’s deputies began patrolling and when they first saw us they questioned our being there, until they learned that we were full-time residents. After that they became friendly, and welcome visitors. But THE MOST WELCOME were some men from the State of New York . . . driving a New York utility truck. They….and electrical workers from several other states came down to restore our electricity.

Soon after Katrina, we bought our place in St. Louis, and now we spend the summers here. And, since I have seen one hurricane, I feel no need to see another……so, never again will a Baldwin County Deputy have to wonder about body bags for us as hurricane victims….because as soon as we realize one is heading for the Florida panhandle, Alabama, or Mississippi coast….we will be heading for St. Louis.

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