Stories from Hurricane Survivors
NOAA does not validate these stories. They are reprinted with permission from the sender.
Jennifer Lowry, Austin, TX, Hurricane Odile, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, September 2014
I had never witnessed that level of destruction or devastation before. The eye of the storm hit around 10:30pm, so most of the guests (including myself) were sheltered in the hotel ballroom. What made this storm unique (and the reason it caught the Southern Baja Peninsula so off guard) was the fact that it rapidly intensified and changed course. It was originally forecast to head West and weaken as it went out to sea, but instead it made an almost 90 degree turn and headed directly for Cabo San Lucas as a Category 4. It was a Category 3 when it actually made landfall, but the millibars of pressure in the eye were extremely low for a Category 3, and the hurricane slowed and caused massive destruction.
Because of the initial forecast, people were not being encouraged to evacuate. Our hotel was prepared as possible and technically designated as a hurricane shelter with the ability of a Cat 3 storm, and had excellent safety procedures in place. But no one expected the storm to be as bad as it was. The hotel had a shelter set up in the hotel ballroom, but also told guests that if they felt more comfortable staying in their rooms then they were more than welcome to do so, so long as they kept the windows and doors completely shut and did not venture outside. (At the point of their original instruction, the hurricane was still not expected to be such a massive threat.)
My friends and I originally thought we would "ride it out" in our hotel room, and were almost poking fun at the evacuation room that was set up. We figured we would hole up in our room with food and wine and watch movies until the government formally shut down the power grid, as planned and mentioned in the bulletins they were sending us. Everything was going "as planned" for us until about 8:30pm. The sliding glass doors were shaking violently, and then all of a sudden a large portion of a palm tree snapped off and hit our window. It didn't shatter, fortunately, but the scare was enough for us to put all of our things in the bathroom, grab our passports and wallets, and make a beeline for the hotel ballroom. At that point in our room, there was water already starting to gurgle get sucked out of the toilet, and the shower was making a howling noise. It also took 3 of us to pull the hotel door open because of the low pressure suction. (The hotel hallways were partially outside and exposed to the elements.)
By the time we (safely... thankfully) made it to the hotel ballroom, the hotel staff were already running rescue operations to retrieve people from their rooms. They were taking attendance on the hotel room roster, and rescuing accordingly. There was an elderly couple being carried in with blood all over them from being cut by glass, and some other injuries. (None of them major, thanks to the incredible care and rescue effort of the hotel staff.)
The pictures on link below will tell the story of the destruction, but the main reason I felt that this was an important story to share is because Odile was a storm that took everyone by surprise... We were incredibly lucky to be in the care of the hotel workers who slaved away all night to keep us safe, but a lot of people were not so lucky and the widespread destruction over the Baja Peninsula was immense. So for anyone else who doubts the power of Mother Nature and doesn't take weather warnings seriously, just take some advice from anyone who experienced Odile. Weather forecasts can change in a heartbeat, so always err on the side of caution.
We were stranded in Cabo for an extra week because the airport was completely destroyed, there was no phone service, internet, or any other form of communication. Our friends and family feared the worst after they didn't hear from us for several days. Food and water had to be rationed. The Mexican military had to perform food drops for the local residents because all of the roads were washed out.
Isabel Ramos Quinones, South Dade County, FL, 1992 (submitted 2017)
I have experienced many hurricanes in my life (Betty, Dona, in the 60s a few, plus many more). The worst one was Andrew in 1992. I live in south Dade County at the time. I was in the northern portion of the eye wall of the storm when it passed by me. I was ready for Andrew, I had my supplies, we were boarded up. We did not have cell phones or any digital means of communications in those days. We had a radio and that was about it. It started with a small grouping of clouds off the Bahamas that did not appear to look very organized. My dad had died the week before Andrew hit. Even though I was ready for a storm, nothing could have or would have helped us. I really didn’t expect this to be any different than other storms I had experienced. Little did I know I was in for the ride of my life!
The days before were the most beautiful days. I was mourning my father’s death. Then that Friday, on the news, we saw Brian Norcross telling us about a small grouping of clouds over the Bahamas. As I drove down the turnpike to get off at 152 St. I got this strange feeling inside of me. Somehow, I knew that things were about to change and nothing would be as they were. Everything was going well. it was dinner time and I fed my dogs and cats. It was time for a cocktail and watch the news and see how the storm was doing. By 11 pm the wind was picking up and I took my dogs out again not knowing when or if I would be able to take them out again. It was windy but mostly dry not too much rain involved. The storm was predicted to make landfall north of the Metro zoo area in the City of Miami area. I stayed up as long as I could before I feel asleep.
At 2-3 am, I was woken by the cries of my cat. My dogs were all around me. I woke up or my cat Boostie woke me up just in time. The power was gone but I had a flashlight so I went to look outside to see what was happening. As I went to look out of one of the windows that weren't boarded up, I noticed the glass bowing and load noises like crashing and breaking. A bedroom window had blown out. Then I heard another loud noise and a crashing sound. The master bedroom window was now gone too. All we could do was try and keep the door closed. (Little did I know that my cat Boostie, my cat, was still in the room). We lit some candles, listened and waited for the storm to go over us. As I sat on the couch in the living room I heard what sounded like a machine gun firing rapping rounds of bullets at the plywood. The rat, tat, tat went on for a very long time. The bullet sound was river rocks from the landscaping from my neighbor’s yard. Then I looked out in the dark through the uncovered window and saw a rail road tie wood flying in the sky, also part of a neighbor’s landscaping. I saw the pieces of wood fence flying in the air. The rain was blowing down horizontally. I had a cup of wine in my hand to try and calm down. I began to pick up my cats and put them in the closets to keep them safe.
I had 7 dogs in the house with me that night. The house was falling apart piece by piece. I sat on the couch 3 of my dogs are under a table and only one was lying on my lap. As I sat in the candle lit room while the wild wind blew the house apart howling like a banshee, I saw the candle start to shake. Then the house started to shake; the rumbling noise was unbelievable. Why was the house shaking? It sounded like a freight train was heading towards us. The rumbling noises the crashing smashing and wind howling like a sick animal. It was enough to have you petrified.
I got up to look out the window but my pets asked me to sit down. It wasn’t safe. Then I sat down and the house exploded. The trusses came down into the living room just were I stood moments before. The ceiling and insulation landed on top of me. I had no shoes to ware. I had a tank top and shorts on that all. I was covered in plaster from head to toe, stuck under 6 to 7 inches of ceiling and roofing materials that were wet and hard to move while trying to get my dogs to get out for under the same debris. The house was hit by a tornado spawned by the storm. It was dark, the candle was lost and gone. We all scrambled to the garage of the house which was the only part of the house that still had a roof over it. While my companions held the door to the garage shut we continued to here crashing and creaking noises and howling winds.
I sat under the scuttle hole of the roof holding the dogs while everything came down around us. All you can do is pray. I had promised my dad that I would take care of my mom and for him to die in peace and not worry about her that she would be cared for. Now here I am knocking on deaths door in this incredible horrific storm. Not sure if I was going to make it through myself. It felt like an eternity before this would be over. Minutes seemed like hours. Hours seemed like days. Then finally it seemed to be subsiding. The sun was rising in the sky and it seemed to be OK to come out of the only safe place left standing.
The house was in ruins and the cats were ok. I found Boostie buried under the mattress in the master bed room. It took 20 minutes to remove the debris and dig her out. The sight of the surrounding area was unbelievable. The houses were leveled all around. Surely there must be people dead or trapped in homes. Neighbors check on each other and tried to pick up the pieces of our broken homes. We were shell shocked, like zombies moving but not knowing where to go or what to do. We went looking for help but there was none. We saw an FHP unit but he couldn’t help us!
A few of the neighbors gathered and we were able to free the cars so we could drive out. All I knew is that I had to get my pets out and get to my mother as soon as I could I got all my dogs put them and the cats in the car we headed to Miami. The phones were down and there was no way for me to get word to my family that I had made it out OK. The news helicopters were flying overhead and traffic from sightseers was horrible. We had just lost our homes and people came to sightsee? I had strangers walking through the ruins of my home. No respect for boundaries or privacy. It was unreal! How could so many people come a gawk at so many people’s miseries.
We made our way through the debris strewed streets, wires, traffic single devises, building materials, light poles, trees etc. Some streets were impassable. By the time we made it up to Miami it was headline news. n Andrew kept on going I never saw the end of that storm but it was surreal. There was just nothing left I had no shoes, no clothing and if anything was left, the looters would take in the following days. I was lucky I had my mom and a home to go to, others were not as lucky. People started migrating to Broward County. I stood in line for hours to get ice every day for weeks. I slept on the floor of my Mom's place for months. I was even going to school during all this. I really don’t know how I got through this. I will never forget or under estimate a hurricane again. When I talk to people after I had lost everything you work so hard for, and your house crumbles down on top of you! Someone says “Oh, I lost a tree in my yard.” Well I lost everything! That’s what I didn’t understand, the significance of losing a tree over losing your home and life as you knew it.
The 2005 storm brought back memories. Yes, I was scared, kind of like traumatic stress syndrome returns you to that trauma that you suffered in 1992. It will be 25 years and I still can’t look back without crying the emotions that run inside you. After Andrew, I was ready for each storm. I know that the best defense is your next-door neighbor. There may be no help coming right away. It may take days for emergency crews to get to you. You have to learn to survive on your own. During the 2005 storms, Katrina, Rita and Wilma, we lost power and had a 100 roof tiles blown off. It was easy to fix, but you can’t fix the fear that Andrew put in me. Always have respect for Mother Nature and never underestimate the power of a storm. As I am sure those who survived Katrina in New Orleans now have a deep respect for the power of a storm.
I just had impact windows and doors put in the house so I know that I am ready for 2017 season. I will never forget Andrew. I will carry that with me until the day I die. I will still fear each storm that comes close by or hits us. Lesson in Andrew is to have a good network in your neighborhood they will be the only ones who can help. Your neighbors are your first responders. Each of us have a unique ability and each us can bring a trade or quality to assist in the first hours after a storm.
Kevin, Galveston, TX, submitted 2016
I lost my home in Galveston from Hurricane Ike. It was a nightmare and I was on the verge of not evacuating and staying. I'm so thankful to have evacuated and so immature to think I could stay. I don't know whether I could have survived on the island during or in the days or weeks following. I remember walking to the seawall the short distance of a block from the home I rented the morning we evacuated. I had never seen the ocean so violent - the beach had disappeared along with the dunes. It was my rude awakening to the seriousness of the situation which was only about to become so much worse. I understand the urge that people feel to stay with their home, hoping against odds that it won't be as bad as they say. The hurricane changed my life absolutely but the warnings and precautions likely saved it.