With yesterday’s blog warning about the upcoming, potentially serious hurricane season, it got me reminiscing about my own encounter with a hurricane. Hurricane Gustav, to be exact.
And since today is Friday…which means Friday Flashback…today’s blogpost is about the time when Hurricane Gustav kicked my ass. Actually, “almost drowned my ass” would be more apropos.
In late August 2008, Gustav was churning along in the Atlantic, destined to become the 2nd-most destructive hurricane of that year (after Hurricane Ike).
The Red Cross sent me down to Louisiana before Gustav came ashore – and after first going to Baton Rouge, I eventually evacuated north to Alexandria to hunker down and ride out the storm.
Me and fellow Kansas City volunteer, Donna, in Alexandria - before the storm....
Our shelter for this assignment was a Kiwanis campground about 30 miles north of Alexandria. It consisted of a good, sturdy concrete building – which is great during a hurricane – but lots of tall, tall pine trees surrounding us – not so great during a hurricane. Trees have a tendency to snap and fall down during storms. Yikes. To make matters worse, the bunkhouse sat low…down in a ravine…which is actually horrible during a hurricane, as we shall see.
Some of the volunteers in the bunker at the beginning of the storm
Gustav began pounding us with heavy rain and heavy wind that Labor Day afternoon… we had about 30 volunteers hunkered down in that bunkhouse…a tiny, 15” TV was tuned to The Weather Channel and CNN, providing us a constant feed of information about the storm. We also had a little, tiny transistor radio that we were hesitant to use – wanting to conserve the batteries, if needed.
About 5:00 pm that afternoon, the electricity went out, and consequently, so did our TV. So, on came the radio…imagine 30 people huddled around a little radio, desperately trying to hear what was going on around us while we were seeking safety.
As the hours went by, during the course of the late afternoon…while straining our ears through the wind, the rain, the static on the radio…we hear a most disturbing sound.
Water. Coming in and up through the front door of the bunkhouse.
Our shelter was beginning to take on water.
Well…I am not an expert on hurricanes. I grew up in the Midwest – and so I know a thing or two about tornados…but hurricanes? Not my expertise. However, I DO know that water coming into your shelter can’t be good.
We all begin frantically trying to sweep the water back out – with brooms, our hands – whatever we could find…and yet…the water kept coming.
We piled blankets and towels – any material we could find – in front of the door, hoping to stop the seepage that was only increasing in intensity…and yet…the water kept coming.
Two inches…then, three inches…the water was getting higher.
Knowing we had several more hours of rain ahead of us, we huddled together to discuss what we should do next. We knew that there was a fire station just down the road from us – not much more than a mile away – and we knew the fire station had sandbags. We were able to find a cell phone amongst us that still “had bars” (thank God for bars – they’re a wonderful thing in a hurricane!), and a quick 911 call was made to the fire station…pleading for sandbags.
Well, bless those firemen. They hopped in their rig and immediately came up the road – during the hurricane – risking their own lives in order to save ours. They brought us the sandbags and built us a bunker – which stopped the flow of water into our shelter.
The next morning...our sandbags which saved our asses from drowning the night before...
We slept very little that night. To begin with, I was terrified. Seriously. Who knew what was going to happen next? And it was hot – no air conditioning, due to no power. It was noisy – due to the rain and the howling wind. Trees were snapping and falling all around us. I opened a window at some point just to get some fresh air – but that just brought the mosquitoes in. Joy. And we were all a little on edge, wondering if those sandbags would hold.
But they did. And the next morning, after the storm was gone, all of us kicked into high gear and began doing the work that we were trained to do – delivering food, water and other supplies to the affected residents of Louisiana.
Thank God for firemen. And thank God for sandbags. And, note to self - try not to hunker down in a low-lying area during a hurricane in the future. Duh.