Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Hurricane Memories

Isabel Photo from Nasa.Gov

                As I drive through the remnants left in Palm Beach County by Isaac, I’ve been thinking  back over a lifetime of hurricane memories.  Yes, I am a life-long resident and no, I’m not going to subject you to every memory—just a few. Promise.

                During Hurricane Betsy (1965) I set up the wondrous Show and Tell to entertain my little brother with “shows.” (For those of you who have no clue what I’m talking about, here’s a LINK to the little television-looking box with a record player on top and a slot for the film. Basic, I know, but it was hot stuff back then.) With storm shutters installed, the house was as dark as any movie theatre I’ve ever been in.  An added bonus of our show was the sound of the scratchy records helped mask the eerie sound of the wind.

The Amyrillis in an advertisement for
Rutledge Inn. It actually was not quite as close.
                Betsy was also the year a freighter named Amyrillis ran aground on Singer Island.  The ship didn’t quite make the safety of the Port of Palm Beach. There were thirty souls on board and none were lost. For years (at least it seemed that way to me), the ship was wedged deep in the sand and became a tourist attraction for tourists and Florida natives alike. We swam right up to it and knocked on its sides. If anyone had ever knocked back, I think we would have fainted.  Amyrillis was not pulled back out to sea until 1968, when it became part of an artificial reef.

                Fast forward to 1979 and Hurricane David. By this time, I was a teenager and actively involved in hurricane preparations. I scrubbed bathtubs and filled them with water. Mom was in charge of dosing the water with Clorox to disinfect it. I helped Dad wrap the air conditioner wall unit with garbage bags and duct tape to keep the driving rain from seeping through. We threw the lawn furniture in the pool (not recommended anymore) and lowered awnings.  

                We hunkered down inside and stayed up as late as we could talking and listening to the radio, flashlights close at hand. Towels were jammed under the front door to keep the rain from pouring in.  The howling wind was constant until finally, blessedly, it just stopped. We were in the eye.  Dad opened the door and we peeked around him. He grabbed his car keys and headed toward the marina to re-tie his boat. We headed outside to walk the dog and play in the brief recess from the wind.

                Twenty minutes later, we noticed the far side of the eye wall moving toward us. A solid gray that looked like something was churning behind it, it slowly crept closer. Dad wasn’t back yet. My family knew Dad had been through hurricanes his entire life. Born in Boynton Beach and raised in Delray, he had loads of experience. That didn’t stop us from getting concerned, though. The wall slowly crept closer. No Dad. Mom made us come back in the house and start getting ready for the other side of the storm. No Dad.

                Just when we could see the eye wall practically at the end of our street, the screeching of tires heralded Dad’s return. The door had barely slammed shut behind him and he was still stuffing towels back into the door frame when the howling started. 

Katrina Eyewall
When a hurricane first arrives, there’s a build up to the action. First, clouds move in and then start zipping by faster and faster. Then, the rain starts. , Finally, the storm starts to build in intensity. With an eye wall, there’s no build up. It’s peaceful and calm and then- wham! Back in the thick of it.

                Isaac was only a tropical storm when it passed through South Florida. Even so, he managed to dump up to fifteen inches of rain, cause flooding, power outages and even appears to have spawned a tornado in Vero Beach. Unfortunately, Isaac is now pounding into New Orleans. A not so nice anniversary present for those who survived Hurricane Katrina.

                Floridians tend to take our hurricanes matter-of-factly. We watch the news, stock up, board up, burrow in and wait for it to pass. Anyone who grew up along a Florida or Gulf coast understands that while some of the memories are fun ones, there is nothing fun about the whine and hiss of the wind and driving rain as it searches for a way in. There is nothing fun about what hurricanes leave behind.

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