Sixteen years ago, we lived in Zachary, LA, which is a small town just north of Baton Rouge. The town at that time had about 7,000 residents, a Wal-Mart (the old fashioned kind, not the new-fangled super center), a Winn-Dixie, & a McDonald’s. It was your typical small town, which has many aspects that I miss since I am now living in this huge metropolis. Sixteen years ago I was pregnant with Hannah, and Hurricane Andrew was fast approaching. It was my first hurricane to experience and one for which I was not prepared.
I honestly can’t tell you what was going through my head, or why I wasn’t prepared for the storm. We stayed with some friends during the worst part of the storm, and then went home afterward. We weren’t sure we would even have a home to come to, but by God’s grace we did. Before we returned home we drove around to see what the storm had done, and most everything was closed. We did find a store that had some hot dogs, which we bought, and then went home and grilled them in the rain.
Lindsay will tell you that the evening following Andrew was one of her favorite nights of her childhood. Since we had no power, we lit candles, turned the radio on an oldies channel, and played cards. We had lots of laughs and about 11pm our power came back on. We were right across the street from a hospital, which caused them to treat our area as a priority. Once we regained power, and things seemed normal, I thought that this hurricane business wasn’t so hard. The next day I found out that some friends of ours who lived just a couple of miles from our house were still without water and power. It took them 2 weeks to get it back. In Baton Rouge, there were long lines for ice and water for those two weeks. As I saw how things truly were for those who were hit hardest by the hurricane, I was humbled to realize how blessed we had truly been.
The lessons I learned from Andrew were many, and one lesson that has helped me more times than I care to count is to be prepared. At times I probably make Gene a little nutty with all of my preparations, but at least I’m ready for most eventualities. When Rita rolled around 3 years ago and we had to evacuate, my experiences with Andrew helped out. Once again we were blessed and had no property loss or damage, but I know that doesn’t mean it won’t happen next time. I have friends who didn’t prepare for Rita, and afterward said things such as, “See, I told you it wasn’t anything to worry about.” Three million people evacuated Houston and the surrounding areas, and the storm didn’t hit us… but it could have. If Rita hadn’t made a last minute turn, and the people of Houston hadn’t evacuated, the loss of life would have been devastating.
Gustav is missing Houston, but as we watch the news all the names we hear are familiar. The cities and towns where people are suffering hold special meaning to our family. We know that we have friends who may not have a home tomorrow. As we watched the news at 5 tonight we heard that Zachary had been hit by a tornado, and 12 homes were destroyed. We haven’t been able to get any more information, and it’s hard to not know if we have friends who are now homeless, or injured. Are their children safe? As Gustav heads toward north Louisiana it will still be a strong, almost hurricane force storm. Most of our family is sitting directly in its path.
The time spent preparing for a hurricane, when it is churning around in the Gulf and you don’t know where it will go, always causes me to be contemplative. When we had to evacuate for Rita we had to pack our van as if we would come home to nothing. What clothes do we each need to survive, what “things” in my home are most precious to me, were questions I repeatedly asked myself. As we pulled out at 4:30 am, with no sleep, I realized that I had everything that was most important… my family. We also had things that would be needed if we did lose everything. I find it a very good reminder of just who provides for my needs when I have to make these assessments. Often in daily life discontentment and frustration can set in as we deal with our trials, but the realization that you could lose everything will put everything into perspective for you.
If you watch the weather at all, I’m sure you are aware that there are two more named storms and a couple more brewing… this ride isn’t over. As we watch these images we need to remember that this isn’t a movie. They aren’t going to break set and everyone go home and be comfortable. The lives we see flashing before us will be forever affected by these storms. I saw the saddest story today of a man who didn’t evacuate New Orleans during Katrina and his wife ended up dying in the storm. He said he couldn’t leave this time. Imagine if she had wanted to leave and he didn’t and that was why she died. I don’t know if that is what happened, but imagine the guilt. I heard the story of one man who was in a wheelchair in the lower 9th ward when the flooding began. His house had many family members, including children, gathered to ride out the storm. As the waters rose, he knew that he couldn’t get out, and was afraid that his family wouldn’t leave him. He locked himself in his room and died in the water, so that his family might live. I know those are two horribly sad stories, but it helps me to remember them. It makes me thankful for the blessings that the Lord has given me, and it helps me to be compassionate. It is easy for me to dismiss the trials of others since they are not directly affecting me.
I hope that we will all remember to pray for those who are fighting to survive during these storms. My greatest prayer is that in some way God will use these storms so that others might see Him and their need for salvation, not just physically, but spiritually.