PHILIP MARTIN: Before the deluge

When I called my mother Thursday afternoon, about an hour after the evacuation order came down, she was at her law office, helping to wrap plastic around the computers on the first floor. Downtown Savannah streets flooded in July and in May of 2016. If Hurricane Irma turns northward, as they--at this moment--believe it may, they'll probably get some water in the office.

When I called my mother Friday morning, she was packed up and waiting for her sister Patricia to throw her things in the car. They were about to drive to a third sister's (Lois) house. Then the three sisters and Lois' husband Ken would load up their RV and head for a friend's place outside Atlanta. Mom wasn't sure it was a great plan. Some of the projections had Irma chewing up through the middle of the state. Atlanta might be in her path. Savannah might not be.

On the other hand, Mom wasn't sure that my sister and her husband--Jackie and Porter--had made the right decision, either. They were heading to Alabama with their cat. Irma might chase them down as well. Mom suggested that they alter their plans, that they head south to Mobile rather than northwest toward Birmingham. She didn't think they'd listen. But they weren't planning on leaving until Saturday, so maybe they'd have a better read on things then.

And it might even be easier to get out; on Saturday morning they were going to open up the interstate, convert the inbound lanes to outbound ones. Traffic might move a little faster. But Mom was happy to be leaving.

She's ridden out hurricanes before. But last October Matthew shook her. The winds bent her palm trees double; she doesn't understand how her roof held. She didn't lose electricity, but the sound of it--the rumble, gnash and whistle--was terrifying. The pressure was odd, her windows firehosed.

She wasn't in the mandatory evacuation area then--the order was for all areas east of I-95 and she lives a half-mile or so west of the interstate, nearly 20 miles from the Atlantic Ocean--but she told me she'd never do it again. And so as I write this, she's on the road.

Her granddaughter Britni and Britni's husband Shane have decided to stay; they both work for a Wendy's franchisee and they want to look after the stores. One of Mom's lawyers and a couple of her other co-workers aren't leaving, either.

Mom doesn't understand why, but she knows there are fatalistic people everywhere. She doesn't think Rush Limbaugh's suggestion that the hurricane is fake news designed to stimulate business for local retailers and ratings for local media has anything to do with the people she knows who are staying, but she imagines a lot of folks doubt it'll turn out to be that big a deal.

Besides, she says, there are plenty of shelters available. The city and Chatham County seem reasonably well-prepared. She wonders if maybe the safest place to be during the storm is in one of the shelters.

"Most of them take pets," she says.

She says she's heard the storm may even come our way, but I dismiss the idea. It'll take a week to get here, and blow itself out along the way. Maybe we might get a little--or a lot--of rain.

I realize I don't know anything about weather systems. I'm not part of the crowd that runs to the windows in our office when the skies get dark or lightning flashes; I don't pull up the garish radar on my computer screen and keep it in a little active window. I'm willfully ignorant about storms, figuring there's little I can do about what falls on the just and unjust alike. I like to believe that tornadoes coming from the south will skip over our house nestled just below the crest on the north side of a high hill. It makes a kind of sense to me although I realize it's just something I made up.

It's been a while since we've even gotten any water in our sun room--not since we cleared out the French drains. Our roof is fairly new, good for another quarter century, they say. All I've got to complain about is the black ice we sometimes get, though only once or twice in the past year have we been unable to get our cars down the hill.

Climate change has worked out OK for us, I tell my mother.

She laughs a little, but I can tell she doesn't really think it's funny.

I don't, either. A decade ago we might have considered buying vacation or retirement property in Bluffton, S.C. near Hilton Head. (Or a pied-a-terre in downtown Savannah.) We don't talk about that anymore; given the evidence of the past few years it seems foolish to consider.

I worry about my other sister, living on a narrow spit called Chauvin in Louisiana's bayou country, 70 miles south-southwest of New Orleans. On the old maps it looks like Chauvin is nearly 20 miles inland, but if you check the satellite photos you'll see Terrebone Bay and Lake Barre and the Gulf of Mexico creeping up on my sister's backyard.

They're not worried; you can still drive a few miles south down the road to Cocodrie. Harvey didn't bother them much, nor did the Baton Rouge flood in August 2016. They've got a boat. They fish. My brother-in-law ferries scientists around the swamp as part of his job.

"They'll float if they have to," Mom says.

Before she hangs up she gives me Lois' mobile number. Mom has an old flip phone--she says Lois' phone is "stronger" than hers. And she also has her iPad if there's WiFi around. She promises to call or text. And the line goes silent.

Meanwhile, on the west coast of Florida, my sister-in-law Barbara observes that "evolution" has caused the sea level to rise and now they often get water in their front lawn. Irma might flood their ground floor, but there's nothing there (but for the garage filled with my brother-in-law Carl's vintage Corvettes). The house is built to withstand the winds and rain; they'll shutter up and batten down and hope the storm flags or turns before it overruns them.

By the time you read this, Mom might be back home. She might be cleaning up, she might feel a little sheepish for having bolted over nothing. And she'll be watching for Jose and Katia.


Philip Martin is a columnist and critic for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at pmartin@arkansasonline.com and read his blog at blooddirtandangels.com.

Editorial on 09/12/2017


TravisBickle says...

A pied-a-terre???? Really, Phill?? You're soooo tres chic.

Posted 12 September 2017, 10:18 a.m. Suggest removal

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