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What’s your family made of?

In our privileged world, a “disaster” is when the TiVo doesn’t record your favorite show. But when a real disaster hits, is your family ready? Can you find the strength within yourselves to pull through?

Little Girl in front of Fallen Tree

In the week leading up to the hurricane, the atmosphere in our neighborhood was jovial. Most of us were relatively new residents in the city — a few had been through the unnecessary evacuation for Rita, but for a lot of us, this was our first hurricane experience.

The more seasoned veterans advised us to stock up on supplies for three days, to buy flashlights and batteries, to clear our yards of debris. We filled the car with gas, made a few last minute runs to the store (and gaped at the lines winding around the aisles), and prepared to “hunker down” and ride out the storm.

Why did you wait so long?

On Friday afternoon, as we were finishing several loads of laundry in anticipation of a power failure, a client called my cell phone and explained that she had several other people in the room, and could we have a conference call? I said that, actually, I lived in Houston, and we were preparing for Ike.

“Why did you wait so long, Abbi?” she asked, and I bit back my exasperation. “We’re not supposed to evacuate,” I explained. “We were specifically told to stay put, but there are still things I need to do here. Like laundry.”

Her question came back to haunt me over the next week, as I read news reports that seemed to imply that all of Houston residents were fools for staying. But really, that’s what we were told to do. Only about eight zip codes were told to evacuate; the rest of us were instructed to stay in our homes to keep the roads clear.

A different experience

My family is Jewish, so in addition to preparing for Ike, we were preparing for Shabbat, which we spent with friends in our neighborhood. As instructed, we left a television and a radio on in a side room so that we could be apprised of any emergency updates. We set up our food for the next 24 hours, and we set emergency flashlights around the house in strategic locations so that we’d have them if we needed them. We ate a lovely, hot Shabbat meal with friends and put the kids to bed. The adults wandered outside from time to time to feel the growing winds. We watched from the windows and waited.

At 11:30 p.m., the power went out. The mood was still light, although the house and the neighborhood were dark. “Well, that’s that,” someone said, and we all made our way carefully to bed.

Sometime in the middle of the night, I woke up and realized how hot it was without air conditioning. And a few hours later, I woke up and realized that the lights were on again. Unfortunately, it was only for 10 minutes, the first of several such “teasers.”

After the storm

In the morning, the power was still out. My husband and I walked over to our house to check out the damage. The streets of my neighborhood looked like a war zone. Felled trees and other debris littered the streets. We and our neighbors wandered around, slightly dazed, taking it all in.

As we approached our home, my husband moved several mailboxes out of the street. And then, we reached our house and saw our gutters strewn across our front garden. The fence separating our house from our neighbor’s home was splayed across our driveway, blocking our garage. But the house was standing, relatively unscathed.

We did a quick walk-through and noted the soaking wet carpet in our bedroom — the water had pooled in our backyard and worked its way under the door. But still, we were lucky, and we knew it.

We made our way back to our friends’ home, where our children were, and waited for the power to come back on.

It would turn out to be a long wait.


What else is your family made of?

What’s your family made of? Part II
What’s your family made of? Part III


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