Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sharing Memories: (Week 18) Hurricane Betsy

It was September 9, 1965 when Hurricane Betsy slammed into New Orleans with sustained wind speeds of 110 mph. Before that day I did not even know what a "hurricane" was. However, I would receive a real-life experience of the awesome power within such a powerful storm system.

That day was not unusual from any other day... at least to us kids. We spent some time outdoors playing then came in for supper. After we finished our meal we took our baths and later we were tucked into bed. It had been an ordinary day for us.

For our parents, however, it was more intense. They spent more time than usual watching television that day, hoping to view the latest storm updates. Dad had brought home some extra supplies from the store such as flashlights, bread, non-perishable canned goods and boxed food items. After our baths, Mom had filled the bath tub with water. They also had never experienced the effects of a hurricane but they were busy getting prepared by following instructions given on the local news.

I was awakened by loud popping sounds. I didn't know where the noise was coming from so I got out of bed to investigate. As I sleepily took steps toward the kitchen, I stopped to peek out of the windows. It was eerily dark.. no streetlights shining into the windows as usual. The heavy rains pelted against the windows. As I focused my eyes to peer outside, I saw something dancing across the street. Looking harder, I realized it was a piece of tin metal.. from a rooftop. The gusty winds made howling sounds which frightened me. I saw our car actually rocking back and forth as the strong winds blew around us. As I gasped in surprise, Mom heard me and knew I was awake. I saw her face as she shone the flashlight across my path, calling me into the kitchen. She instructed me to get under the table. I didn't understand what was going on... why were Mom and Dad so afraid? Why weren't the lights on in our house?

As I sat under the table, Mom gave me some kool-aid and cookies while telling me about the bad storm outside. She and Dad paced back and forth in the kitchen as they took turns nervously looking out of the windows. Within a few minutes, Frank Jr. found his way to the kitchen and he joined me under the table. We sat there for a long time, or so it seemed that way to us. Mom had brought us our blankets and pillows and made a pallet for us to rest on. As the storm churned outside, we heard loud banging sounds and the heavy rain against our tin roof. The storm echoed noises all night long.

The next day we ventured outside and saw the results of the storm. There were pieces of metal lying in our yard and on the streets... pieces of tin roofs from the local houses. Broken pieces of glass lay scattered everywhere along with small scraps of wood. Trash littered the streets. As we rode through town with Mom and Dad, we saw street signs down and buildings that had been heavily damaged. It seemed like a ghost town, other than those who were out driving around inspecting the damage. The local stores were all closed down. I remember listening to Mom and Dad as they looked around and talked about the damage.

This was Mom and Dad's first experience with a hurricane. They decided that in the future whenever there was a hurricane threat, they would evacuate. Betsy forced them to face the potential dangers of a hurricane. They learned firsthand that it pays to be prepared.

I later learned that Hurricane Betsy killed 76 people in the state of Lousiana. Betsy was the first storm to cause damage in excess of one billion dollars, earning her the nickname "Billion-dollar Betsy". There were approximately 164,000 homes flooded from the torrential rain in the state.

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