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Posts Tagged ‘hurricanes’

Hurricane Irene — which hit the Boston area as a weakened, but still formidable Tropical Storm Irene — has moved out of this area leaving plenty of downed tree limbs, relatively minor flooding, and a lot of people who are holding Hurricane Parties to amuse themselves.  One can only hope that those folks are staying off the roads and refraining from drinking and driving, so that public safety officials don’t have to clean up DUI accidents as well as storm debris.

While some people are wondering what all the fuss was about, Ben and I were remembering the last storm to focus on the New England coast with real fury:  Hurricane Bob, which occurred twenty years ago, nearly to the day.  Bob made landfall on August 19 and continued into August 20, 1991.  We were living across town at the time, and our then-ten year old daughter, Emily, hunkered down with us while we did a family craft project by candlelight, listening occasionally to the battery-operated radio.  Later, Ben brought our camp stove out on the porch, and I cooked supper, which we ate with candles.  We all went to bed early (which we tend to do when camping – how much can you do when nightfall comes early?) and awoke the next morning to find the power back on.  While there was certainly tree damage, we felt that – like today – we had escaped the worst of it.

We were, at the time (as we have been today) more worried about our beloved Isles of Shoals and our friends who worked on Star Island.  The island manager at the time, Tony Codding (having evacuated all the conferees) had the genius idea of putting the iconic island historian, Fred McGill, on the radio telephone to answer the calls of the nervous parents of the summer workers (called Pelicans) who wanted to make sure their children were safe.  Star survived that blow, as we trust it will do this one, and late-summer conference center life will shortly resume on Star for those who seek a retreat and escape from the bustle of the ‘real’ world.

More than Hurricane Bob or Irene, though, I remember Hurricane Gloria.  Gloria, which occurred in September, 1985, made three landfalls, one of them in Connecticut, where I was living at the time.  I resided in Stony Creek, a hamlet of Branford, on the shoreline.  Stony Creek was one of those remarkable places…a town that felt like it had pulled off the Maine coast and plunked down on Long Island Sound.  Old-timers hung out on the docks, making disparaging remarks about the young, monied folk who moved into town.  Things moved slowly, and a nightly routine for me involved walking down to the dock, fishing pole in hand, to catch a few baby blues as darkness fell while catching up with the local gossip.

When Gloria hit, I was working part time for radio station WELI in New Haven, hosting an arts and entertainment show and participating as a reporter in special coverage events from time to time.  I was asked to go out and report on the storm from Stony Creek – an interesting place for ‘color’ coverage, given its shoreline location and low-lying areas.  Standing outside with my portable broadcast unit (remember, there were no cell phones at the time) I heard a huge roar of wind and then a crack behind me.  I turned to see an enormous tree limb land about eighteen inches from where I stood.  That did it:  I talked to the studio producer and said that I thought it better to go inside to the volunteer fire station, which was doubling as an emergency shelter, rather than further risk life and limb with any more live reports.

Gloria did more than $900 million in damage, and plenty of it was in Connecticut.  Power went out in Stony Creek for five days and our radio station offered non-stop coverage on food safety and spoilage, what stores were open for supplies, gas stations with power in the area, and more.  Talk radio can be an important lifeline in such situations, and I was glad to have the chance to contribute to such an effort – although stunned to have nearly been killed in the storm due to my own stupidity.  Hurricane Gloria, along with the late October, 1991 no-name storm on which the book “The Perfect Storm” was based, will always stand out in my mind as the strongest hurricanes I’ve weathered.

I’ve always loved the scene in “The Wizard of Oz” where Dorothy ‘sees’ her life passing before her eyes as the tornado hits, including Miss Gulch pedaling by on her bicycle.  During the height of Hurricane Irene, as with other such storms, I looked to the sky, watching birds struggling to take flight against the sheer force of nature, marveling at what nature can unleash to chasten us.  I view it as Mother Nature issuing yet another reminder about who’s really in charge.

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I was supposed to be on Star Island this weekend, but Hurricane Earl’s appearance has changed our plans and so we remain in Lexington, waiting to see what will blow in over the next twelve to eighteen hours.  It’s hard to imagine that big storm while it’s still relatively clear, partly sunny and warm, but sure enough, a still-dangerous storm is churning its way up the east coast.

Hurricane Carol – which hit the northeast coast in 1954 – is a storm that my husband, Ben, remembers as a very small child.  His family was visiting relatives who had a beach cottage on Chalker Beach in Connecticut.  Warning systems were not what we have now, and Ben’s dad loaded the whole family – including the dog – into the station wagon to ride out the storm.  The roads were blocked with falling trees and power lines, and they ended up sitting in a parking lot for hours.  When they returned to the beach house, Ben’s dad remembers that the place had been flooded, and they found the silver drawer in the refrigerator…lots of damage and much to clean out.

As a graduate student in Boston in 1976, I had a summer job running the box office of the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge.  I’d also decided that I really needed glamour in my life, and gotten fancy porcelain fingernails – long and red and lovely – applied.  That was fine until the hurricane warnings went up for Hurricane Belle, with predictions of a serious hit to the Boston area.  My apartment looked right out on the Charles River, and the night that the storm was to hit, with businesses closing down all over the city, I went home to make preparations.  There I was, with my fancy fingers, trying to tape the windows in the apartment to stop them from shattering in the event of hurricane-force wind gusts, or worse.  As I struggled to do practical things like fill the bathtub with water, put batteries in flashlights, and so on, I decided those fancy fingernails had to go.  I ripped them off in hot water – I still remember the pain – but felt free, afterward, to continue on with my preparations for a storm that never did really come.

Some years later, I lived in Stony Creek, CT, an idyllic place that was mostly like a piece of Maine dropped into Long Island Sound.  In 1938, the hurricane that did enormous amounts of damage to the northeast coast also managed to tear up the Connecticut shoreline, including Stony Creek’s Thimble Islands.  Forecasting wasn’t what it is now, of course.

In 1985, I was doing reporting for WELI Radio in New Haven when Hurricane Gloria hit.  Reporters were dispatched to different locations, and I was told to report from Stony Creek.  Microphone in hand, I stood  near the railroad bridge with the wind wailing around me, providing details of flooding and people who had gone into the fire station for emergency shelter.  Suddenly, behind me, there was a loud crack and boom.  A huge tree limb had come down, perhaps two feet away from me.  If I’d been a little closer, it would have gotten me and the results would not have been pretty.  After that, my reporting moved inside, thought not before I stood there and had the wonder of watching the eye of the storm pass overhead…a remarkable sight.  Stony Creek and the surrounding area lost power for five days in the aftermath of Gloria.

In 1991, having relocated to the Boston area, I got to experience Hurricane Bob, which was projected to make a huge hit on the Massachusetts coastline.  This is noted as the last ‘big’ hurricane to hit this area, at least until Earl.  When Bob hit, the electricity went out and we amused ourselves by playing board games, making cards with our extensive rubber stamp collection, having real ‘family time’ as candles burned, and we made dinner on our camp stove on the porch.  We called Star Island to see how our friends were doing, and spoke on the phone with the iconic Fred McGill, island historian and patriarch, who had been asked to man the phone to provide calm and reassurance to the nervous parents of employees (the Pelicans) still on the island.  Star escaped serious damage;  Martha’s Vineyard, however, was clobbered and when we went camping there later in the summer, the damage was sobering.

And now there’s Hurricane Earl, barreling up the coast past the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and threatening Nantucket and Cape Cod.  The governor and the state emergency management team have put every possible precaution in place, and the likelihood is that this storm will be one that comes close, but doesn’t pound the Massachusetts coast – with the possible exception of Nantucket – with its full force.

Aside from those who remember the Hurricane of ’38, most folks who reside in the northeastern part of the US probably haven’t experienced anything close to the kind of horror and disruption of life that those who live in the Gulf Coast area have survived, more than once. Last week, the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina was observed with music, flowers thrown in the river, with prayers and remembrance and solemnity.  I thought about those who I’ve come to know who call the Gulf Coast home, knowing that their life has not returned to normal in the Gulf Coast region.  It has gone on…different from what it was.  Still, these remarkable people have endured and many have made a commitment to come back to the region they call home.

We all long for a place called home…whether it’s in Louisiana or Mississippi, on Cape Cod, or on Star Island.  And while we wait for the eye of the storm to pass over, we pray for the calm that we hope will follow.  Peaceful, without loss of life or property.  May it be so.

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