Thursday, September 07, 2017

Hurricanes

Hurricane Hazel October 15, 1954

Hurricane Hazel was the first hurricane I experience first hand. 

Hurricane Hazel blew through Downingtown, Pennsylvania October 15, 1974, where I lived at that time as an 11 year dumb kid. I remember my Mother telling me not to go outside because the hurricane was too dangerous. Of course I went out. I was almost blown away. Scary!  And at that time the wind gusts were only up to 67 mph but that was enough to make it very difficult for me to even get back into the second floor apartment where we lived at that time.  That was enough thrill for me.

The next hurricane of significance I can remember was Hurricane Floyd hit the Northeast in September of 1999. At that time I was working two jobs. During the day I worked at a bank in Downingtown. At the end of my day job at the bank I left for my nighttime job at the Hampton Inn for my shift from 4 pm to 11 pm. I knew Hurricane Floyd was blowing through Downingtown but I figured I could get to work. Oh how foolish I was.

I left work in the driving rain and high powered wind. The bank where I worked in downtown Downingtown was next to the intersection of Route 282 and 30. Low point in Downingtown which was beginning to flood. I got out just in time. As I reached the next intersection of Route 30 and Route 113, low land again and road flooded.  I went through some back roads, having to back up twice for low lying intersections. 

What to do?  I decided to take another road which looped around Downingtown to get on the bypass. I thought I was all right until I hit the intersection at Exton. Another low lying intersection which was flooded. Hundreds of cars were backed up, not moving. Cars and tractor trailer trucks. No one was telling us anything to do. I saw some vehicles take a U-turn over the cement medial strip. 

I weight my options. Sit there and wait for the flood waters to reach me or take a chance of scraping the underside of my Subaru Forester and make that U-turn over the cement medial strip?  I made the U-turn. As I was racing back on the bypass I saw water rushing towards the highway from the adjoining filed. All of a sudden I thought "Am I going to make it?"  "Am I going to be one of those images on the nightly news of a flooded car bobbing in the water?"  Whenever I saw those flooded cars I thought "How did that person ever let themselves get into that position?"  Now I know, IT HAPPENS.  Folks, I was seriously afraid that I WASN'T GOING TO MAKE IT.  I was about to become a statistic.

Hurricane Floyd flooding of roads - much like the roads I tried to get to work at the hotel

I speed up and managed to outrace the rushing water. I was back in Downingtown, where I started.  I couldn't go home, my path there was blocked by a flooded intersection. Then I decided to go up a back way, through the Northwood neighborhood. Not the most efficient way to go to work but the Northwood development was on the side of a hill.  I knew if I could get through that neighborhood I could get back to Rt. 113, also called "Cemetery Hill".  Not because it was dangerous but because the Northwood Cemetery is located on the side of that hill, overlooking Downingtown which is in the valley below. As a matter of fact, I have two cemetery plots in Northwood, that's where Bill and I will be buried one day.  

Downingtown in the valley below Northwood Cemetery - I took this picture from our plots - we'll have a nice view for our Final Resting Place

As I approached the back entrance to Northwood I saw telephone poles toppled, some leaning on trees and telephone lines, live power sparking as those lines danced on the rain swept road.  WOW!  Now I took a chance of being electrocuted. 

Folks, for one of the rare times in my life I thought "Am I going to make it?  Will I survive this?"  Again, I weighed my options and knew I couldn't go home so I took my chances and weaved my car through those snaking downed electrical line doing their pretty sparky dance on the rain glisten roads covered with wet green leaves.

I made it through the Northwood neighborhood and came out to a deserted Route 113. There were no other cars around. Just me, a lot of rain and wind and an open road to the Hampton in three miles down Rt. 113 to the intersection of Rt. 113 and Rt. 100.  A clear shot.

Hampton Inn, Lionville, PA - where I was working when hurricane Floyd hit Pennsylvania in 1999


I arrived at the Hampton Inn. Just as I went in the back door the power went out at the Inn. Oh great. 

The hotel lobby was full of travelers who exited the near by Pennsylvania Turnpike exit for shelter in our hotel. 

I was the most senior person at the hotel. The other front desk agents didn't know what to do because the computers were down. They looked to me, The Old Guy, what to do.  I said "Well, what did hotels do before computers? They checked in guest manually."  

Some of my co-workers at the Hampton Inn 1999

My co-workers didn't understand. I took the printed lists of guests who were due in the hotel. I told my fellow workers as the guests checked in, cross off their name from the list and write in the room number. We had regular keys we handed out in place of those credit card keys.

I stayed overnight at the hotel. We got through the night, including many "guests" who didn't have rooms (we were full).  Those guests slept in the lobby free of charge from the hotel.

We got through the hurricane without any casualties.  A lot of inconvenience but no casualties although I experienced some very close calls.

Fast forward to the spring and I was thanked for my "extraordinary service" by being selected "Best Guest Service Representative" for the quarter. I was embarrassed because I was only doing what I considered my job. But I was thankful because it's always nice to be recognized and thanked. Being "thanked" in today's society is something I have rarely experienced. I've come to accept not being thanked over the years but the fact is it is rare to hear a "thank you."  My "thank you" was an all expense paid trip to Disney World ("I'm going to Disney World!") for two.  A check for $500 for "incidentals".  A plaque that was presented to me by the Vice President of the Hilton Hotels at the Expo Center in Disney World. 

Me with Mickey Mouse and my Aunt Mabel at Disney World 2001
So there you go folks, these are my Hurricane Memories. Again, I'm very lucky.  I got a "prize" for my hurricane experience. For thousands, they lose everything including lives. My heart is with them today as three hurricanes threaten Florida. 

Satellite image of Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean



2 comments:

  1. Ron,

    Like you I went out in the Hurricane that hit D-town in 1954. Had to go explore. in 1985 Gloria came up the coast, a Cat. 4 Hurricane. The fear was it would go up the Delaware Bay and there was a State of Emergency issued for Delaware. There was aban on driving. No one was supposed to be on the road unless they were emergency workers. This was in September and Wilmington Trust was doing their United Way campaign. I was the MC and the Audio-Visual person for our presentations. We were scheduled to have an evening show, and everyone figured it would be called off, but the CEO refused to cancel and I had to drive into Wilmington and do it. Lois was angry and scared, Fortunately for everyone the hurricane turned to the east and just missed Delaware and South Jersey. Barney Taylor took a big chance and got lucky. Although it worked out, if the hurrivane had kept to the predicted course it would have slammed right into Wilmington and there could have been a disaster. I thought having people come in for United Way was stupid. Still do.

    Larry

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  2. Anonymous12:31 AM

    I always feel sorry for the people who end up on the news trapped somewhere unpleasant after a flash or areal flood. The cameras only catch the victims after the sudden and massive onslaught of water that put them there, and sometimes it seems as if the reporter is more than a little self-righteous about the situation.

    Unless you've seen first hand (or perhaps on a good nature program) how quickly a situation can become life or death when water is involved (because the TV crews never seem to capture it), I suppose it's very easy to callously think something like, "That idiot deserves what they got/get. Why on earth are they in the middle of a flooding culvert/underpass/stream/river/etc. in the first place?"

    I'm glad you lived to tell the tale! I've been in a couple of flash flooding situations, unfortunately when I was young and stupid and sure my 16-yr-old self could drive my old heavy car right through the area. After having to turn back in the second flood as my car's electrical system began to go out, feeling my car being pushed around by the water like it was a toy boat, I learned my lesson. Thankfully without having to pay with my life (obviously). ~~~NB

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