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...a sweatshop of moxie

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Nights Are The Worst

Blogathon Target Charities: American Red Cross, 1-800-HELP-NOW. Canadian Red Cross (Canadian residents), 613-740-1900. Catholic Charities, 1-800-919-9338. Habitat for Humanity, 229-924-6935, ext. 2551. Click HERE to add contribution info. Blog Name: Sundries. Blogathon Roundup.

If you've never lived in a post-hurricane category 5 situation, you cannot know what it is like, you really can't.

So with my last Blogathon post of the evening, I will paint you a picture of what my parents had to go through during Hurricane Andrew, and its aftermath, and what I experienced then, and recently, just one solitary little week ago -- as Katrina in her Category 1 incarnation was barrelling towards South Florida.

Try to imagine yourself in this situation.

If you read this, and if you haven't already, you don't reach for your wallet to give money to those affected in the Gulf Coast States, I don't know what can possibly reach your heart.


It's August 1992. It's been a week since I arrived from Germany to South Florida where my parents have lived since the mid-1980s.

I was stranded in Germany visiting relatives, since my maternal grandmother had passed away earlier that year.

All I did was to turn on telly, desperate out-of-my-mind for any news of the area, and all German news showed was the same 10-second clip of locals buying batteries at some Home Depot. For all I know, that was just stock footage they kept handy for such events.

I finally arrived in MIA Airport, and when I stepped from the air-conditioned Customs area into the acrid South Florida darkness, it was as if I had been transported to the intifada of Beirut, circa 1982.

Every tree around me was flattened, lying on the ground, defoliated, with rain pouring down into houses -- houses which had lost their roofs a week ago, and were at the mercy of the elements.

And those people were the lucky ones because they at least had a house standing.

Many people awoke to their homes looking like a wrecked dollhouse, an inconceivable mass of tinder all around them. Everything they owned, every piece of furniture, every High School yearbook gone, every treasured family memento annihilated.

Pets were dead. Wildlife was in shambles. Government ceased to function.

There were no lights anywhere -- and telephones, in those days when cellphones were still uncommon? Telephones were dreams of a bygone era.

And when you don't have communication, not because you don't want to communicate, but because you just CAN'T, you can't get any semblence of order.

It's all down to each person, to protect what they hold dear.

Looting is rampant, or at least, the fear of it is, which is just as bad.

On my way to our family home, then in the southern part of Pinecrest, I saw more spray-painted YOU LOOT, WE SHOOT signs than I've ever seen in my life before or since.

Most of these were bluffs by the part of desperate homeowners, more worried about losing their lives to thugs, than whatever little property they had left (although when you have a tiny bit left, you'd be surprised how much you cling to that little bit, not because you want the items themselves, but what they represent to you emotionally -- they're mine, dammit! You won't take this away from me).

My father and mother had actually left the comparative safety (as it turned out, they could never have known that, since you simply cannot predict how a hurricane's trajectory will be) of their home, to go ride out the storm further inland with a friend of my mother's.

It was the worst decision of their lives, which almost cost me the lives of both my parents.

Turns out, they were so close to ground zero, that only a few miles further south would've left them at the very apex of the devastation.

My dad had to hold the friend's roof with his hands, and at one point, parts of the ceiling fell on top of him, and all inhabitants of the house feared their lives were at an end.

He took my mother into one bathroom, put her in the bathtub, and placed a mattress on top of her, with his body on top of THAT, to shield her from harm.

It was this act of bravery that will forever represent my father in my mind. He's everything you expect a father to be -- and he proved it when you needed it most.

But it turned out, it wasn't the last time his bravery would be in need, as they fended off looters in the coming weeks.

But I only found out about those things later.

When I arrived in our home, it was a ghost town around us.

I entered our home, and a gush of 1 foot of water swirled around, creating an instant cholera hazard for any inhabitant.

I went into my room, lit every candle my mother had left there, and slept in my damp bed, as I tried to sleep that first night back.

I couldn't.

Every 2 hours I woke up, soaked to the skin with perspiration, rivulets of sweat pouring through every pore of my body. Mildew growing already on the walls made breathing impossible. The stench of dead "things" around, above, under me, was indescribable.

Eerie night sounds, the screams of children frightened beyond belief, dogs barking (an ominous presence around?), and overwhelming physical drain of living in a land not meant to be lived without air-condition kept me further awake.

In the morning, with no power, and the food spoilt in the refrigerator which had ceased to work a week ago, I had nothing to eat save some crackers and tuna my mother had bought.

I couldn't get any taxi to take me to where my parents were at, so in total desperation, I decided to walk there.

It was only 100 blocks away, give or take. If I started early enough, maybe I could get their before sundown.

But Miami streets weren't meant for walking.

They are modern city blocks, not the narrow, accessible roads I was used to in England, the land the horse built, not the modern automobile.

So I stayed put, and worried, wondered -- are my parents alive?

The second morning, the National Guard arrived at our neighbourhood. They brought alongside their comforting presence (which I wept at openly because I was so relieved to see them there), water, ice, and telephones they built in tent-like cities of relief.

It was there I was able to hear my mother for the first time, and to hear that she, dad, and their friend were alive, if lighter in weight, scared, and hungry.

In the days that followed, showers were luxuries I barely could experience, and then only because the Red Cross offered it to us.

No potable water of course, also meant lack of water pressure to drink, bathe, or cook with.

The American Red Cross later provided us with purchase vouchers to restock our family home, but they were as a drop in the bucket of misery. With 800 dollars to kit a home which was full of antiques worth in the thousands, it's not much of a help.

But did we care? No.

Every kindness, every little convenience we had taken for granted, was received with unimaginable gratefulness.

When Care Packages arrived, bringing much needed sanitary products, toilet paper, clothing, pet food, toothpaste, soaps, and even, a Bart Simpson doll some poor kid in America had surrendered so that I could open the box and weep with joy at seeing it (what a crazy, mixed up, but lovely world this is), all of this is forever implanted in my mind forever.

I'm crying as I write this, the pain still fresh and on the surface of my emotions.

I thought I had forgotten what it felt like, to be in this post-Hurricane situation.

I hadn't. Oh boy, I really hadn't.

And I know, I know for sure, that there is some kid, some grannie, some mum and dad, and some single person all alone in this world, that is experiencing as I WRITE, what I went through 13 years ago.

Please dear Lord, let these people survive one more night -- one more night of misery, yes, but one more night of life.

Please, dear Lord, fill people's hearts with the power of giving, because there are people out there that really need what others take for granted.


UPDATE: Thank you to all the generous people who gave today in TTLB-led Blogathon. Just because I stopped blogging tonight, doesn't mean you can't continue to keep on giving tomorrow. Don't do it for my words. Don't do it for blogger competitions. Do it because it's right. PLEASE.

BLOGATHON POST #1, 9:00 AM EDT: Welcome To The Katrina Relief Blogathon (Thanks Sara via Instapundit, for linking to this post!)
September 11 and Katrina
What This Blogathon Is About
Bush 41 And Clinton Cavalry
BLOGATHON POST #6, 2:00 PM EDT: Lunch Break
BLOGATHON POST #7, 3:00 PM EDT: I Wonder What Happened To Julia Reed
Katrina Victims Blogathon On Hold?
BLOGATHON POST #9, 5:00 PM EDT: KISS Country -- Miami's Most Generous Radio Station
BLOGATHON POST #10, 6:00 PM EDT: Well Done Sundries Readers!
BLOGATHON POST #11, 7:00 PM EDT: New Orleans (And Fats Domino) On My Mind
BLOGATHON POST #12, 9:00 PM EDT: International MSM Thursday Reaction


  • Congrats on a superhuman effort today Vicky!

    I hope your words motivate people to contribute whatever they can.

    Rest on your new bed, you deserve it.:)

    By Blogger Renato, at Thu Sept 01, 10:03:00 pm GMT-4  

  • Thank you for your generous words, and generous impulses today, in every sense of the word, Renato. :)

    And remember people, to use an Americanism, you don't have to hit a 1,000 dollar homerun every time.

    I logged my 5 dollar Best Buy contribution -- because it's not how much necessarily, but that you give, that TRULY COUNTS.

    Right now, I am going to lie down that new bed, turn on the A/C to the "arctic glacial damn cold" setting, turn on every light in my bedroom -- and enjoy that which was denied me, 13 years ago.

    Light. Air. Dry comfy bed.

    Like Julia Reed says in her book, to use that Southern expression par excellence:

    It don't take much.


    P.S.: Those parties who have access to my home phone, may call me at will. *g*

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Thu Sept 01, 10:20:00 pm GMT-4  

  • Kudos on your efforts to bring relief to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. There is another way bloggers and other thoughtful people can help:

    I have opened forums at www.DisasterReliefIdeas.org for the discussion of ideas to aid disaster relief in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I am not soliciting donations, only ideas. Experts in aspects of disaster relief (housing, healthcare, rebuilding, etc.) are also able to rate these ideas, giving us a means of identifying the most promising ones, which will be shared with disaster relief professionals and persons in authority. Please help our society by contributing your ideas, especially if you are unable to contribute financially to relief efforts.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Sept 02, 11:55:00 am GMT-4  

  • Thank you so much for your kind words, Logan.

    I looked at your website earlier, and though I don't think I can offer any practical ideas, I will certainly keep your website in mind in case something pops up.

    A neighbour of mine is a structural engineer, and who knows, he might know someone of help to you all.

    Best of luck! You're doing God's work.


    By Blogger vbspurs, at Fri Sept 02, 07:21:00 pm GMT-4  

  • My mother convinced her brother to add some money into the kitty.

    We'll see if he follows through, as he is not answering my emails...(though his secretary said he was travelling, but still).

    I'm grateful Onki!


    By Blogger vbspurs, at Fri Sept 02, 07:22:00 pm GMT-4  

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