Sunday, August 17, 2008

25 years ago...

Tonight, twenty-five years ago, I was hunkered down with about 60 other college students enduring the wrath of Hurricane Alicia as it struck the Texas coast.

I had been in Galveston for the entire summer on a summer project with Campus Crusade for Christ. It was a good time of personal growth mixed with developing ministry skills. By day I worked at the Galveston Yacht Basin doing landscape work (cutting grass, pruning oleanders and palm trees, fending off fire ants, etc). Nights and weekends were filled with outreach activities. It was a hot-house environment in more than one way.

Towards the end of our stay Hurricane Alicia formed in the Gulf of Mexico. At first it wasn't clear where it was headed so we kept to our scheduled departure date. But the storm surprised everyone and made straight for Galveston Island. We had been staying in an elementary school and were under obligation to put things back the way we found them. So we worked diligently and did three days work in the span of one day. But by that point it was too late to evacuate the island and we had to ride it out.

I can recall that by 1:00 or 2:00 PM on the 17th the winds had picked up. By 4:00 or 5:00 it was cloudy and misty. By nightfall sustained winds were in excess of 40 MPH. Officially the storm made landfall at 1:45 AM on August 18th. The eye passed over the western part of the island less than 20 miles west of our location.

One memory sticks in my mind: We were in an inner hallway of the school on the first floor when I noticed that the double-glass doors that led to the gym were moving with every gust of wind. Curious, I investigated further. I went through those doors and into the gym only to find that an outside door had blown open. Water was getting onto the gym floor and the door needed to be shut. I went to close it and it took all of my strength to get it shut against the force of winds approaching 100 MPH. Needless to say I was soaked from head-to-toe as well.

Fortunately we were on the eastern end of the island behind the giant seawall erected after the hurricane of 1900 when over 6,000 people lost their lives. While the streets flooded we did not suffer as those who were unprotected -- the storm surge washed across the lower part of the island and took whatever was in its path. While Galveston suffered a direct hit it was Houston that suffered even more. The storm went right up the intercoastal waterway not losing much steam and slammed the city quite hard.

Hurricanes are pretty wild creatures. This was my second one -- a few years earlier our family was living in Rhode Island when Hurricane Belle moved up the eastern seaboard and made landfall in Connecticut and affected most of New England. By comparison, Hurricane Belle was a much smaller storm but the experience prepared me for Alicia.

Once the storm passed on August 18th we were able to get off the island without too much difficulty. There was lots of debris along the roads leading up to Houston but beyond that we didn't experience any difficulty returning home. However, it was a long trip as five of us guys piled into a car and headed north making stops in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. And a day or two after arriving home we were greeted by rain -- it was the remnants of Hurricane Alicia that had made their way as far north as Minnesota.

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