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Hurricanes - what if or when

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POSTED: June 22, 2008 5:00 a.m.

With all the talk about hurricanes, it’s always that scenario of "what if," instead of "when."

Director of Emergency Services Jim Anderson recently talked to local Rotarians about being prepared for this season and I had a chance to listen in. The discussion had the tone of "when this happens," instead of "if this happens." And I’ve got to say, it got me thinking that way too – and that made me feel a little apprehensive.

Let me first point out that I’m not a newcomer to hurricanes (despite being a Yankee). I grew up on Long Island and if you take a look at the eastern coastline, if a hurricane gets started somewhere around this area and manages to move north without hitting land, the only thing standing in its way is Long Island.

Category 1 hurricane Gloria hit in 1985, when I was 2-years-old – and I actually remember it. (Well, okay not really.) I have one memory, that of my mom taking me into the bathroom with a candle. Not exactly telling of what the storm was like, but it’s vivid in my mind. There are also pictures of me being carried around by my dad in one of those kiddie backpacks. In the photos, we’re walking through our old neighborhood after the disaster hit –trees across streets and debris everywhere – and I’m sitting cute, smiling my little 2-year-old smile and not knowing the difference.

There was a bad tropical storm that hit the island when I was in 7th or 8th grade. All I remember is that we got a day off from school and my mom told me I couldn’t play near the windows.

Katrina hit two months before I moved to the Gulf Coast of Alabama. The eastern coastal town of Gulf Shores, where I moved, wasn’t hit very hard by Katrina. However, I quickly learned that Hurricane Ivan (which hit the year before) was still being cleaned up. Supposedly, the eye of Ivan ran right up Hwy. 59, which I lived about 200 yards from. Every store or restaurant you went to had their "hurricane waterline" marked, with photos of devastation. There were scattered empty lots and an endless supply of construction workers rebuilding beach high rises that had been nearly destroyed. They started using "hurricane windows"– which quickly shatter and blow out if there are hurricane-strength winds – allowing pressure to go through the building instead of completely destroying it.

When I lived there, hurricane season was pretty tense for everyone. Katrina had just hit and no one knew what might happen next. I was definitely worried – I lived in a flimsy little condo across the street from the Gulf. But the Gulf got lucky the rest of that year, and the next.

I’ve heard for years from Long Island weather officials who say one day soon, the next "big one" will hit, which (according to their records) should have hit like 10 years ago already. That’s the biggest concern – all this preparation for many years, without any need to worry because nothing happens. Makes you think you’re safe.

But each year Mother Nature has the chance to do whatever she wants – whether or not the rest of us are expecting her to behave. So instead of planning around that comforting "if," I recommend everyone think in terms of "when." There’s nothing to lose in being prepared.

 

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