At least Ida was no Opal

Published 11:59 pm Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Nature has a way of putting us in its place, if you know what I mean.

As news of then-Hurricane Ida was making its way across the airwaves, slow whispers of comparison to another storm were also creeping into conversations.

Longtime residents just refer to it as Opal. It too was a late-in-the-season storm — the ninth hurricane and strongest of 1995’s very active hurricane season.

A “cat-4” hurricane, it made landfall near Pensacola, Fla., with wind gusts as high as 144 mph. It left complete devastation in its wake.

I was a senior in high school, and we lived in Lockhart when the storm hit. We had worked to make the needed preparations — milk, bread, canned goods, candles and such — because Southerners practice the “6-P” motto.

I can remember standing behind my father on the front porch of our small house, watching as a tornado ripped a path in the pecan grove in the distance. We were far enough away we weren’t in any real danger but close enough to understand just how insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things.

“It’s amazing,” he said.

And it was.

Storms are powerful in their intensity — hurricanes especially. There is a certain fever pitch, a feeling of anxiety that builds the closer the storm gets to making landfall. Some would even call it excitement — at least that’s how I feel.

Afterwards, though, when the rain has cleared and the winds stopped, that’s when it gets you. After Opal, you would have thought the world buried most of civilization in a sea of green. Toppled trees and limbs covered the roadways, and the smell of fresh wood greeted residents when they emerged from “riding out the storm.”

Our days were spent reclaiming yards and helping neighbors recover. The bulk of my evenings were spent like Abe Lincoln with his candlelight reading.

There are several other things I remember about that time.

It was the first time in my life I can remember having to live without electricity and running water. National Guardsmen brought water in trucks, distributing MREs to those who needed food.

It took five days, but strangely enough we got water before we got power.

And the rain.

Lord forgive me, but, oh my God, the rain.

I can remember traveling by boat and motor from Hwy. 55 near what is now North Creek General Store to the bottom of the hill on Shiloh Cemetery Road to check on my grandmother.

If you look closely when driving down Open Pond Road, you can still sometimes see things blowing in the treetops — the leftovers both of residents and storm alike.

For the longest, it was one of the worst storms in history. Aside from Katrina, it is the worst storm in my memory.

And as Ida, this “rain with a name,” leaves our county with barely a whisper, I hope it stays that way.

I know enough to realize that I have been put in my place twice already.