I’D LIKE TO BE able to say that I got out of Houston in the nick of time. But nearly 18 years ago hardly qualifies as a “nick of time,” but I did get out.
As the nation’s fourth-largest city dries out, I am happy that only two people still live there for whom I have feelings. One is my former wife, and the other is Victoria who is now a real estate agent with a child she adopted four years ago.
I emailed my ex-wife the day after Harvey hit to inquire about her well-being and that of the house I so generously and perhaps stupidly gifted her shortly after our divorce in 1995. She replied from Oklahoma! She and a friend had fled Houston on Thursday, a day before Harvey arrived onshore.
I asked about the house, and she said it was high and dry. I asked how she knew that, but she has yet to reply. I also emailed Victoria. She, her home and the tyke are well.
Before moving to Mexico at age 55, most of my life had been spent within spitting distance of hurricane-prone coasts. In spite of that, I got hammered head-on just once by a hurricane.
Once was more than enough.
Betsy in 1965, New Orleans. Category Four.
The eye went right over my head.
I want to tell you something: Hurricanes are scary! And I don’t mean Halloween scary. Or fun scary.
I mean, Am-I-going-to-see-tomorrow scary.
I was 21 years old and holing up with my parents. The three of us had moved to New Orleans from Nashville just months earlier. None of us had been in the middle of a hurricane before, which is why we stayed put in New Orleans. We were clueless.
We were in the second-floor of a duplex rental.
People who’ve not been hit directly by a major hurricane have no idea what they’re up against. It is beyond belief. I always roll my eyes on seeing news clips of “hurricanes” supposedly during one. I have never seen a news clip that even approximated what you experience in a real hurricane.
What you usually see is billboards flapping, lots of rain, some dumb reporter in a raincoat leaning into the wind, tins and bottles hopping down the sidewalk and street.
This is dangerously misleading.
Believe this: In the middle of a major hurricane, you don’t go outside to shoot news film. You don’t even approach a window or glass door unless you’re feeling suicidal.
A major hurricane is incredible. You’ve heard tornadoes being described as “sounding like a freight train.”
The tornado freight train lasts just seconds or a minute. The hurricane freight train goes on for hours. If you stick your head up from where you’re squatting on the floor and risk a look through a window that’s not boarded up, you see this:
Trees bent at 45-degree angles or more. Electricity leaping along power lines like escaped white snakes.
And the incessant roar. Everything in the neighborhood flying all over the place in every direction possible.
My father left his Rambler parked beside the house, not even in a garage, which shows how dumb we were. Later we found a number of small holes in the car body that had been caused by stones penetrating it at bullet velocity.
I left New Orleans and my parents two days later and moved to Baton Rouge to enroll at LSU. Baton Rouge’s damage was minimal, nothing like New Orleans where my parents did not get electricity in the house again for weeks.
No matter. We were lucky to be alive, and I learned a permanent lesson. If a hurricane is on the distant horizon, hightail it to Oklahoma. Fast as you can. Don’t dally.