I moved from sunny Southern California to Louisiana the first time in 1962 when my husband—I’ll call him Bill for privacy reasons—was discharged from the military. I disliked the year-round rains. My first brush with a hurricane three years later churned deeper emotions of fear and hate.
We lived about 300 miles north of the predicted landfall location of Hurricane Betsy in 1965, so I expected heavy rains. I could get through it with Bill’s help. But he was sent to the devastated coastal area to restore electrical utilities. I was home alone. I mopped up water from incessant rain that oozed in around the windows, ran down the walls, and puddled on the floor.
I breathed easy when we moved back to California in the late sixties —nothing to fear but wildfires winds and earthquakes. The Santa Ana winds dropped ashes from the 1970 Laguna Fire in our yard in Irvine, but no sparks. The Sylmar quake the next year shook me out of bed, but no major damage. One evening two years later, Bill said, “It’s getting too crowded here—too many people—we’re going home.”
“Home” was a disappointment. Low-paying jobs, heat, humidity, and unending rains filled my days. We moved to Southeast Louisiana where the pay was better but the rains were worse. Then we met Hurricane Andrew, a projected Category 5 hurricane in 1992. “Don’t worry,” Bill said, “it’ll slow down once it hits Florida. All we’ll get is rain.” Andrew swept westward. We were in the direct path.
Andrew strengthened back to a Category 5, then downgraded as he stormed our way. The voluntary evacuation order came to our parish (county to all you who aren’t familiar with Louisiana vocabulary). I left work in Baton Rouge and crept toward home in the outbound traffic. Bill was nailing sheets of plywood over the windows. “Are you almost ready to go?” I asked. “If I don’t stay looters will take all my shop tools. Gonna ride it out,” he said.
I would have felt safer in the truck high above flooded streets, but I tossed my tote and a bag of snacks in my sedan. In case Mississippi hotels were full, I added a sleeping bag, a pillow, and bottled water for shelter survival. Weather news said Andrew had slowed to a Category 4 when it hit the Bahamas. “No sense paying an extra hotel night,” Bill said. “Wait till tomorrow and see what happens.” The next morning, voluntary evacuation was replaced by a shelter-in-place order.
I peeked through silver duct tape crisscrossed on the kitchen door window panes. A neighboring pine bent double in obeisance to Andrew, the 80-foot tall branches touching our gravel driveway before returning upright, only to repeat the same bow. My view of the front yard through the kitchen window showed the ancient oak standing its ground. Between peeks outside, I hovered near the television watching the devastation Andrew had left in his path—until the lights flickered and we were left in the dark.
Without electricity we had no water from the subdivision well. We were campers, so we had prepared. We brought in buckets of rainwater from the wooden barrel for the bathrooms. We turned on the portable radio. We set up the Coleman camp stove. That evening we ate by light of the Coleman lantern. Sleeping in the heat of a boarded-up home was impossible. We soon used the last of the dozen radio batteries and the propane canisters. Then the phone died. We were cut off from everybody—our wise neighbors had evacuated.
The morning after Andrew moved on, we stood on the front porch, sheltered from the heavy rain, accessing the damage. A downed power line entangled in a massive limb severed from the strong oak sprawled across our driveway near the street. Bordered by a deep drainage ditch, we were still captives.
After a frustrating week, the rain stopped, and a utility crew arrived on our street. Their small gas-powered saw was no match for the oak limb. The saw stalled, then the chain broke. They borrowed our chain saw. My husband offered to do the first cuts. “That oak is tough,” he said. They refused citing insurance liability. He stepped back while they powered up his replacement. They made a few cuts before they broke his saw.
There were no looters in our country neighborhood. The chain saw was the only loss.