hurricane damage

Hurricane 

September 30, 2022

   I was 16 when Hurricane Betsy hung a U-ee in the Atlantic, wrapped itself around Florida and made a beeline for the Louisiana coast. It was September of 1965, and New Orleans was the bullseye of the storm.

   The night of the storm, my father made me a highball to “calm my nerves.” My nerves were fine; it was his that were rattled. We lived in a brick house, and according to legend, you could huff and puff, but you couldn’t blow the house down. I happily sipped my highball. It was my first “Hurricane party.”

   I was the first one up the following morning. I looked out my window, and saw that my backyard was covered in gray water. What I didn’t realize was that the water was moving, pouring in really from a breach in a levee designed to protect a city that sits in a bowl below sea level. By the time the rest of the family was awake, the gray water started seeping in under our front door. Hurricane Betsy’s wind had done little damage, but as the cliché goes, “it’s not the wind, it’s the water.”

By the time the rest of the family was awake, the gray water started seeping in under our front door. Hurricane Betsy’s wind had done little damage, but as the cliché goes, “it’s not the wind, it’s the water.”

   We stacked as much of our belongings as we could on top of beds and dressers. Those were about three or four feet above the floor. The rising floodwaters settled at around five feet. When we left for the “shelter,” the water was ankle deep. By the time we reached the “shelter,” about two blocks away, the water was above our knees.

   I’m putting shelter in quotation marks, because there was nothing there when we arrived, except the second floor of the high school. Nothing in the way of emergency supplies, such as water or blankets had been staged. The toilets didn’t work, nor did the faucets.. Within an hour or so of arriving, the hallways were covered in muck and pet feces. We were in worse shape than if we had stayed home. (Those who did stay had to be chopped out of attics through the roofs of their homes.) 

   We were rescued from the increasing Hell of the “shelter” by pirogue (the inaugural appearance of the Cajun Navy, perhaps), and stayed with relatives for whom the floods had spared. It took about two weeks for the waters to recede, and more than six months before repairs to the house could be completed. There was no such thing as flood insurance, and my parents restored our house with a loan that was dutifully repaid in full ten years later. 

   I’m thinking about Betsy, as Hurricane Ian departs Florida, and ushers in a prolonged period of recovery. I remember the stench of spoiled food, the thick humidity and all the ruined belongings sitting atop the beds and dressers when we first returned home. For decades we spoke of time “before Betsy and after Betsy.” That was until Hurricane Katrina in 2005 finished the job Betsy had started. 

   The house at 68 Patterson Dr. that had been rebuilt after Betsy was taken down to its concrete slab after Katrina. We’d moved into that address when the house was brand new in 1955. Fifty years later, they’d be building all over again from scratch,  should someone decide to. Houses can be rebuilt. Memories linger for a lifetime. For many in Florida, those lifetime memories are just beginning. 

  1. Jerry says:

    I remember both hurricanes very well. Those type of life events are not easily forgotten.

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