Hurricane Thoughts: If You HAVE to Have a Disaster …

Watching the wall-to-wall coverage of Hurricane Irma today and thinking.

I have been through most of the major categories of natural disasters – floods, earthquakes, fires, hurricane, tornadoes. And this will sound odd, but if I had to pick one, if someone said “You’re going to have a disaster, what’ll it be?” I would choose a hurricane. Every time.

Not because I liked the hurricanes I’ve been through. Of course not, they’re amazingly powerful and destructive and scary. Hurricanes have a voice, and as the storm goes on it goes from a rumble to a demonic shriek that would scare the crap out of you even without the lash of wind and rain.

But here’s the thing. You can see a hurricane coming. You usually have about a week’s warning. When we were on St. Croix and Omar hit the island, it came “out of nowhere,” and we still had almost three day to prep. You have a little time to get supplies, to board up, to figure out what you want to do about it. If you live on a small island, there’s nowhere to go and you have to choose between your home or a shelter. If you’re in the states, you can decide to get the hell out, as so many of our friends in Florida did.

Earthquakes and tornadoes come out of nowhere. You never see ’em coming. Tornadoes are strangely quixotic, taking this house and sparing that one. When you get word of a tornado heading your way, if you’re lucky you have time to get down to the basement. If you live in Oklahoma or Kansas or Missouri, you know you’re going to have some tornadoes every year, but there’s no telling when or where.

Quakes? If you live in earthquake country, you know it’s always possible, but you never know exactly when or where, so that’s always sitting in the back of your mind. You’re sitting in your home or office minding your own business, the way you do every day – then suddenly the ground is doing a samba under your feet.

And fire has its own brand of horror, raging like a living thing as it destroys everything in its path. The “hot shot” fire crews who go out and man the fire lines, armed mostly with digging tools – shovels and mattocks and machetes – trying to cut off and quell the burning beast, have a special place in the hall of heroes. As a young reporter I walked through a forest fire with a crew and they have nothing but my sincere praise.

So no. I am watching the coverage of Hurricane Irma and feeling guilty that I’m glad it’s not heading my way, even though that means it’s ruining someone else’s life. I do not “like” hurricanes.

But I would rather get hit with a hurricane than any other natural disaster. It may be Mother Nature at her most destructive, but at least she announces her presence before she gets there.

Hurricane Prep – One Unusual Thing

We learned to prep for a hurricane on the island. Yes, you definitely need all the things they tell you – nonperishable food (a manual can opener is a good idea. If you only have an electric can opener, you’ll be disappointed when the power goes. Disappointed and hungry) Drinking water – a gallon per person per day you expect to be cut off. Your prescriptions. Important documents in a sealable bag. Don’t forget pet food. Gas up the cars and get some spare fuel if you can. All that stuff.

One thing you don’t hear as much about is cash. If you can, get a couple of hundred bucks cash, or at least a hundred, because if the power is out any length of time that plastic in your wallet won’t do a damn bit of good. You need some cash.

Insect repellent is also a good thing to remember.

But after Omar, maybe the single most important thing we had was a bucket and a rope.

On St. Croix, most people’s water supplies is the rain water run off stored in a cistern under the house, and pumped up under pressure. When the power goes out – and in the islands that’s pretty much a given, the power will go out in a hurricane, or storm, or stiff breeze or because it’s Thursday – your pump suddenly doesn’t work and your house has no water.

We didn’t want to use up our drinking water to flush the toilet, but with the number of people in the house – there were eight of us – flushing was going to happen. With a bucket and rope, we could open the cistern and haul water out. We were four days without power, and it was nice to be able to take a bucket shower, or flush. I can’t imagine what we’d have done without the bucket and rope.

Reading matter is also a good thing. We were four days without power. As it happened, we had just a few weeks before purchased, used, a 32-volume set of Agatha Christie novels. We all went through all of them. Some weren’t very good, some were classics, and I was enchanted to discover the Parker Pyne and “The Mysterious Mr. Quinn” stories.

I also remember the evening, four days after the storm, when the WAPA truck (V.I. Water and Power Authority) came slowly down the street, going from pole to pole, resetting transformers. People stood out in front of their darkened houses watching, and when they power finally came back on and the block lit up, there was cheering up and down the street as if we’d just won the lottery.

In a way, we had.