Monday, September 17, 2018

Stay safe in the storm ~ my column from Sunday's paper

As I write these words, Hurricane Florence is bearing down on the Southeast coast. Florence looks like a beast. I read that some people plan to stay and ride out the storm. I’m concerned for their safety. We here in Alabama know firsthand about the wrath that storms can bring. 

The first major storm that I remember growing up was Camille. It hit Gulfport, Mississippi, in Aug. 17, 1969. Jilda and I had been dating for about a year. She was vacationing with her family at Laguna Beach, Florida when the storm passed. Laguna Beach wasn’t hit directly by the storm but the weather there was brutal, she remembers. 

Authorities urged residents of Biloxi and other coastal towns to evacuate. Many did, but I read stories about people who stayed in hotels having hurricane parties. This turned out to be a tragic mistake.  When the 24-foot storm surge inundated the area, the death toll surged to 259 people.

I was working in Birmingham at a plant that manufactured bottle caps for Coca-Cola and other beverages. We had an order for a million caps from a bottling company in Gulfport. By the time the wind and storm surge subsided, there was no bottling plant. We wound up tossing a million bottle caps in the dumpster. 

Storms of this magnitude come into the Gulf of Mexico every now and then. It's always a mess. The effects are far-reaching. Many who think they are hurricane safe learn too late just how vulnerable they are.

 Here in Walker County, we are 300 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico. When Hurricane Opal came made landfall in 1995, it left a path of destruction through Alabama and northward.

I remember watching the weather that evening until it was time to go to bed. Sometime during the night, the eye of the storm passed over us here in Empire. It still had hurricane force wind gusts. We felt the low pressure in our chests as it came through. We lost power that night, and more trees than I would have thought possible from that storm. It blew the top of the massive sweet gum tree in our backyard onto the roof of our house.

When looking at images of hurricanes at sea from satellites in space, it’s hard to get a feel for the size of the storm. Once they move over land, the clouds often cover entire states. 

Hurricane Florence looks as if it would cover all of South Carolina and Georgia. The jury is still out for what category it will be when it makes landfall somewhere on the Southeastern coast, but it could leave millions of people in the dark. 

Convoys of Alabama Power trucks are headed to that area to help with restoring power when the wind stops blowing. I also read that the Talladega Speedway opened up its vast facility to people fleeing the storm from the Carolinas. They are providing hot shower and restroom facilities, in addition to water hookups for campers and RVs.

I just hope everyone played it safe and headed for higher ground.


  1. I hope that Florence dies down quickly. I hope that Typhoon Mangkhut, who is wreaking some dreadful damage in the Philippines and China does too. My heat goes out to everyone affected by either.

  2. I imagine one of the worst aspects of a hurricane would be the uncertainty. Where and when will it arrive and how much damage will it wreak?

  3. Staying safe in a storm like that for me would be to get out of it's way. I saw pictures of those returning to Myrtle beach on the news yesterday. Apparently there were a lot that left. But sadly there were those that didn't. Make me thankful that I live where I do. Even though we have cold and snowy winters, we don't have to deal with hurricanes.

  4. What an amazing photo! We're no-where near the coast, but now I'm wondering if we shouldn't investigate the cost of flood insurance?

  5. There are always people who feel they can ride out the storm. Last week a reporter was asking some dumbnut with a parrot on his shoulder if he was leaving..he was not and felt he would be fine. I wonder where the parrot is now. That storm you mentioned...I think they made a TV movie about this or maybe it was a feature film but people having a party brought that back into my memory banks. Hope all of you were safe and sound.

  6. I will never understand people wanting to stay and ride out the storm it is so dangerous and could cost you your life. I have never experienced such a storm the closest was the big April storm in 2015 and that here wasn't that bad for me.

  7. How can anything so scary and destructive give such fascinating pictures?

  8. Anonymous4:12 PM

    I think it was in 1964 that a bunch of people in Crescent City, CA went to the beach to watch a tidal wave. Eleven people were killed. Stupid!!


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