Sunday, August 31, 2008

Can't Get In The Holiday Spirit

I just can't get into the spirit of a holiday today. That isn't saying a whole lot because I'm not generally a "holiday" kind of gal. But, this Labor Day is particularly somber for me. In 2004 we celebrated Labor Day weekend by welcoming (cough, cough) a visit from Hurricane Frances. She overstayed her welcome by hours and hours.

A year later, Katrina hit Florida and then moved on toward the Gulf Coast. Let us note here that the devastating flooding was not a direct result of the hurricane itself. It was a result of the failure of the dikes: that is to say, the flooding was totally preventable.

I got up early that Sunday morning and watched the storm come ashore. I cried at the very thought of how horrifying that experience must have been for the people crammed in the Super Dome. On the first anniversary of the storm, I wrote this.

This weekend once again, we are watching a storm bearing down on the Gulf Coast.

This time the NO and Louisiana officials implemented evacuation plans. It remains to be seen how many people will have taken advantage of those buses and trains. This time it appears that a lot of people took the threat seriously and evacuated on their own. This time, the National Guard has been deployed. I am sure there will be problems and complaints that the government did not do enough or that the first responders did not respond fast enough. Nevertheless, it appears the NO officials learned from the disaster that was Katrina.

That isn't going to make it any easier to watch the storm come ashore tomorrow.

I've done it both ways.

The first hurricane I ever experienced was Hurricane Carmen in 1974. I was spending the summer with my aunt in Ft. Walton Beach. Carmen was headed straight for us for a long time. We had the car packed ready to evacuate. My aunt had lived on the Gulf Coast for a long time and she did not want to leave. Instead of leaving town, during the day before the storm hit, we headed for the beach where we watched enormous waves breaking over the pier. Then we went home and waited. At the last minute, the hurricane made a sudden turn, and ended up hitting the coast near New Orleans, a couple hundred miles away. That was the worse weather I had ever experienced up till that time, and I pretty much made up my mind I would not "sit out" another hurricane if I ever found myself in that situation.

The next hurricane I experienced was Hurricane Floyd in 1997. Floyd loomed off the coast of Central Florida as a Cat 4 storm, for a while aiming directly at the Central Florida coast. That was the first year we lived in Florida. The locals insisted that hurricanes don't hit this part of the coast. I didn't care about local lore. I had a first grader for whom I was responsible. We headed for Tallahassee where we spent the night in a filthy flea-bag hotel and watched the storm's progress on TV. In a way, watching the storm from a safe haven was pretty bad, too. As it happens, Floyd moved on up the coast, weakened to a Cat 2 and then buried the Carolinas under torrential rains. We returned to find our home totally intact. But, we were all aware it could have been very different.

This weekend as I watch the residents of the Gulf Coast flea the storm, I am reminded that I know what it feels like to walk away from your home and belongings not knowing if they will be there when you return. I also know what it is like to sit in your home for hour upon hour upon hour, listening to the winds howl and the rain pound against every exterior surface of my home, wondering whether or not the roof and the windows will stand up to the fury of the storm.

Both of those experiences suck big time.

Because I have been there, I can't ... I just can't go about my business this weekend as though nothing is happening. I have to stop, to witness, to pray for and to be in solidarity with the people on the Gulf Coast in their time of crisis.

Even while my heart and my prayers go out to the people in the path of Gustav, I have one eye on T. S. Hanna which some reports say could be hurricane by mid-week positioned off the coast of Central Florida. What is more, there are four more potential storms in various stages of development in the pipeline from the African coast.

Shades of 2004? God help us, every one.