Most people that live in North Florida haven’t been through a hurricane landfall. Though storms that cross the state from the gulf do affect us and we get “outer bands” of storms that hit further north, most North Floridians don’t really know what living through the aftermath of a major hurricane is like.
My dad was a single dad of three, stationed on Homestead Air Force Base back in August of 1992 when I was fourteen years old.
We waited at home while he battened down the hatches at work. As the oldest of the kids, it was my responsibility to get the house ready. We didn’t even know if the Air Force was going to let him evacuate.
I remember my dad instructed me to tape up the windows. I used duct tape and covered every square inch of my bedroom window with the thick green tape. When he called to check on us, I told him that taping the window was taking a long time and we might run out of tape.
He said, “it shouldn’t take long to put a big X on each window.”
So I put big X’s on the rest of the windows.
Hours later, most of it spent watching the Weather Channel, Dad came home and loaded the three of us, and our dog, into the car. We were out of there.
The trip from south to north Florida typically takes six hours. This trip took over twelve hours.
We could roll down the windows on the parking lot that was I-95 and chit chat with our actual neighbors stuck in traffic beside us. We all evacuated at the same time. Lines for gas stations were almost a mile long. All the highways were adjusted to be Northbound for the evacuation. There was no going “south” on 95 that day.
I can now truly admire my Dad’s calm and patience on that grueling drive. Three bickering kids and an air conditioning hog of a mutt in one car stuck in EPIC traffic. I get frustrated waiting at the light at the end of my street when the kids are bickering.
We woke up the next day to learn that Homestead took a direct hit from Hurricane Andrew, a category 5 storm. Our housing area was devastated.
We lost everything. Well, almost everything.
Remember that duct tape on my bedroom window? My bedroom was the only one with the roof still on it. The tape didn’t protect my stuff from the storm surge but my furniture didn’t end up in the yard, either. The rest of our furniture was blown outside or carried by the surge into our yard.
The car my dad inherited when his mother passed just a month or so earlier was picked up and flung a couple of blocks down the street.
Even this many years later, my old neighborhood is an overgrown field. If you look closely you can still see the roads peeking from the underbrush. We used to play there. We rollerbladed and rode our bikes through that now empty expanse. We laughed and roamed with our friends. We had a life there and in one day it was irrevocably torn into bits of trash strewn about the yard.
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I’m a mother now. It is my job to do what my Dad did–to calmly handle a life-changing crisis with the aplomb that he demonstrated. He made my transition from hurricane refugee to a new high school student as smooth as he could. I can only imagine the stress and worry he went through. My dad grabbed his kids and headed home. However, in this day and age there are a few things that should be easy to grab and bring when your family leaves.
The most important things, with the exception of my family, are the family documents. I keep a family binder that is easy to grab and stuff in a bag. It has important papers in it and might just be the only thing I keep organized.
I don’t have a pretty cover on my binder. It isn’t labeled “IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS” or even “FAMILY BINDER.” It is unlabeled because it is valuable and I wouldn’t want a burglar to ever see and it grab it. Right now it’s a binder tossed amongst a bunch of other office stuff and similar binders.
And if I only had time to grab one thing in addition to my kids, that would be it.
I have a Hurricane kit packed and ready to go. It’s about time that I go through it and make sure it is up to date. Check out The National Hurricane Center’s Preparedness website, they are the experts after all.
What natural disasters do you prepare for in your neck of the woods?
Like prep lists? Check this one out Over ten important tips for preparing for a hurricane on a budget.