In the late 70s, having just bought the new refrigerator for our house in Mobile where Spouse, a USCG officer, had just been transferred, it was time to board up, sedate the horse in his trailer, hang all the hay bags he could consume in 18 hours, and back his butt up to the kitchen window for the duration of Hurricane Frederick.
The eye passed over our still furniture-less house and our little family huddled in the central hall, backs against the wall that trembled along our spines as we listened to tornadoes howl by, and to the sound of 26 of the 75 pine trees in our yard crashing down around us.
Then Spouse was transferred to Miami, where we retired from the USCG and lived in Paradise until Aug. 25, '92 when a monster named Andrew drew a bead literally on the parallel of latitude that runs practically over our house.
But we're not stupid, we fled ahead of the storm at 7:30 PM just as the first bands began to frown down. No horses, just the few stray dogs we'd made a home for. Couldn't take them all, so those left behind were secured in the garage with buckets and buckets of food and water.
It would be 60 hours before we saw them again -- all alive.
I will never forget the trembling fearful anticipation of finding our home in the scene of nuclear war that Andrew left behind. The house stood; the 60' bushovia tree at the garage end of our ranch-style house had courteously stretched its length parallel to the front of the house instead of crushing it.
Every tree and utility pole, whether wood or concrete girder, was snapped like various matchsticks. During the day, there were no shadows because nothing tall enough to cast one stood any more.
We climbed onto our roof -- we HAD one! -- and we were the luckiest people we could see in any direction. Admittedly, our nearest neighbor is 1/4 mile away. Our lime grove was somewhere in the Everglades and the limes bobbed in the flood waters, dead horses and cows dotted teh landscape. Soon the stench was unbelieveable as flesh, and felled and drowned vegetation began to rot under the hot sun.
Geese were paddling in our front yard, some days later a mother sow and her piglets got into our yard. And the wildlife officers who were our law enforcement in the very rural area where we live, reported that several panthers were wandering our street at night.
Many days later, the Goodyear blimp floated soundlessly overhead on several nights, its running sign made of lights announcing "Go to the green balloons for water and meals; go to the red balloons for medical attention." Two weeks post-event, the Nat'l. Guard set up a feed station about 3 miles away from our house to serve our entire "neighborhood."
Volunteer vets established a huge animal shelter in a farmer's field where care was free for small pets and livestock, and where poor lost beasts were given temporary homes until original or new owners could be found.
President Bush I flew down and made an aerial tour, shaking his head at what he saw, turned around and returned to Washington the same day. And did nothing. Finally, the Dade County Emergency Management Director, a woman of remarkably clear sight and straight tongue uttered the famous question, "Where's the cavalry?"
After more than a week of neglect, FEMA was cranked up, the Nat'l. Guard deployed, and assistance began to nibble at the edges of the catastophe. A month into the aftermath, a private sedan honked outside our "gate." It was a chrurch group offering goods for free -- diapers, pet food, and the usual water, bread, and canned goods. It was the first relief we'd seen.
And sometime in October we had electricity again. A/C and running water. All was right with the world.
Even though our insurer wanted to hand us a check for a totaled house, we stayed, rebuilt, and after 10 years, found Paradise surrounded us again.
And on the first Tuesday in November of 1992, hundreds of us South Floridians stood in lines under the still broiling sun to help elect Bill Clinton president, who as a candidate, had shown us more concern than the man whose job it was. Bush I couldn't buy a vote.
Now, while what struck Miami last Friday night was nothing like what Katrina became today, I am once again living in Paradise Removed. But Katrina was no Andrew here in South Florida!
After I lost power and could blog no more, Spouse and I sat out in the back screened porch as -- Yep! the eye of a hurricane passed over us for the third time in our lives. For 30 minutes absolute calm.
Then I stood up. I heard something. I walked to the edge of the porch and tilted my head. It sounded like the roar of traffic along an interstate that lies just on the other side of a sound barrier wall. "What's that noise," I asked Spouse, "a train or an airplane flying low?" It seemed to be about a mile away.
"I've heard that sound before, and it meant tornado!" Spouse was brought up in Knasas. Actually, this time it meant eye wall.
We went inside, shut the sliding door, and within three minutes hell broke loose around us. Sitting in bed, Spouse read a few chapters of the latest Harry Potter, our read-aloud book, with the help of a battery lantern, shouting over the wind and rain noise outside.
With the dawn I could determine the damage.
All the new and different kind of grove is in the ground and most of the trees and nearly all the utility poles survived. Except that big bushovia. By now, re-grown to 60' in height it has lain itself down once more. This time 180 degrees opposite to where it "played dead" 13 years and one day ago, completely blocking our driveway and marooning us. Looking at it yesterday, chainsaw in hand, Spouse said, "No three strikes and you're out! If we prop it back up again, the next time it'll fall on the house!" So its great limbs and trunk are being cut up and hauled away. A job that will take many days.
Other things are different too. When Jeb asked his brother to declare the 3 southernmost counties of Florida disaster areas last Saturday morning, "W" said he'd get back to him with an answer Monday or Tuesday. After all, he's on a (working?) vacation in Crawford and snap disaster decisions are hard work!
Fortunately, it needed no time at all for "W" to declare the blasted Gulf Coast a disaster area. I have to admire the guy, he's certainly not his father.
So, if you're a Boo-Tribber from Biloxi or Gulfport, New Orleans or Mobile, and environs, who won't be showing up at the Cafe, or posting a diary, or threading comments here for a while, I shall hope for the best that you and your families pulled through; I will wish you all good fortune in the aftermath of Katrina.
Believe it or not, Andrew taught this nation a great deal about responding to catastophic natural disasters. All day today FEMA was staged and in the wings; there's been a crescent of rescuers surrounding your area in the form of utility workers, environmentalisits, Red Cross and Salvation Army volunteers, insurance agents, heavy equipment. Truckloads of ice and water that are already staged are probably arriving to ease you along the road to recovery even as I type.
I only hope that some of those rescue vehicles have Florida tags. We owe you.