It was one of the scariest nights of my life. The house was shaking. Water pouring in. Trees blowing sideways like they were Lincoln Logs. Huddled under a mattress not knowing how this would end. But as frightening as it was in the wee hours of Monday morning, just a day earlier couldn’t have been more different.
Put on your tie, it’s time for church.
We were new to Miami, having moved there from Stafford, Virginia only a couple weeks prior to this particular Sunday. So what does a church-going family do when they arrive to a new town? They try out churches, of course. We dressed up in our Sunday best, only this time we arrived to a church with no people. We soon found out the church was “closed” because of the approaching hurricane. Closed on a Sunday!? What is this, Chic-Fil-A? What’s going on here? Weird, I thought. But no church? Hot diggity dog!
I know, it’s terrible that I was excited about that.
Sunday afternoon went pretty normal. A few hundred feet from our house on the Coast Guard base in Miami, Florida, my brother and I and our new friend John played tennis. A mild breeze, partly cloudy. A beautiful August Sunday. All the schools were about to begin the new year, including where my brother and I were brand new students, a private institution called Westminster Christian School.
The weather people got it wrong.
The weather people down here must be crazy. I mean, it’s a beautiful day and they keep talking about a huge storm coming. Have they looked outside? There can’t be a hurricane coming, I thought. How bad can it be, I thought. Little did I know they were not wrong, they were not crazy. They were very right about the dangerous weather that was about to hit south Florida.
Evening came and still all was calm. At home that night was myself, my brother, my mother, and our dog Belle, the wonder dog. My two sisters were about 8 hours north in Tallahassee because one was starting her freshman year of college and the other was on a mini vacation. My dad, a captain in the United States Coast Guard, was called in to head up a search and rescue team, preparing for action once the storm hit, and for the aftermath. They were based in an underground shelter at the Cape Canaveral shuttle center. Check out some of his storm recollection here.
Predictions had the storm making landfall in the middle of the night, so we went to bed not really knowing what to expect at our house.
The storm hit somewhere around 2 or 3am and it was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. My brother, mother, and I gathered with Belle and were shocked at what we were witnessing. It was pitch black outside, but what we could see were trees flying by our sliding glass doors. Sideways rain and wind blowing so fast. Our screened-in porch, well, we didn’t see that because it was gone. OK, at this point I’m starting to believe the little weather thing they’ve been talking about might be serious. We had the radio on, listening to Bryan Norcross.
Based on his expert advice for surviving a hurricane like this, we all climbed into the bathtub and tried to hold a mattress over us. Then we moved to the hallway and laid down side by side, three-wide. I was laying with my left side pressed up against the wall, and I kid you not, the entire wall was rumbling, moving side to side, the power of the storm shaking the entire house. We had the mattress above us, also trying desperately to keep hold of Belle, by her collar. She was obviously spooked by the weather, and kept pulling away from us. Eventually we let her go and she found safety under a chest cabinet in one of the bedrooms.
Then we felt wind blowing. Never good when you’re inside a house. And remember, it’s the middle of the night so it’s really hard to see anything. Was the roof coming off? Was the house about to be blown away? I had no idea.
Thankfully things calmed down, the radio advising to stay alert, though, because this was just the eye of the storm. In other words, we were only halfway through.
We were ready to hunker down again after a quick assessment of the damage. There was a hole in the roof, a hole in the kitchen wall. Water on the kitchen floor. The porch blown away. Backyard fence missing in action. Then the good news… we weren’t in the eye of the storm, the storm was over! As it turns out the Coast Guard base was just outside the path of the eye, so there was so much damage to homes and buildings basically next door to the base. I became very thankful for government housing, our home being built well enough to withstand this historic hurricane.
The next day we began cleanup around the base and also began wondering about how we would get food and water. Well, remember how my dad was preparing for the worst? The Coast Guardsmen showed up with water buffalo trucks so we could all have clean water to drink. Truckloads of Gatorade. Canned food like tuna and spaghetti o’s.
They were heroes to all of us.
Hi there, don’t worry about unpacking, your stuff is about to be blown around town. -Andrew
All in all, it was an unique and peculiar way to be welcomed to Miami. And on top of that, school was supposed to start that week! It didn’t. Public school started a couple weeks later, and at Westminster, it took a full 6 weeks to get things back in order. So I guess, as a middle schooler, that can be seen as a silver lining?
-Out of the Wilderness