I’m a evacuater. I evacuate early and I evacuate often.
Back when Sally was still just a tropical storm roaming in the Gulf, the projections placed New Orleans in the center of the cone of doom. I closed up my house and left to go to my parents home on Sunday. There, I would be safe and I’d help them prepare.
On Monday, the National Hurricane Center projections moved the storm further east, closer to the Mississippi/Alabama line. Throughout the day, with the Sally slowing her forward motion to two miles per hour, we talked of leaving but our focus was that she was still only going to be a Category 1 hurricane (on the Saffir-Simpson Scale) when she made landfall. My parent’s house was rebuilt after Hurricane Ivan flooded them in 2004 to the standard of 7 feet of storm surge and 110 mile per hour winds.
The storm kept tracking our direction, putting Mobile Bay in the crosshairs. The worst of the wind and rains are typically east of the eye of the hurricane and, as my parents live around 40 miles from the mouth of the bay, our worries increased as the next day dawned with dark and foreboding skies.
Alabama Governor, Kay Ivey held a press conference on Tuesday morning where she urged those in the low-lying areas to evacuate. We weren’t going anywhere – Dad wouldn’t leave his house, Mom wouldn’t leave him and I wouldn’t leave her.
It poured down in sheets throughout Tuesday and we had tropical force winds off and on (more on than off) all day. The constant lashing of the rain had the roof weather gauge registered 6.4 inches of rainfall when power went out that evening.
Living on the water makes one familiar with the sounds of wind and waves but this was something else entirely. As Hurricane Sally dawdled offshore, slowly gaining strength from the warmer waters near land, my parents and I stepped outside onto their leeward porch.
There, we were out of the rain and, it was a better, being on that side of the house and away from the frightening sight of the water of Wolf Bay creeping ever closer to the back door.
We sat together and watched the trees dance and shiver as each succeeding band of tropical force and then hurricane force winds blew past our sheltered seats. We finally headed inside to listen from our beds and try and sleep as the house shook and branches rattled against the windows.
Mom first noticed the water on the floor as she got up around 3am. It was only ankle deep but it gave me a chill to see it flow down the hall toward my bedroom. She and I made our way to the kitchen by flashlight while Dad went back to bed.
There was such a feeling of dread, sitting a house darkened by power loss to hear the pounding of objects hitting into the side of the house. To hear water and to look at the floor to ceiling windows and see water a handspan above the sill. Then, to hear water trickle and then gush around the submerged windows.
It was so frightening to listen to waves crashing against the house and with an explosion of sound the storm shutters finally gave way under the relentless battering, breaking down the French doors and even more water and now debris poured in through the hole.
Needless to say, the sound of waves crashing inside the house is not as soothing as the manufacturers of white noise machines would have you believe.
Dad gave up trying to sleep when the doors to their bedroom sagged inward from the pressure of the water pushing a hard, blunt object into the shutters.
I felt the water rise over my calves and then my knees and had to consider what piece of furniture might bear our weight so we could climb out of the encroaching water.
My mother I would put on the dining table, Dad on the island in the kitchen and I would go stand on the wet bar. It might be the highest piece of furniture but it was also closest to the bayside windows, where I could see waves pushing through the storm shutters at waist level. I turned off my flashlight and lit a candle.
In the flickering light, I saw shadows moving and realized it was a chair from the living room floating into the kitchen. I felt something brush against my hip and shined my flashlight on a shoe I had carelessly took off and left by the back door only hours before.
I was able to move mom to a higher chair before I checked the weather app on my phone. Thank goodness the cell phone towers were still operating as I could access the future radar from the Weather Channel showing we just had to endure another couple of hours. Unfortunately, it also showed that Sally was now a Category 2 hurricane.
So we weren’t safe yet. There were terrifying explosions of sound from the garage and we could hear water and things, heavy things against the interior door. The only way to the second floor was through the garage and making our way there now was no longer an option.
As dawn broke, we could hear the storm abating. Wind, once furious became less angry. We could still hear rain and waves but the crashing was over. We heard scraping and screeching as wood and metal settled on the remains of the porch in the ebbing storm surge.
As the sky lightened, water had receded enough to let us open the door and walk out to a changed world. There was a carpet of debris surrounding the house. I pushed enough aside to allow Mom to go out onto the front porch and sit and dry out and try not to focus on how high the water mark was on the front door.
I also gave her a towel and rescued some sweats from the upper shelves of her closet as she was shaking from shock. I wasn’t much better but I also had to keep my Dad, who has had hip and shoulder replacement surgeries in the past year, from falling over as he explored.
When Dad and I managed to look out the back, the brick wall surrounding the waterside porch was gone. Now on it were large sections of someone else’s dock (don’t tell me how Dad knows at a glance they weren’t from his pier), a chest freezer, patio furniture and several feet of packed debris. All had become weapons used by Mother Nature to try to batter her way inside.
Around front, there was a debris line above the tires of my car and there were two inches of water inside. I’ve never had to bail out a car before but I grabbed a go-cup that had floated to the top of the debris pile in the garage and got to work. Luckily, mom reminded me to take pictures for insurance before I had finished scooping all the water out.
Two trees had been knocked over and were blocking us in the drive. Dad was able to call a neighbor who was a former contractor and Carl was able to get a guy out with a chain saw. Gordon was recovering from a stroke but he was out within two hours. He went to work and I dragged the limbs out of the way. In hardly any time at all, we were cut free.
We talked to all the neighbors who were out and about, marveling at the downed trees and damaged domiciles. I can’t believe how lucky we were after finding out one nearby friend had water waist high before he got his wife and two dogs up into their attic. Dad didn’t want to leave the area, so he went to stay with another neighbor in the subdivision who lived further from the water and had a generator. Mom and I would go to my sister’s house on the north side of town. She might not have power either but it would be clean and dry and her husband promised hot food from his grill, smoker and propane griddle.
I can’t express my gratitude for the generosity of neighbors, friends and everyone else who has opened their hearts and hands – the other night, a woman and her daughter came by dragging a little red wagon where she had fixed plates of BBQ from pork butt that had thawed in the power outage and was just going around, handing them out.
For all that my parent’s house is uninhabitable and my car totaled, we are all okay. We have our health and each other and things can be replaced. As my mom says – they were past due for a major downsizing and Momma Nature doesn’t hold markers.