Sunday, August 18, 2013

August 18, 1983 – a date which will live in memory

The only thing between our family and Hurricane Alicia was Kenn and the shuddering patio door.
It was a Category 3 hurricane. Not the biggest, but given its slow movement and the number of tornadoes it spawned, it felt much worse.

As the winds went from a roaring 90 mph to high-pitched howling gusts of 112, my husband Kenn and I drew the kids, aged 6 and 4, to the stairs against an inside wall of our Texas City townhouse. Because of the darkness and the noise, we couldn't know that a tornado was ripping through the apartments across the street, or that the roof had briefly separated from the kids’ room upstairs. We did hear debris crashing through their window. After that, the wind screamed under the closed door at razor-sharp speed.

But the worst sound was the rattling, violently vibrating patio door. That door was pretty much the entire back wall of our tiny unit. If it went, so would we.

Kenn told us to hang on where we were and made his way across the room. Placing his formidable body against the quaking plate glass and grasping the frame and handle with all his might, he stood fast as our shield against the storm. I don’t know how long he stayed there wrestling the wind. Hours. All through the night. And it wasn’t just wind. Fences, patio planters, tree branches, roofing, and much more were thudding against the glass.

During the brief calm when the eye of the storm passed over, we managed to fetch the plywood we’d been unable to secure to the brick wall surrounding the patio door. Hauling it inside, we braced it against the glass with the easy chair, adding the coffee table for good measure. Moments later the wind came screaming back; this time from the opposite direction.

Day finally dawned. Kenn lay exhausted on the couch while the rest of us tentatively explored the wreckage.  Out front the willows that ran the length of the townhomes had gone down like dominoes. It was the same out back with the fencing that separated each unit’s patio. Across the street, the second floor of the 2-story apartment building had been sheared off. In some places it was leveled to the foundation.

The weeks that followed went by in a daze of candles, flashlights, camp stoves and forays for ice, water, and laundromats. We tore out the wet carpet, patched holes in the roof, and gingerly tried to salvage a few things from the shattered kids’ room.

But my most vivid memory is the image of my hero husband placing himself between his family and the storm.

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