Stormy memories

I moved to New Orleans in the summer of 1965. I was 20 years old. A couple of months later, in September, I had an experience of a lifetime when Hurricane Betsy hit us head-on. Betsy was a Category 4 when it reached Louisiana, and it was a religious experience of a sort.

I was living with my parents on the top floor of a duplex in Uptown New Orleans. None of us had experienced a full-blown hurricane before. My father left his Nash Rambler parked in the driveway. Later, we found what looked like bullet holes in the car body.

Stones had blown through.

Betsy passed overhead in the dead of night. She did sound like a freight train. Trees were bent over. Electricity danced up and down along power lines. At times I crawled to a window to look outside. I could hardly believe what I saw.

In the years that have since passed, I’ve seen videos of hurricanes, but none ever came close to what blew over our house that night. They would show some flapping street signs, etc., at most.

I always supposed that the lack of accurate videos of hurricanes at their worst was due to the fact that only a lunatic would go out to film it, or even approach a window during the height of it. Well, that has changed. There are cell phones, and there are lunatics.

When a hurricane approaches, there are always people you see on the news who say, “Oh, we’ve been through hurricanes before. We’ll be staying at home, like always.” These people have experienced glancing hurricanes at best.

Just four years after Betsy, Hurricane Camille arrived a bit farther to the east, which was good for New Orleans. The west side of a hurricane is the safer side. Camille was worse than Betsy. Yet again, there were people on the news declaring their intentions to ride it out.

Camille wiped entire homes off their foundations on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. People simply vanished forever. Plenty of them. The video below provides a good idea of what these things can do, especially at the 0:08 point.

You do not want to stay home.

Speaking of lunatics, here’s another video of what appears to be one of those wacky groups who drive toward tornados. Looks like they also drive into hurricanes. I hope they have life insurance.

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(Aftermath: The day after Betsy landed, I was able to drive north to Baton Rouge where I moved into a LSU dorm room. Damage in Baton Rouge was far less. Like right now, power was mostly off in New Orleans, and my parents lived with that, in the dark, for more than a week.)

Storm memories

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.

Perilously uninformed.

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.