I stopped this past week at an auto shop on Broadway to get my state inspection renewed. There was a helpful woman behind the counter, and as I waited, we started to chat. It seems every conversation these past six months has some touch of Ike, some mention of what was lost, changed, flooded, rebuilt, FEMAed. This conversation started innocently, noting the water mark still visible a few feet up the wall of the otherwise now-normal shop.
Then the conversation drifted. She and her family rode out the storm. They thought they were safe, perched up atop a hill above 10 ft., in a neighborhood not far from 61st and S streets. They stocked supplies, parked their vehicles on high ground, anxiously watched the news. She and her husband sat in their living room, watching through a window as the world around them went aquatic. At midnight, their pets jumped atop the sofa, and that was the sign the water had reached the foot of their house. Shouts soon followed, from panicked neighbors whose homes weren’t on a hill. A wet, dark and dangerous rescue commenced, with ropes strung between houses, a floating tire doubling as a life raft. They swam and struggled for more than an hour in the surging water, in the dark, winds howling menacingly around them.
They collected all those they could, old and young, and perched them in their home. But the water kept coming, and soon it was pouring in the window. An attic offered the last place of refuge, but a precarious one, putting only a sheet of plywood and a few singles, inches from their heads, between them and the storm’s fiercest winds. The water kept rising, the doorknob on their front door serving as a marker, them focused on it, waiting for a sign that the water had started going down, waiting for the winds to stop roaring. The fridge floats by, their home is destroyed, but they’re alive, and that’s what matters.
For this woman and her family, like for so many others, Ike isn’t something that happened; it’s something that is happening. She’s still not back in her home, still was waiting on appliances, still was unsure about so much. But she was strong, as intense in her commitment to go on, as she was in the telling of her story. We connected, and I promised to come back to catch up on the next chapter in her story.
How many of these stories there must be, I thought, of heroism and compassion and survival, not ever captured by the 10 o’clock news or repeated to anyone but friends, family and an occasional interested stranger. In the rush to clean up, dry up, and rebuild, I hope these stories aren’t tucked away, too painful to relive or too tired to remember. I hope they’re shared, that they live on in our lore—stories of resilience and survival, many of them, ultimately, with happy endings.