When I woke up this morning, the sky was gray, and it was raining. I burrowed under the covers wishing I had some sunshine to warm my day. I did get up and ventured downstairs in my workout clothes for a healthy breakfast. (I thought I’d be more likely to exercise if I was dressed for it. ((shrug))
Per my routine, I flipped on a news channel and was immediately bombarded with news about Hurricane Michael and its rapid approach towards Panama City Beach, Florida. It brought back memories from twenty-three years ago when my family lived there.
Hurricane season is typically from May to October, and the residents along the Gulf of Mexico pay close attention to the weather reports during this volatile time of the year. In 1995, three hurricanes of varying strengths made landfall or affected our area. I had a tee shirt from the hospital where I was employed with the paths of the storms that year.
October storms tend to be the strongest because the water temperature of the Gulf is at its highest levels after the long hot summer, and hurricanes gain their strength from the warm waters they travel over.
Hurricane Opal was our Category 4.
We’d gotten a phone call at midnight from the Navy base. The base was closing and all military personnel and their families were ordered to evacuate. We got up packed some belongings. My husband filled the SUV with gas, and we packed some of our camping supplies, just in case we came home and found we didn’t have a home.
While my husband packed, I took our other vehicle and proceeded to find an ATM with some cash. He had tried two places without luck. It took me ten more stops before I could find a machine with cash available.
By four in the morning, we had our boys and our dog tucked into the vehicle and proceeded to leave the coast behind. We drove for over 6 hours (about 365 miles) before we found a hotel room in Huntsville, AL.
After we returned home, we found neighbors helping to put the shingles that had been blown off of our roof back into our yard. We were lucky. A few doors down, some neighbors came home to over two feet of water damage inside of their home. According to reports, our huge backyard had been completely covered by flood waters, including our inground pool.
We found our pool half-empty. Odd. We are uncertain if a tornado spawned by the storm damaged the roof and sucked the water from the pool. It remains a mystery to this day. The storm surge had hollowed out many buildings and residences along the coast. We were without power for several days. I cooked our meals on our camping stove, and we slept in the screen porch area due to the heat and lack of air conditioning.
I used these experiences and those I had while living in Corpus Christi, TX to write scenes for my first novel (short excerpt below).
My prayers are with the residents of my former home. Stay safe! ~~ Kate
Excerpt From Exodus (Clare Thibodeaux Series, Book 1
Running back and forth from the closet to the bathroom, Clare stuffed the last item that would fit into her worn duffel bag with a sigh. She glanced around the shamble she’d made in her bedroom for anything she didn’t wish to leave behind. There was one thing she couldn’t forget, she thought, as she reached into the bedside table drawer removing a .45 and some extra ammo. She clicked on the safety after checking the chamber to make sure it was empty.
A sterling silver frame with a black and white photograph of her family caught her eye. After she stripped the back from the expensive frame, Clare removed the photo and shoved it into her purse. Her throat tightened, and she swiped at the lone tear sliding down her face. Abruptly clearing her throat, she returned to the task at hand.
“Oh, my God,” she groaned as she hoisted the weight of the overstuffed bag over her shoulder. The perspiration on her forehead stung as it dripped into her eyes. Clare mopped at the sweat with the back of her hand and headed for the door of the apartment.
“Get your head in the game, Clare Thibodeaux,” she mumbled. She set her bag on the floor and eyeballed the landing through the peephole making sure everything was clear before she opened the door. Not able to see anything she considered suspicious, she bent over and picked up the duffel. The door swung open with a blast of sweltering heat that made it difficult to breathe. Coastal Florida temps often left one feeling like you’re standing too close to a bonfire. It was only 6:30 AM.
Angry, dark clouds littered the predawn sky. Hurricane Emmitt swirled its way across the Gulf of Mexico with The Weather Channel anticipating landfall along Florida’s panhandle. The residents of this stretch of the Florida coast were familiar with the preparations a tropical storm or hurricane required. People were boarding up their windows, getting ready for a hurricane party or hightailing it out of the path of the storm. In the past, Clare had ridden out most of the hurricanes or near misses at the hospital. Any staff able to stay would remain at the hospital 24/7 until after the worst of the storm was over.
Circumstances were different at present. She planned to evacuate with the thousands of other residents as they left their homes and belongings to avoid the devastation the landfall of a Category 4 hurricane would bring. Trees could be broken or uprooted from the ground. Power lines would be downed, and the electricity might be off for days or weeks. With so many leaving the coast, she could get lost in the stream of vehicles heading north. It was probably the best time to disappear. Maybe the only chance she’d have.
The warm red glow of the rising sun peeked through gaps in the clouds as the storm front advanced towards the coast. Its weakened light glinted off the corrugated metal carports. The roaring tide crashed onto the beach, and an occasional car door or trunk closing were the only sounds. Taking the steps down to the parking lot, she looked across the road to the shoreline. Lines of white-capped waves swelled larger rolling with power as they slammed into the shore. Who knew if her apartment building would be standing in another day? Not that it mattered to Clare, she wouldn’t return.