August 1983

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This is what the entrance to the River Oaks area of Houston looked like in mid-March 2017 when we visited my friend Juliet and her family. I hazard to guess some of those pretty palm trees were snapped in tow and that those flowers have been battered due to Hurricane Harvey. – http://www.tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi |@MaryAnnaVioli

Hurricane Alicia. Its name is emblazoned in my memory.

Never have I been more terrified, more at the mercy of Mother Nature than I was when Hurricane Alicia roared across the Gulf of Mexico and slammed into Galveston first, and then onto Houston. A child of the Midwest, I was accustomed to tornado season. I knew to retreat to the basement of my home with flashlights, canned goods, gallons of water, cat food, and the cat. However, tornados are one thing; hurricanes are something altogether different.

Houston is below sea-level, which means homes do not have basements.

My Houston native friend, Juliet, instructed me a week before Hurricane Alicia arrived, what preparations to make. Juliet came over to my apartment in Southwest Houston, in an area called Meyerland, to help me tape the windows. Armed with wide rolls of tape, we placed X’s from corner to corner in each window. We went to the grocery store and loaded up on gallons of water, loaves of bread, jars of peanut butter, bags of nuts and dried fruit. We made sure my hand held can opener operated easily, for I would be eating lots of canned tuna once the city shutdown for the hurricane. New batteries filled several flashlights. In a few days I would shower again, clean out my bathtub, and then fill it to the brim with water. Bruno the cat had ample food and would have access to water from the gallon containers. We would ride out the hurricane together.

When Alicia made landfall on August 18, I thought Bruno and I were goners. The sheer terror of the screaming sound of the hurricane made me dive under my bed covers with Bruno. My cat could not stop pacing around the perimeter of the bed. His paws were moist, always a bad sign with a cat. We had food and water in my bedroom, but I was too frozen with fear to get out of bed. Other sounds howled for hours. Among those sounds I later learned was the metal roofs over the carports in my apartment complex being torn off from the maniacal winds. Trees uprooted like sticks were hurled every which way, including across power lines. Nob Hill, my apartment complex consisted of a series of two-story brick buildings. It had looked sturdy to me the past months I had lived there. Now I prayed to God that my building on a knoll held together.

Around 7:30 a.m. the next morning, the phone rang; there were no cell phones in 1983! It was my mother telling me that on the Today Show or on Good Morning America, I do not recall which one, the weather announcer said the eye of Hurricane Alicia had settled over Houston. Yes, I said, I know. It’s the first time it’s been quiet in hours. I actually slept for two hours. My parents were scared to death for me. I assured my mother I was fine sleep deprived, but otherwise fine. The air-conditioning hasn’t stopped working, I said. This is important since the heat and humidity have intensified, thanks to the hurricane. Thanks to the knoll upon which my building was located, even my car survived the wrath of Alicia because the queue of carports for my building was also on a knoll. However, many other people lost not only power in their buildings, but also their cars from water damage.

    I had been teaching summer classes. Finals had been scheduled a few days after the hurricane. In the end, I simply calculated final grades, minus the final exam. Damage to homes and business in Houston was so extensive that it would have been inhumane to require students to try to get to the university for an exam. The health and well-being of my students was of tantamount importance in the aftermath of the hurricane. Besides, there was no running water, nor was there electricity in the building where the final exam was to have been.

Hurricane Alicia was a Category 3 hurricane. Hurricane Harvey that struck the Texas Gulf coast is a Category 4, even more powerful. My friend Juliet texted me at 5:38 a.m. this morning that she and her family have retreated to the second floor of their home in Clear Lake, near NASA. The first floor of their home was flooding. She is trying to conserve cell phone energy. Perhaps they have been rescued. All I can do is keep praying that they are.

Ciao for now.

 

Stormy Weather

In the 1980’s I lived in Houston, Texas. Having lived through glacial cold and snow throughout Midwest winters, Houston’s sunshine and great blue skies seduced me.  The ravaged palm trees from last year’s hurricane may have looked paltry to the natives, but to me the trees were exotic.

Cover of "The Night of the Iguana"
Cover of The Night of the Iguana

My Houston euphoria continued, until the humidity of late April hit me like the heat out from Tennessee Williams’ play, The Night of the Iguana.  I sensed a summer of humid discontent when, after stepping out of my morning shower, I began to perspire. Houstonians had managed to air-condition much of the city.  However, this became a moot point as I sat in stalled traffic on Houston’s labyrinth of freeways. Exhaust fumes only added to the oppressive heat.

Nothing, though, prepared me for Hurricane Alicia that summer.  In Indiana I hunkered down in safe places during tornadoes, but hurricanes were a different sort of animal.  Friends clamored for me to weather the hurricane in their home.  My cat Bruno was a concern; he despised car rides. “Brunsie” liked new places even less.  Friends counseled me about taping large X’s across my apartment windows.  I dutifully filled up the bathtub with water to flush the toilet in the event of a power outage.  I raided supermarket shelves, filling my cart with cans of tuna, sardines, peanut butter, bread, crackers, anything I could open with can openers. Since my particular brick building was on higher ground, with my car parked under a carport nearby, I stood a good chance of riding out the hurricane barreling towards the Gulf coast.

Hurricane Alicia on August 17, 1983
Hurricane Alicia on August 17, 1983 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Three days later, Holy Hell broke loose.  My first clue was Bruno’s pacing like a non-stop vigilant sentinel throughout the apartment.  He was impervious to comfort, treats, and toys.  Terrifying winds gained momentum. I was sure B-52’s were landing when these winds tore off the carport metal tops.  The sounds were deafening, like a locomotive coming through our domicile.  For hours the hurricane raged.  Bruno’s pads were moist, a further sign of terror for us both.

Cat napping
Cat napping (Photo credit: popitz)  [This cat strongly resembled Bruno -tangledpasta.net]
    At some point, I fell asleep.   The telephone rang.  My first thought was we hadn’t lost power.  Groggily I picked up the receiver.  I realized an eerie calm had settled over my neighborhood.

“Honey!  Do you know that your side of Houston is in the eye of the hurricane?” my frantic mother announced.

“It’s alright, Mama.  This is the first quiet in hours.  I love you.”

“I love you too.  Call me every couple of hours to let me know you are fine.”

“Alright, Mama.”

The aftermath of the hurricane was equally unpleasant.  Flooding, erratic power, downed live power lines prevented leaving home. Houston is below sea level; the houses lack basements.  This means that flooding shakes vermin and snakes from their underground lairs.

Hurricanes terrified me. Eventually, I packed up my cat and moved back to Indiana where we retreat to the basement during tornado warnings – no vermin in sight.

Ciao for now.