89: Without a Warning

89: Without a Warning

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings

Without a Warning

Rain showers my spirit and waters my soul.
~Emily Logan Decens

“Tomorrow is your thirtieth wedding anniversary and it’s going to be unique because all three of your kids will be celebrating with you,” remarks our daughter, Betsy, to Jim and me as she pulls into the Tampa airport to pick up her brother, Steve. Her sister, Lori, is unpacking at our home overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway. We plan to return there by midnight.

After greeting Steve at the baggage claim and exchanging hugs, we turn our attention to the announcement coming over the loudspeakers. “Those departing the airport are advised to drive with extreme caution as winds are over 100 miles per hour.” A storm? We never received any warnings about a storm when we watched the news.

Outside, we’re shocked at the weather as gale winds and driving rain threaten us. Betsy is nervous as she drives across the causeway spanning Tampa Bay, creeping along at five miles per hour with the emergency lights flashing. Angry gusts attempt to push us into deep water as Betsy clutches the wheel and struggles to keep the car on the road. Nobody speaks. We silently pray.

After a heart-thumping trip, Betsy pulls into our flooded driveway strewn with palm fronds and oak limbs. Jim jumps out and yells to Steve, “Help me raise the boat on the davits! This storm surge will destroy it if we don’t hurry.” The girls and I hurry to rescue potted plants and deck furniture.

I fall into a fitful sleep until the roar of the pounding storm awakens me around 3:00 A.M. I go downstairs in the dark and find Steve staring at the boat through the glass sliding doors, as enormous waves push it high, then drop it with a punishing shudder. It’s positioned like a torpedo ready for launch. “The boat can come crashing into the living room at any moment,” says Steve. Then he adds, “Look, water is being forced under the doors and onto the tile.”

Just then we hear a knock on the front door. When I open it, waves carry debris into the living room and I’m facing two drenched policemen. “We’re here to tell you not to evacuate. Everything is flooded and there’s no way out. Do the best you can. Good luck.”

The rest of our family awakens and positions towel barricades at the doors to soak up water. The storm surge is over the sea wall and waves are crashing against the house. Jim and Steve struggle to carry heavy antiques upstairs and then return to elevate the downstairs furniture on bricks. With grim faces we watch as the violent water pounds our boat to death. The stern davit cable snaps, the inboard/outboard motor sinks to the bottom, and the front davit holds up the bow, making the boat look like a breaching whale.

Dawn streaks the leaden skies and the wind is finally out of breath. We venture outside and survey the damage to our boat, home, yard, and neighbors. Lori snaps pictures of the destruction for insurance purposes and our photo album. The knot in my stomach tells me I won’t want to look at reminders of the storm.

A television news helicopter descends from nowhere and hovers over our dock while a cameraman films our damaged boat … details at six. Later, news reports question why people weren’t warned about this deadly storm, on the night of March 13, 1993. It destroyed 18,000 homes and killed twenty-six people. Although it was a no-name hurricane, it is called the Storm of the Century that struck the eastern United States and produced a strong storm surge along the Gulf Coast of Florida.

Weary and sleep-deprived, our family begins to clean up the mess and put the house back together. Suddenly, Lori announces a cheery, “Happy Anniversary!” Startled that I had forgotten today was to be a celebration, I stop sweeping water out the door. Jim drops a pile of soaked towels and gives me a kiss in front of our grinning kids.

As I look at the faces of my husband of thirty years and the three wonderful children our marriage produced, I’m grateful we’re safe and together. Betsy was right when she predicted this would be a unique anniversary I would always remember.

~Miriam Hill

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