“If you hear anything like the sound of a locomotive train, take cover.”
Hearing those words by the media was petrifying. I remember them as if they reached my ears only yesterday.
This past week, the south was hit with the devastation of the deadliest tornado outbreak in years. The memory of my own experience with Hurricane Alicia and the ensuing tornadoes shivered my spine.
It was 1983; Clearwater-Houston, Texas, and I had just given birth to my only child weeks before. My baby sister, then 20, was visiting from New York to help. It was a beautiful time for me. I was newly married to a man who was my Adonis and although I never planned to have children, my son was a most precious gift born out of young love.
Born and raised a New Yorker, later a Las Vegas resident for about nine years, I never experienced inclement weather to the extent of fear for my life. New York had its blizzards and thunderstorms and, Lord knows, Vegas sand storms were enough to choke the life out of you for days, but those were just severe inconveniences.
So when the threat of Hurricane Alicia was announced, I listened. “125 mph winds expected. Stay in the inside walls of your home and tape or board up all windows.” My baby sister being young and naïve, didn’t believe it would really come or be that bad. My husband, bless his Adonis heart, at the time, made light of it and kept telling us it would probably miss us. As much as I wanted to believe him, I was a new mother. Do you know what that is like? Oh my, what an unexpected profound change.
Before the birth of my son, I was fairly fearless, a risk taker and laughed at responsibility. Then, in one day, one hour, I became the protector of a new life, responsible for his very existence. I didn’t choose to become worrisome or responsible or even the champion of anyone. It just happened.
So, frantically and solely, I duck taped all the windows in our second floor apartment, piled everything necessary into the room with only inside walls, the dining room, and waited.
All our money went to the new baby so we didn’t have a table yet. While my sister and husband were going about their day as if nothing unusual were about to happen, the storm was brewing.
Sometime after dark, it came. And it came with a vengeance. I remember clearly peeking out the window watching as the rainfall appeared to fall sideways. With 98 mile an hour winds and gusts up to 127 mph, it was the fiercest storm I had ever seen. The winds were increasing and tornadoes were touching down all around us. The sounds were deafening.
When I heard the words on the radio to move to the inside walls, I woke my sister from bed. She was now scared, “I’m sorry I didn’t believe it was coming."
The three of us gathered on the floor in blankets, listening to the radio above the roar of the storm outside. The windows were rattling and squealing as the winds expanded their limits. Debris thudded against buildings, car horns screamed out of control and the wind-driven rain hit targets like well-aimed bullets. I didn’t know what to do. The horrific sounds of the hurricane didn’t frighten me, but the threat of tornadoes did. They were fast and spontaneous. How could I protect my son if we were directly hit by a tornado? Everything would collapse; we were on the second floor.
Then an idea... I grabbed my three month old and laid him on top of my body, both of us wrapped in blankets and pillows lying on the dining room floor. In an instant, calm washed through me. I just knew that if the floor collapsed I would hit ground first with my son tightly held in my arms and he would be saved. Nothing else mattered.
Whether reality or not, for the first time that day, I felt relief that I could be the protector I was meant to be. I was no longer threatened by the howling outside. Thankfully, we were untouched but the next day, when all was right with the weather again, we ventured outside our door. The business park not 100 yards away from our complex and the tiny strip center across the street were flattened and demolished.
I looked on in shock and wonder. How could the angry winds get so close to flatten the two buildings beside us and yet, only appear to do minor damage to our building? One will never know.
Hurricane Alicia took 21 lives that year and the current storms in the south have claimed 343 so far. Mother Nature is a force to be reckoned with and respected. I am thankful to have lived through that nightmare. Two weeks later, we left Texas…
~signed The Wacky Ex~