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Even in the Quietest Moments

Hurricane Andrew Homestead, FL

Hurricane Andrew 1992
Homestead, Florida
Photo by Bob Epstien, FEMA News Photo

Okay — so my lunatic editor (course instructor – Dave White – one must always know who to point the finger at) sent me out into the parking lot to —- test my creativity? And I’m thinking, “Why the hell didn’t he send me out yesterday when it was 74 degrees and sunny?” Here I stand today in a bone chilling wind, 51 degrees, raining sheets, my keyboard getting soaked and my fonts running.

The weather here on the East Coast, in Delaware, has been — unusual — since mid October. This last weekend was the warmest it’s been in a month. And then, of course, there was Sandy.

Hurricane-morphed-into-Superstorm Sandy.

It’s an understatement to say we were lucky here. The eye of Sandy made landfall 45 miles north of us —

watching Sandy come in by way of television and the internet,
trying to keep ahead of the water pouring in, blown in, around windows,
helplessly watching the water level rise around the septic system,
seeing tree branches snap off, as if they were matchsticks,
holding my breath when the power went down

— these are the stuff of terror.

Once the power is gone, it’s you, your ears filled with nature’s full voice, and your memories.

And, then, the first wall passes, and it’s quiet.

Today it’s cold and wet and I’m whining, but, I’m thinking about all those folks in New Jersey and New York — and I stop whining. I have a fair idea what they’re going through. I was on a team that responded to Hurricane Andrew twenty years ago.

Hurricane Andrew South Florida 1992

Hurricane Andrew 1992
South Florida
Photo by Bob Epstien, FEMA News Photo

I’m not going to soap you with shop worn phrases like – war torn. Most have no idea what war torn means, anyway.

We had a job to do. We were everywhere. I saw things that will remain with me forever.

We ended up building the first seven houses in Homestead after the storm, but along the way — tasks that should have taken a half hour – like running for supplies – ended up taking all day. This was before GPS. The storm clear cut all the road signs. Houses, stores, familiar landmarks were no more.

I saw grown men — who worked in the trades — weep, because heavy equipment like backhoes and payloaders –– their pride and joy, their livelihood — broke like a stepped on toy. Having to fix flat tires was nearly a daily occurrence.

Men, who lived there, that I had worked with only a few months before, went through a Dr Jekyll-Mr. Hyde transformation. Women dressed themselves up — to the nines, and splashed on a gallon of perfume — because they hadn’t been able to bathe.

I suspect they did it for a different reason, as well. Everywhere you went it smelled of mold and decay and death.

The haze of dust hung 20 feet deep. It hugged the ground like a fog – for months. It turned the sunsets into a surrealistic orange and purple. After the din of the day died down, the night came like a tomb. There were no leaves rustling in the trees. There were no leaves on the trees. There was no birdsong, no peepers croaking, no insects buzzing. Andrew had blown them all away.

It was quiet.

It was in that quiet time I learned two valuable lessons. This was a time to reflect — and in all the insanity, for me, it was best to make it a productive review. And this was a time to plan. This is the time you will do your best work — and it, most likely, will be the hardest work you do, because if you do it well — you will be prepared to walk back out into that storm of distractions and pitfalls and traps.

Hurrican Andrew Homestead AFB

Hurricane Andrew 1992
Homestead Air Force Base
Photo by MSgt Don Wetterman, USAF, USGOV-PD

On one work site, I found a child’s toy. A little bunny. I call it my Hurricane Bunny. I wonder, still, about the child who played with it. I wonder if it was important, loved. It’s important to me. I’ve picked it up since Sandy came through, and held it. I think about South Florida. I think about all those folks in New Jersey and New York.

It’s time to get outta this rain, off this parking lot — and — I am definitely sending Dave a bill for a new laptop.

~.~

johngjohnson

I've been where you are now. A little help goes a long way. So --- go ahead and ask whatever is on your mind. I'll answer if I can --- and if I can't --- I'll point you in the right direction. I've had a lot of help from a lot of folks along the way. This is my way of "paying it forward". ~.~

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