Hurricanes are nothing to play with

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Here we go again, but maybe this time it won’t be as bad. Hurricane Isabel is bearing down on us inexorably and there doesn’t seem much chance that it’ll head out to sea or even veer enough to brush the coast and head up to New Jersey.

According to the National Hurricane Center’s Tuesday afternoon prediction, it looks like Isabel is coming straight over St. John, which happens to be where Kim (and most of her extended family) and I live.

Before Floyd I didn’t worry so much about hurricanes. They came every now and then; and then they went away. The wind blew, it rained, the power went out for a few hours, and television reporters stood out on the beach so folks like me – the ones with the good sense to be safely indoors – could laugh at them and hope for a big wave or (I’m ashamed to admit) a flying two-by-four.

It always bugs me that TV reporters feel the need to be in the picture, shouting self-evident inanities such as &uot;THE WIND IS HOWLING&uot; as they struggle to stand in one spot, &uot;THE DRIVING RAIN MAKES VISIBILITY DIFFICULT&uot; as they try to shield their faces from the deluge, &uot;THE WATER IS SWEEPING ACROSS THE ROAD&uot; as they show a picture of water washing over a road, OR &uot;YOU SHOULD NOT BE OUT IN THIS&uot; as they stand out in it.

All they need to do to get their point across is anchor the camera somewhere with a good view and get the heck out of there so that emergency workers don’t have to worry about all those crazy television people hanging out on the beach. If they feel the need to explain what is obvious, they can talk to their heart’s content as the camera runs – safely from inside a shelter or emergency management center.

I don’t understand why television crews get special treatment. Emergency services personnel get downright angry with the idiots holding hurricane parties on the beach, but you rarely hear any criticism of the several dozen TV news crews that are filming on the beaches. Could that be because the television people omit that bit of reporting?

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that we get to see scenes from the beach so we’ll have some idea of what’s in store when it gets up our way. And I would admire the bravery displayed by the news crews if it were essential to better informing the public about the approaching situation. But they don’t have to go outside and stand in it to convey that message, so &uot;bravery&uot; is really just foolhardiness.

I just hope I’ve got lights later today so I can root for the flying 2x4s.

I’ve developed a much greater respect for hurricanes since Floyd. I always figured that this far inland, the worst you had to worry about was a tornado. The winds would howl for what seemed like forever, but you never felt threatened by it and the rain was just not something you gave much thought to because it was no worse than any nor’easter or cold front pushing eastward in the summer.

Floyd was much worse.

The storm itself wasn’t that scary. Just as with most hurricanes, the winds howled, the rains pelted, and few hours later it calmed down. I was living in Ahoskie at the time and, while I stayed up late that night to see where the storm was tracking and to determine if everything at my house was secure, I got a good night’s sleep. When I got up, I could see that my house was like a small island in a shallow sea. This didn’t alarm me because in that section of Ahoskie, any hard rain would flood the roads for a short while.

I felt rather poorly, but knew, since I worked for the &uot;News-Herald&uot; back then, that I had to get out into the world to take pictures and interview folks. I just couldn’t do it right away because my house was surrounded by water. It wasn’t until I got a call from the paper that I learned some areas had been devastated by floodwaters.

Still, it didn’t fully sink in until later that day when I went to Stony Creek. The water was three-fourths of the way up the mobile homes I visited (thanks to some folks with a boat that took me on a tour), trucks and SUVs were completely submerged and some of the homes closer to the swift-running creek were a foot under water.

More than that, however, at the edge of the flood, just about where the Stony Creek Diner is, people who had lost all their worldly possessions were trying to get back to salvage a few treasured memories. I didn’t hear anybody talking about going back for money or jewelry. Everyone wanted to go back to get photographs of their families or items that had been passed down to them by their parents or grandparents.

Meanwhile – and again I want to thank the men with the boat for doing all the work – I had a fever of 103 and was feeling decidedly ill. After that, everything becomes a bit hazy. I remember going back to the office and writing a story or stories about the flood – I don’t know if it was that night or the next night. I remember being cold even though it was warm and muggy and I remember uncontrollable shivering and sweating and little else.

Pneumonia almost took me away that weekend. I refused to be hospitalized when I went to the emergency room Saturday morning (because I wasn’t sure I could make it to Woodland to see my doctor, Dr. John Stanley.) Oh, I do remember going into the grocery store to stock up on some soup – too weak to lift my feet off the floor, sweat dripping from my face, shivering from the cold, and as nearly delirious as at any time in my life – even when I was in the Army and in college.

I stayed that way for five days before Dr. Stanley saved my life by putting me on the right antibiotic. And my mother, bless her heart, came a-running to feed me homemade soup and take care of me.

So I missed most of the aftereffects of Floyd because I was either too delirious from five days of 104-degree fever or too focused on trying not to die to pay much attention to what was happening with the rest of the world.

I did learn a few things: I love my mother (I did already know that); I deeply respect and admire Dr. Stanley; I like being alive; and hurricanes are nothing to play with.