Happy Labor Day Weekend and the last long weekend of summer. It’s my 40th wedding anniversary, too. On a not so happy note, it’s our 32nd anniversary of losing everything in Hurricane Elena. We spent that wedding anniversary camping out at North East High in St. Petersburg, Florida with our oldest child and my mom. Like Hurricane Harvey, the mega rain maker, Elena decided to park herself offshore where she rotated away for several days. It was the rain that did the most damage.
That life experience made me relate to a recent Washington Post article that asked victims of Harvey what they took with them when they evacuated. One woman had time to grab her lipstick, another, just his medicine. For people who have been fortunate enough to not have to evacuate quickly from a life threatening situation those answers might seem ridiculous. I can assure you they aren’t.
I overheard someone in the checkout line yesterday decline to donate for hurricane relief because he said the people should have taken precautions. I interjected that the initial recommendation had been to stay put and not evacuate. He considered that and then replied that they should have put together items they needed when they realized the severity of the situation. Clearly, this man never lived through a disaster.
In our case, we had sold our first home the Sunday before the storm. With the pending contract, we spent the following days looking for a new one which we found late Friday afternoon. We placed a contract on it and went out to dinner to celebrate. We had heard weather reports of a disturbance in the Gulf of Mexico but like so many others in late summer, the fickleness of the tract didn’t cause us to worry. We had lived in our home for 7 years and experienced minor street flooding but nothing more serious than that. We went to bed early, skipping the late weather report.
Close to midnight, we were awakened by the sound of a fire truck siren and a loudspeaker announcing, “Prepare to evacuate immediately.” This was pre-cell phone days and reverse home phone emergency contacts. Following the fire truck was a police car. We were told he needed the names of our next of kin in case we chose not to leave. We made the instant decision to go.
So what do you take? We grabbed a suit case and threw underwear, socks and a few changes of clothes. We didn’t even think about a toothbrush. I put a few books and toys in a grocery bag for our daughter. She went into the car seat first and was followed by the cat in a pillowcase which I held on my lap and our lab, who was the only one who was happy about a late night car ride. We drove to my mom’s and discovered she was also being evacuated so she crammed into the car and we headed to the high school. Mom had thought to pack snacks.
Did I take any insurance papers, family heirlooms, or cash? Nope. I had my driver’s license in my wallet with a couple of bucks. The car wasn’t even filled with gas and it didn’t occur to us that electricity was needed to operate gasoline pumps. Duh! When confronted with an emergency, fight or flight kicks in. All the long term planning in the world gets down to what can you take in an instant. If you’ve never experienced that I hope you never do.
We returned to our destroyed home 5 days later. The flood waters had receded leaving tell tale water lines on the walls, particle board furniture that had collapsed, broken windows from wind damage with curtains blowing outside, and soggy smelly carpet. Nothing is spared. Think of your kitchen and bathroom cabinets sitting in 3 feet of water for a day. Now imagine it for even longer. My husband’s grandmother’s wicker doll carriage was destroyed, along with my paternal great grandmother’s china sugar bowl that had fallen to the floor when the hutch collapsed. It’s not pretty.
Thankfully, the camera was high up on a shelf in the closet so we could take pictures for FEMA of the damage. Our important paperwork was also spared as it had been kept in the top drawer of a file cabinet in our home office. Pure dumb luck! We weren’t so lucky with the home sale, though. The buyer of our home cancelled the sale. FEMA lost our paperwork which included the pictures and we had to resubmit (hooray for negatives). We had no electricity for 2 weeks so my daughter and I stayed at my mom’s while my husband guarded the home with the dog as looters were coming out as bad as the critters. Disasters sure bring out the worse in humanity.
I swore I’d be better prepared next time. Technology has definitely helped as I’ve scanned every photo and document in case it doesn’t make it through the next time. Those items are saved in a cloud, on CDs that I’ve given to several individuals and on one that is in my plastic tub where I store important paperwork. If there’s time, I can take the plastic tote and if not, hopefully, the contents will be safe until I return. I haven’t been able to find a fireproof device but that would be best option.
Now that I think about it, it’s almost miraculous that any object survives to be past down for more than a generation or two! That thought makes me treasure what I’ve received and marvel at the historical events that have item has survived. If only they could talk!