Monday, August 29, 2005

Mobile getting slammed by Katrina

The water is rising in Mobile.

It’s sunny outside my window and on the television, it’s raining. Pouring. I watched footage of a Mobile, AL television reporter filming on the top of a hotel roof. Downtown is submerged. Looks like New Orleans got spared, a little, the worst of the storm surge, but Mobile didn’t. Water was rising up to the top of traffic lights in some areas.

My friend lives there.

We talked on the phone last night. She assured me they are on high ground, were boarded up, etc. We talked for a bit about hurricanes. She told me how they, and their neighbors, didn’t even board up until yesterday. And she told me why… something only someone who has seen the relentless conga line of hurricanes approaching can understand.

“I think we’re just weary.”

Though a hurricane hasn’t slammed into my city and I’ve been lucky just to get sideswiped, I know the feeling. Last year. Charley. Frances. Jeanne. Ivan missed us entirely.

This year, holding breath for Cindy, and Dennis. And last week, boarding up for Katrina.

She didn't miss us. Not entirely.

Then there was the monster, Andrew, in 1992. In 1992, at one point, they said my city would suffer a direct hit. Instead Homestead got nailed. It took years to recover.

Years.

Hurricanes make you weary. Again and again, get the supplies, shutter up the house, ride it out, swallow that lump of fear in your throat. How bad will it be? How high will the water rise? Will trees fall on the house? When is it time to go into a safe room? Will the roof hold? Will we get hit directly or just skirted? Will the power hold out and if it doesn’t, how long will it be before we have it? Did I store enough water?

And, on a lighter note, Do I have enough underarm deodorant?

The uncertainty factor plays a huge part of the anxiety. And then we discussed the weatherman phenomena. It happens when you tune into the Weather Channel, or CNN, or any national TV station and see the grim-faced weatherman/woman pointing at the spinning monster spitting back wind and water and saying, “Storm surge, blah blah blah, heading, blah blah blah.”

They’re talking about YOUR house. Your city. You. You’re thinking, “Easy for you to say there’s a hurricane coming, chum. YOU don’t have to live through it.”

Then there’s the aftermath. No power. You pick up debris, survey the yard, house, damage. If you’ve got flooding, there’s water in your house. Or maybe your house has become its own little island.

I felt so sorry for a guy they interviewed on TV who planned to ride Katrina out in his house. He said, "We have enough water, food, blah blah, and we'll be okay if it's just a few weeks. Hopefully it won't be a few months."

Trust me, mister, it will be months. Get used to standing in a long, long line for supplies like they are now in Miami. For a long long time. The sun beating down on your neck, the sweat rolling off your brow. People in Homestead packed their bags after Andrew and moved away. Deserting their homes. Some parts of south Dade looked like a ghost town after Andrew.

I’ve been fortunate never to get flooded, but I’ve covered enough storms in my day job to know what it’s like. A few years ago after a tropical storm dumped tons of rain in Jamaica, I went there to survey the damage and see how my organization can help. We had water boots. We waded through this woman’s yard, water sloshing up past our boots, to her porch. She showed me her house…safe and snug, and then she took me out to her bedroom. She opened the back door and warned, “Don’t fall out.”

Water was up to the door’s jam.

She had a sea of brown, ucky water in her yard. In another area, people were paddling down a roadway in a bamboo rafts they use for tourists on the Black River.

And last year, in Haiti, Gonaives. 2,000 people killed from Jeanne. No real warning, they died in their homes or swept away in flood waters. Our vehicle tipped and nearly fell on its side last year as we drove through the brown, murky flood waters filled with sewage and rotting corpses. We stood in that water, as it sloshed up to our hips, for nearly an hour, helplessly waiting for someone to help pull our Montero out.

Did I mention how much I loathe hurricanes?

So I’m sitting here, worried sick for my friend. Feeling depressed at all the mess and muck and possible loss of life. The fear for all those trapped in this hurricane… those inside the Superdome with its leaks and rising water, my friend in Mobile, and everyone else.

In the meantime, I sure hope that water stops rising.

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