By Sherry Churchill
Hurricane Ivan changed me forever. My husband, Larry, and I lived in Pensacola, Florida in September of 2004. Having retired in 2002, we built a lovely brick home across the street from Perdido Bay. As a young retiree, I felt the exhilaration of life without clocks or supervisors. I didn’t think much about hurricanes, doomsday, or prepping. My thoughts were about our next travel opportunity.
But then, it happened. The warnings began. Evacuation orders given. Hurricane Ivan was taking an eastern turn and predicted to hit Gulf Shores, Alabama. We were just barely east of there, which meant we would get the worst of the winds. Ivan, in fact, set the world record of 33 six-hour periods with an intensity at or above Category 4 strength.
I had never evacuated before. A northern transplant, hurricanes were something you only saw in the movies. My southern-born husband yawned at Category 1 and 2 hurricanes. However, we were so close to the Gulf, it would be foolish to stay. We finally decided to evacuate to a small, pet-friendly hotel about 30 miles inland. As we reluctantly packed for ourselves and our two cats, my husband soberly made a frightening statement: “Pack as if you are never coming home”.
That night in the hotel was the most frightening of my life. At 2 a.m., the power
went out. My husband was pacing as I lay on the bed, listening to the terrifying winds. Suddenly, we heard a cracking sound and the hotel roof caved in from the wind and water. If Larry hadn’t grabbed me by my ankle and pulled me off the bed, I might have been killed as the drywall hit my bed exactly where I had been laying. The bed collapsed and our two cats were under it. I was certain they were dead. Larry handed me his flashlight and lifted the debris and the bed to find both cowering cats, terrified but alive. We spent the next five hours waiting for daylight in the tiny bathroom until we were rescued by hotel staff. We had to climb over debris to make it to the door.
Later that day we were allowed to return home, and as we slowly navigated the available roads, the devastation was shocking. Neighbors who had stayed in their homes swore they never would again. The sound of the wind and nearby tornadoes was so terrifying it almost stopped their hearts. The streets flooded, some as high as the street signs, homes were completely destroyed. It looked like a war zone. Thankfully, our 2002 home was built with the new hurricane requirements and we suffered minimal structural damage. Trees were broken in half, littering the landscape everywhere we looked. Our pool water was black, our fence torn down and flooding came right up to the front door. But, thanks to my husband’s placement of sandbags, and the fact that our lot was a little higher than others, it got no further than the porch. Our aftermath was almost miraculous when compared with so many others nearby.
We were so relieved we had just bought a generator. Larry had a couple cans of gas, so we were able to run our refrigerator and freezer, a fan, and we alternated the TV and a lamp. Everything was closed, absolutely everything. I know there was assistance in the area from FEMA and other groups, but we never saw it. The men on our street would take turns driving two hours up into Alabama to get gas for everyone. We were without power for more than two weeks. I never appreciated air conditioning so much in my life as then. The heat was stifling. Had we not been able to run the generator around four hours per day, we would have lost all our food. I had a few canned meats and soups, but most of my food was in the freezer. We cooked on a camp-stove and basically returned to a primitive lifestyle. It was strange and inconvenient, but also glorious. I was happy to be alive.
We are now in our sixties – able-bodied as we can be for our age, and we have dramatically beefed up our preps. We live near Tampa in an area that seems to be safer from storms, with some kind of invisible bubble that sends winds and weather north or south of us. High winds still frighten me.
Now, nearly ten years after Ivan, I am concerned about many things: hurricanes, terrorism, economic collapse, nuclear dangers. As a Christian, I know where I’m ultimately going, which is the most important prep of all. But we now have a safe room, six months of freeze-dried food, water supplies, bug-out bags, all the provisions we can afford on a retiree’s income. Some of my friends call me crazy. However, they also say they’ll come knocking on my door if something happens. I jokingly reply that I will feed the first ten people that show up and, after that, I’m answering the door with my gun. Meanwhile, my prayer is that our preps will grow old with us, unused and still sealed. May God have mercy on us all.
For Sherry’s response to Hurricane Ivan and future hurricanes, see her article at the Florida Preppers’ site.