My Hurricane Experience and What I Learned

Having lived in Houston, Texas off and on for many years, I was used to much-hyped hurricanes heading our way from the Gulf that, when they finally arrived, did little but dump a bunch of rain on the city and make everyone panic. This was usually a humorous and benign phenomenon that led to nothing more than long lines at the grocery stores. But after 2005, when Hurricane Rita hit and there were actually fatalities caused NOT by the actual storm but the panicked evacuation (this was right after Katrina, remember), I resolved to stay calm and stay in town next time.

Photo Credit Hurricane Ike sweeps ashore in Galveston

“Next time” turned out to be 2008 and Hurricane Ike. We took the day off from work as the mayor ordered, boarded up the windows, “battened down the hatches” and waited. Arriving late in the night, the storm was a sight to see. Flashes of green light appeared on the horizon as the transformers blew.

When we woke up the next morning, the weather was unbelievably beautiful. Blue skies and sunshine -- but the damage was clear, and the real experience had just begun. Our street had become a river, but the flooding was largely due to a lack of drainage because of the sheer mass of debris. We set to work with the neighbors, unclogging the drains.

Hurricane Ike- National Geographic

After that, I made my biggest mistake of the whole experience. I was exhausted from picking up the hurricane debris from the yard and street, and decided to take a well-earned nap. Because we had no air conditioning (I don’t know how anyone lived in Houston before it), by the end of the afternoon the house had became pretty unlivable, and I opened the windows. Of course, because our sea-level block had been flooded all night and day, a killer brood of mosquitoes was on the loose. I was so tired I didn’t care, and when I woke up I had been covered in so many bites that my histamine response actually failed, leaving tiny hard bumps all over me instead of the familiar itchy raised pink spots. I looked like I had chicken pox.

Houston was a nightmare for the next week. Unbelievably, I was summoned into work that Monday morning; the authorities had requested that all “non-essential personnel” stay home, but apparently my job writing for a monthly magazine was essential, at least to my boss. Nearly every traffic light in town was out. Food supplies were scarce for those who had not prepped, as I had, and lines circled around the block at the few stores and restaurants that were distributing supplies. We were lucky as far as direct damage to the house, but I knew many people who had been hit financially or even displaced.

Since that time, I’ve gotten a lot more serious about preparedness for disaster situations. You can’t rely on being able to figure out solutions later. It’s one of those things where you don’t even think of what you’re not thinking of, until it’s too late. Much better to run down a checklist, and always over-prepare, rather than under-. I will also most likely be getting the hell out of Dodge next time, for unlike other more sudden types of natural disasters, hurricanes do allow you an advance warning, which I should have heeded.

Melissa Miller has sworn her life to helping others do the same by explaining the often tricky world of online education. Direct any questions or comments to melissamiller831 (at) gmail.com.

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