Hurricanes

Having experienced several hurricanes (growing up in the South, this is par for the course), I get the shivers at the thought of what folks in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama went through over the past 24 hours, and what they’re going to go through in the weeks and months ahead.

I remember particularly Hurricane Agnes in 1972, when we lived in Virginia. Horrific storm and flooding that took down the 99-year old Occoquan Bridge, near our home, and left major carnage in our area. I remember filling all of our bathtubs before the peak of the storm, so we would have drinking water. I remember walking across the street to the community pool, with my mom, days after that when the bath tubs ran out, getting water in buckets and jugs from a tanker truck parked there.

I remember Hurricane Floyd in 1999, which hammered New England, hitting just as I was arriving in Boston to ride my second Boston-to-New York AIDS Ride. I spent the night of the storm in parking garage in Boston, as the ride organizers tried to figure out what to do with us all. Ultimately, the bussed everyone to New Haven (our planned campsite in Storrs was under-water) and put them up in the Coliseum there overnight, with a planned short ride into Manhattan the next day. I bailed at that point, because Marcia and Katelin were at home without power and a deeply flooded basement, caused when the sump pump died with the power.

I remember Hurricane Bret in 1981, a mere Category 1 storm that skirted up the coast of the Carolinas and made landfall around Emerald Isle, North Carolina, near where we were living at the time. There were no exacuations ordered, so I stayed at a beach house there with a friend to watch. Actually, correct that: we stayed out in the sand dunes for most of the storm to watch. It was exhilirating, sure, although the next day my skin was abraded away in spots from blowing sand. Ouch. The power of that Category 1 storm up close was awesome, and makes me cringe at the thought of one like Katrina.

I can understand the allure of staying to watch a hurricane, to some extent, having done it once, with a little one. But even then, even at my stupidist, I think if the news had told me a Category 4 or 5 storm was coming with 20+ foot seas, I would have bailed out. I understand that there are some people in New Orleans and the surrounding areas who were either physically unable to do so, or mentally incapable of understanding what was about to happen to them. I pity those people, and hope they made it.

However: when I see pictures on the news of what appear to drunk frat boys walking down the streets of the Quarter at the peak of the storm, my sympathy disappears. You are extremely stupid. The human breeding pool is probably better with you gone. And if you are stuck up on a roof somewhere, I hope that the rescue teams take care of everyone else before they get to you. Teach you some common sense.

Likewise to people who build houses on shifting sand bars that didn’t exist on maps printed 20 years ago. The main reason the insurance costs after hurricanes increase every year is less from the ferocity of the storms (although Katrina is obviously an exceptional one in terms of strength) than it is because people stupidly build more and more ticky-tack homes closer and closer to the ocean in the Southeast.

Here’s a recommendation: if you buy coastal property in the South, get a 100 year old map of the area and check the coastline around your property. If your land was underwater then, or had no signs of farming, boating, fishing or residential use, odds are there was a reason for that. People have been building European style houses down there since the 1500s. For the most part, by the 1700s, after 200 years of errors, they figured out where it was safe to build and where it wasn’t. Learn from our ancestors’ mistakes. Don’t build in areas where they didn’t.

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