In 2005, Hurricane Rita struck in the area I live. Soon to follow in 2007 was Hurricane Ike. Rita passed about 30 miles to the East; Ike passed about 40 miles to the West. Both storms turned my life upside down - and that's the only way to describe the events.
I ran from Rita. It took 12 hours to get 100 miles from my home. After that, it took another 8 hours to find a hotel, which was full of people just like me: wondering if there would be anything when I returned. The stress, and worry, can't be described. The lack of information, and partial reports of the devastation only made it worse.
I returned from Rita to find minor damage to my house, but spent two weeks without electricity. I was lucky. I had a small generator to power a few appliances, including a small air conditioner to cool one room from the 100 degree heat, which was accentuated by humidity nearly as high.
My work involved cleaning up the mess, so I was "privileged" to see things that can only amaze. Geraldo, looking for sensational photo-ops, soon left when he couldn't find the helpless throngs of people waiting for relief. He could only find people waiting for the government to get out of the way and allow them to start their lives once again. National guard troops were amazed to find roads cleared and opened by industrious people with chain saws and determination. Some, like those in Holly Beach Louisiana, returned to find only a beach with pilings standing like some macabre modern art.
I stayed for Ike. I "knew" the storm would pass far to the west, which didn't happen. Instead, the eye of Ike traveled up the Houston Ship Channel and laid waste to Galveston and the surrounding communities. One community with thousands of homes had less than a dozen that were not flooded by the surge. The Bolliver Peninsula was literally washed away. Those that stayed were either killed or rescued later with stories of horror. Only a few structures survived, but the damage to these was severe.
Since I was 20 feet above sea level, and 30 miles from the coast, the surge didn't reach my home, but it did inundate drainage canals to points above Interstate 10. All fresh water fish died in these channels. The land that flooded turned into a dank, rotten mass of dead vegetation. The smell of rot and decay was overwhelming to those cleaning the mess. Dead farm animals, fish, hogs, and in some places people, littered the devastated areas. The bloated corpses swelled and filled the air with the sickening smell of rotted flesh.
So what was it like to sit through a hurricane? Nothing can prepare you for the experience and words can only touch the thousands of racing thoughts that occur when 80 mph winds howl outside your house. These long moments of rage are accentuated by moments of near calm, which are embellished with the roar of tornadoes approaching and passing. The only description is of a large row of engines on a freight train. The sound doesn't seem natural and fills your thoughts with doom. The horizontal rain is filled with leaves and debris as it passes out the window. The only light is from flashlights that only make the night seem darker. Passing from one room to another leads to the same futile reaction of reaching to turn on a light switch that doesn't work.
Eventually, the storm eases and passes. The heavy rains cease and it's safe enough to go outside to survey the damage, which makes you realize the power of the storm. Trees are snapped in two. The splintered remains make you wonder why you didn't hear them snap. It had to be loud. Was the wind that loud?
After both hurricanes, I found local retail outlets that opened as soon as possible, which was only hours for some. They had limited supplies, but they had generators and trucks of fresh food arrived within days. Cold milk, or fresh fruit were relished after meals of M.R.E.'s or canned goods. The thought of a hot meal became a goal point of hope. At that time, things might just be getting better, since the power was back on, which allowed allowed washing with hot, instead of cold water.
So, I've only touched on my experiences, but it's to let people have an idea of what the tornado victims are feeling at this point. I know their desperation, fear, wonder and loss. I know some will feel slighted, or ignored by a government that is more willing to insure that millions skate in life and are never held accountable. Many will be starting over. Everything they owned is gone and all their memories are only thoughts tucked away for a future time, when there is time for recalling the things that will never be the same again. They have my thoughts and prayers and should have yours, also.