Hurricane Dorian gave us all a good scare. I am extremely thankful that our area was spared the brunt of the storm. My heart goes out to those in the Bahamas who had their lives changed forever.
I can’t imagine what it felt like to be impacted by a Category 5 storm for nearly three days.
I can come close to understanding it though. As a native of Miami I have prepared, been through, survived and have been devastated by multiple hurricanes throughout the years.
The worst storm was Hurricane Andrew. On Aug. 24, 1992, the Category 5 storm blew through Homestead and sections of South Florida where I resided. The winds howled. One second it sounded like a high pitched screech piercing at your eardrums. The next second it sounded as if a freight train was about to barrel its way through your window. I hunkered down but I could hear the noise, the destruction. Things ripping and tearing and smashing all around. And all I could do was pray that the roof would hold together.
The aftermath looked like a war zone, much like the photos and views we are seeing from the Bahamas now due to Dorian. Everything GONE!
It was like a bomb had been dropped wiping out every house and business for miles. I recall the Governor bringing in the National Guard to stop desperate people from looting. There was a lack of water and food. People had lost everything they owned and no one was sure when things would start to get better or if they ever would.
I clearly remember driving through the devastation to check on my parents. We were more fortunate than others but still had plenty of damage and loss. The house next to my dad’s was leveled all the way down to the foundation and one wall. The homeowner collected whatever belongings he could find. At night he pitched a tent on the foundation floor and slept with a shot gun in his hands to protect what little he had left.
We had no power for who knows how long but it felt like forever in the Florida heat. It felt like I was living in a Third World Country when in reality just outside the affected area, merely a few miles north, people were going on with their daily activities – life as usual.
So I can relate to what those folks in the Bahamas are going through and the mental distress it will cause. It took a long time before things in my life were as back to normal as they could be after Andrew.
The emotional and psychological effects from Hurricanes (and any other natural disaster) are real and include many of the same symptoms associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Anxiety, inability to sleep, depression and constant worrying to name a few symptoms.
Andrew had scarred me but I didn’t realize just how much until later. I even came up with a term for it – Hurricane Anxiety Disorder (H.A.D.)!
Eight years after Hurricane Andrew I was working for the American Red Cross. In hindsight I knew I was helping people but didn’t realize what I was doing to my own psyche.
In 2004 I was promoted to Program and Services Coordinator for the Florida Keys. Because the Florida Keys are a chain of low-lying islands with only one road in and out, the only way to keep people out of harm’s way was to evacuate as many as possible each and every time a storm approached.
That year Hurricanes Charley (Aug. 13), Frances (Sept. 4), Ivan (Sept. 16) and Jeanne (Sept. 24) all came up through the Florida Keys and Florida Straits.
Those storms each caused massive destruction along the Gulf Coast and lower keys. It was awful.
The following Hurricane season (2005) Dennis (July 10), Katrina (Aug. 26), Rita (Sept. 18) and Wilma (Oct. 23) all impacted the Florida Keys in some fashion. In fact the flooding and surge from Wilma in Key West was record-breaking.
I can vividly recall how Wilma flooded everything in its path in Key West. The airport was underwater and parts of the hangars floated away into the Atlantic Ocean. Hotel rooms on the ground level were flooded and packed with sand and fish! It was surreal.
With Andrew I felt the massive destruction caused by wind. With Wilma I felt and saw the powerful effects of a storm surge - fast and rapidly moving and rising waters. Cars, boats and airplanes, even sections of buildings were swept away with ease.
I am glad I was able to help as I could and work for an organization that was dedicated to serving others during a time of need. But two seasons of four back-to-back storms had taken its toll. By the end of 2005 I was burned out mentally and physically. I had H.A.D. but was still unaware.
I moved to Georgia in July 2006. All was good in the world until October of 2016. Hurricane Matthew was coming our way as a Category 2 storm.
It triggered something inside. Suddenly I felt compelled to watch the Weather Channel 24/7 to stay on top of where Matthew was headed. I slept less each night it got closer. I had panic attacks. I had nightmares, bags under my eyes and was depressed.
But I still managed to go to work each day, put on a brave face and keep going.
When Matthew hit, the sounds of the winds had me pacing the floor. I could hear the trees snapping and it triggered all those memories that were locked away from Andrew. I looked out my window and watched as a tree came down missing my roof by inches. Then another came down across the road blowing out the transformer and plunging my neighborhood into total darkness. I grabbed my dogs, sat on the couch and just rocked back and forth until it was over.
H.A.D. reared its ugly head again in 2017 with Hurricane Irma and again in 2018 with Michael. And this year, since Aug. 24 to be exact, H.A.D. consumed my every waking minute as I tracked Hurricane Dorian inching closer to us as a strong and already destructive hurricane.
I am glad we were spared. And I hurt for those in the Bahamas. I watch the news and cry for those who survived and are now left to deal with the worrying and the wondering of “What do we do now?” Or, “Where is our help?”
I shuddered when I heard a man tell of how he watched his wife drown in front of his eyes. He was still in shock. It hadn’t set in yet.
Dorian has passed but I still worry about the remainder of the storm season.
H.A.D. is real and it is emotionally and physically exhausting.
For information on disaster related stress visit: https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/disaster-distress-helpline/warning-signs-risk-factors
Patty Leon is general manager of the Coastal Courier and Bryan County News.