What it was like to go through Hurricane Ivan with wind surges reaching 160+.
I shone my powerful flashlight into the blackest night that I've ever known. The darkness absorbed the light as if it weren't even there. What little I could see was from strobe-like flashes of lightning. The winds were howling and screaming as the 140+ mph winds snapped hundred-year-old trees as easily as if it were snapping beans. My eyes grew wider and wider, and my heart pounded right along with the nonstop thunderous roars. I thought to myself: this has to be the worst storm I've seen since Freddy. I was excited and scared at the same time. Spurts of adrenaline coursed through my veins. It was 1:00 a.m., and it was terrifying outside. But it would get so much worse, as the storm was expected to last until noon the next day.
The darkness kept shocking us with bluish-green bright lightning. It filled the whole sky and was closely followed by a hiss, zap, and earthshaking echoes of explosions as transformer after transformer continued to blow. They were popping faster than we could count. We watched as different parts of the surrounding neighborhoods went black. House and streetlights flickered out. We still had electricity, but we knew it would be our turn soon. As the sky lit up with the eerie green light, we heard another hiss and boom that left us in the darkness. All light was now gone. We sat in total obscurity, blindly, staring into a massive, violent vortex of blackness.
Sizzling streaks of electricity filled the sky. The sounds of multiple jet engines devoured our world, as the angry Gulf of Mexico roared over eight miles away from our home. Radio announcements reported the 57-foot, wave, had been spotted out in the ocean and was making its' way toward our sandy shores. I thought to myself, God only knows how big it will be by the time it made landfall. The once beautiful, serene beaches wouldn't stand a chance! Their tranquil visage was already being slammed with waves and sand. In the morning, the storm will still be raging on, but our shoreline paradise would have long since lost its' battle.
Fighting the strong winds, I stood inside the front door, I strained to see, at least sporadically, the damage inflicted upon our yard, trees, and bushes. Our land was now foreign to us. I only caught murky snapshots of debris. The earth and streets were already thoroughly littered. I wondered at the destruction that awaited us tomorrow. Just when I could not imagine this storm growing any stronger, sheets of rain, with zero visibility and winds that howled so fierce, they mocked the worst snowstorm gusts that have ever pounded the top of the Himalayas! Through all of this chaos and temperamental symphony, an even harsher noise, swallowed them up. I swear, it was a fleet of trains. Their rusty, metal wheels, squealed in anguish, trying to hold onto the track. My huge, beautiful oak tree that stood proudly in my front yard, gracefully started to lean. I screamed out to the top of my lungs, "There she goes! Our tree is falling! It's falling!" A long, painful groan went straight to my soul. While the splintering, creaking wood tore at my heart. I watched him heroically breathe his last. As though he was pulling his feet from the ground, the roots were suctioned from their bed. He went down sluggishly at first, almost as if in slow motion, then what could only be described as graceful, the once-proud, magnificent oak gave up the fight. He carefully positioned himself just right and came to a rest between mine and my neighbor's front yard, missing our homes and our cars.
With all my might, I leaned into the door, it took three of us, to shut it. I yelled out an emergency warning, "It's a tornado!" A sound like popping popcorn was all around us.
"Lord, what is that sound?"
Over and over, an eerie Pop-Plop, Pop-Plop, assaulted our ears. Flashlights held tightly, lit our shocked faces. As we sat in utter shocked silence, listening to the remaining area trees, slam to the ground. Debris of wood, metal, and plastic turned into missiles, bullets, and weapons galore. Fences flew whole and shattered, down the middle of the road, traveling to destinations unknown. The sound of the handicapped train finally vanished, leaving us to once again, hear only the screaming wind, as if it were in pain.
It's three, in the morning, the night has been long, Ivan is still going strong. He's determined to leave quite a historic mark. My sister announces she is going to bed. She walked back to her room when I heard a frantic call, "Tracey, come here quick!" I ran down the hall straight to her room, where she dramatically pointed toward her ceiling. Big round parts of the ceiling were bowed. They were cracked down the middle, where water was about to flow. Drizzles started to escape, streaming out of both of the cracks. We quickly found two big buckets to try and catch the leaks. Then we quickly ran to check the other rooms. Another bedroom was just as bad. That's when we realized the popping sound had been our shingles being plucked off of the roof, one-by-one. We found more buckets to help with the leaks. But the rain was still coming down in waterfalls, with no stopping at all on the horizon. Great! I thought a leaking ceiling in the middle of a hurricane and tornadoes!
We all went back into the living room. Everyone was worn out. My husband fell asleep in the chair and a friend on an air mattress in the living room. Jackie, my sister, kept saying she was going to go lie down in her room.
"No," I begged, "please don't go lie down. The ceiling could fall in on you."
I could see it happening just as plain as day. Twenty minutes, later Jackie said, "I'll be all right. I'm going to lie down for a few minutes."
Just as I got ready to protest some more, we heard a loud slosh and crash. Running to the back, and into her room, we see half of her ceiling had fallen in. Ceiling tile, paint, insulation, and wood lay scattered about. On top of her bed, all around. The rain rushed in, falling through the roof. We were already soaked to the bone, as the waterfalls continued to claim my home.
"All my stuff," Jackie whispered.
We quickly made a convoy line and got her bedroom cleaned out in five minutes flat, except for the furniture. If the ceiling had waited five more minutes to fall, my sister would have been in bed.
"We need to go into the spare room and get all of the things out, in case the ceiling falls in there, as well," I said.
Everyone agreed. Then we heard another loud crash. It was too late; the ceiling was crumbling away to nothing. I stood under the waterfall and threw books, pictures, porcelain dolls, and other knick-knacks toward them. It was promptly carried out of the spare room and into the living room. While doing so, another loud crash filled the house. A good size tornado along, with several smaller ones, worked in unison with Hurricane Ivan. When we were done, we went to find where the other awful sounds were stemming from. The rest of Jackie's ceiling had fallen. The bedroom furniture may as well have been sitting outside. Turning around, we closed the door and walked right into another stream of water. This one was coming from the ceiling in the hall. I went to check my room and discovered two more leaks. Working fast, we went ahead and moved everything out of my room. We came back into the crowded living room and sports room, which now contained three rooms full of stuff. We cleaned insulation, ceiling dust, and other weird, unidentifiable substances from everything the best that we could and placed them into stacks and garbage bags.
Slowly everyone lay down and closed their eyes. I was sitting up with my flashlight to go investigate each time I heard a crash. I couldn't believe the destruction inside my home. But I thanked God that He kept all of us safe, including my three little furbabies.
I must have dozed off for an hour or so. Because when I opened my eyes, daylight was streaming through the double doors. I quickly got up and looked outside. It felt so strange seeing the daylight. It seemed so out of place amid such destruction. As I looked out, all I could think of was that it looked like a war zone, as if bombs had been dropped all around us, all night long. And in a way, they had.
Slowly the others started to wake. Not only was the destruction outside the house but inside as well. Three feet of insulation, lay scattered throughout. Ceiling material landed in angry and strange angles. By the time morning had arrived, the storm still howled but no longer so fiercely. I walked through my home. The ceilings in the foyer, hall, three bedrooms and garage had all collapsed. Outside, our two biggest trees lay across the ground. Branches from the surrounding half-standing trees were twisted into awkward angles, I didn't know could even exist. Neighbor's homes were now visible that were always protected with privacy fences, including my own. The streets littered with splintered lumber, power lines, objects, and debris, and everything imaginable. Flooded areas complicate clean-up because when the waters start to recede, debris that has been underwater for all this time will be a big mildew threat.
I will never forget the destruction Hurricane Ivan the Terrible brought upon us. It's been a couple of months since Hurricane Ivan, and we are still staying in our living room. Slowly we're tacking up ceiling felt for the ceilings, cleaning up the inside and outside of the house. The nastiest job is pulling up wet carpets so we won't have to feel the squish beneath our feet. Or, inhale their horrible sour smell.
Our FEMA trailer should be here any day now. We'll probably stay in it for about six months, while our home is rebuilt. I'm so ready for it, as are many of my neighbors.
As I stand amidst the destruction, I thank God for His love and protection, as I realize we are among the fortunate ones.
It may be a pain and an inconvenience. But we are alive and well, along with my furbabies and all extended family! Thank you, Lord Jesus!