4/1 THE SATURDAY EVENING POST The Perfect Squelch WTHILE he was British Am- W bassador to the United States, Lord Halifax paid a brief visit to a large Southern city. Although he had only a few hours to spend, he readily agreed to a press conference, and a large group of newspaper and radio reporters showed up to question him on international affairs. Much to the disgust of the working press, however, an overdressed, talkative society editor who seldom budged from her office bustled into the gathering and quickly monopolized his lordship. While the reporters fidgeted, the society editor kept asking about various local social figures who had married titled Britishers. The reporters were about to make a blunt demand that she give someone else a chance before Halifax left to catch his train. But they reckoned without his lordship himself. "And you simply must tell me something," the society editor gushed on, "about my dear friends Lord and Lady Nonesuch. Why, it's been ten years since I've seen them." "Then," Lord Halifax said icily, "let me assure you that they are ten years older." —KATHRYN TUCKER WINDHAM. December 30. 193) dress were urged to hurry to it: a woman and two children were trapped there in an unroofed home. People were desperately ordered to stay off the streets. Casualties from the exploding windows were mounting where the foolhardy lingered in some supposedly protected spot to watch. More radio towers were falling. More roofs were lifting everywhere. Walls were collapsing. Huge electric signs were falling or dangling and grinding in the wind. The sea was up around thousands of houses. The sand it carried had made streets impassable where fallen trees had not already done so. Cabanas along the ocean front, torn up by the seas and the wind, were blowing around the beach. Our house was now a dot in a pitchdark world. The lamps guttered. A tongue of water slid under a door and spread out on the white terrazzo floor. Ricky threw some of the old towels over the little inundation and wrung them into a pan and left them at the wet crack. The noise was a tremendous roar overridden by the squealing gusts and punctuated by rare cracking sounds as trees broke. Most such noises, however, though loud in themselves, were lost in the general bellow. Now the direction of the hurricane changed and our front porch became a protected place. We went out there. The screens still held, but we could see in the lightning and the beam of a big flashlight that our pines, slim and sixty or seventy feet tall, were bent low. The palms blew all one way, like the loose hair of a woman in a fast-driven roadster. The gusts had become appalling. Though the Weather Bureau had recorded nothing over a hundred and six miles an hour, I told Ricky I'd eat everything hurled into our yard if the gusts weren't hitting a hundred and a quarter by that time. They were . . . and in some places maybe a hundred and fifty, the bureau said later. We went back indoors, soon—a little afraid a branch or board might ride the pandemonium onto the porch. The hurricane had reached its peak, but we had no way to tell. Our house, like all properly built houses in that area, was set on foundations of steel and of concrete poured in trenches in the underlying limestone. Ferroconcrete beams at the corners were tied by steel rods into similar heavy beams under the eaves; steel bands attached each separate member of the roof to the beams. Our rafters were double. Ricky and I were far from terrified, but it would be untrue to say we were without apprehension. I've been worse scared by a California quake and in a burning building in Dakota, in a Canadian forest fire, in the 1913 Ohio flood and during a tornado in that same state. I've been more alarms ' in a storm at sea. But hurricanes a tricky. Sometimes they contain tornadoes of their own which no construction can withstand. Occasionally a freak, twisting gust wreaks some particular havoc. And this was a strong storm. News of the falling steel towers—that had stood through other blows—and of the unroofing of many houses made that plain. As we felt the majestic mallet blows of the wind, we couldn't help glancing up where the rafters met the beams, to see if a crack showed there or if water was dribbling in. Our exile, like that of all the rest in private homes, was absolute. For an hour, or possibly six or eight hours, we would be alone. The streets and roads were impassable. Communications were nil, except for radio and radio hams. A person might be able to flounder through the frantic night for aid; a person might fail in such an attempt. Any injury, acute sickness or disaster to our house would be our problem to deal with, probably without aid for hours. We sat on the divan and smoked limp cigarettes. Popcorn, our white cocker spaniel, stayed close in spite of the heat, shook, and eyed us with worry. We thought and spoke about the sleazy houses built for veterans in some of the outlying real-estate developments, and we spoke about the ramshackle sprawl of "colored town" where our Hester had lived until recently. Morning was to see 20,000 houses, mostly the shabby or badly built ones, hit, unroofed or wrecked. Three dead and nearly a hundred hurt, and a miracle the total was so low. But that night the myriad disasters—bits and pieces of which the radio continued to report — were used by us and by hundreds of thousands like us as indices of personal hazard. Would we be next? And how long would we have to endure passively the effort of the elements to tear our house apart? The October hurricane proved the old adage about the want of the nail for which the shoe was lost. The littlest violation of the building codes, the most minor skimping of material - nails too far apart or too small, mortar too poor or too sparingly used, a roofing felt lighter than the prescribed kind, flashing of too thin a gauge let in a finger of the tempest, and the hand and brawny arm thrust in behind. A tile rattled and flipped into the night; the tiles above it were plowed loose. Metal began to vibrate and then tore; the material beneath ballooned, ripped, raced into oblivion, and the roof after it, and then, sometimes, the walls buckled. In days to come, Miami would learn new lore concerning building against hurricanes and learn, shamefacedly, that among its capable builders there were a few cheats. Some people lost everything because a contractor had saved himself as little as ten dollars on a home. " The barometer!" Ricky exclaimed again, after an hour or so. It was rising! The terribleness of the gusts diminished; the general tumult lost energy. In another hour we had such a wind as might blow on any night of a gale, and soon only a stiff breeze. A neighbor —a man who said he liked to cook, but had no opportunity except before hurricanes—had brought us half of a cake. We ate most of that and drank a bottle of milk, which would sour if we did not use it. We were able to realize how tired we were. It was three A.M. I let Popcorn out by a porch door and followed him a few feet through the rain. Not far. Overhead, branches still hung dangerously amongst the treetops; now and then we heard one let go and crash to earth. Somewhere nearby the wires were down, and of these some carried 13,000 volts; they might be alive still. There was another possible hazard in walking in the dark through fallen brush. It rains so hard in hurricanes that the effect is like that of a flash flood. When the adjacent lowlands are flooded, rattlesnakes sometimes scurry to such high ground as ours. The breed is adamanteus, the biggest of the diamondbacks, and we've found him on our lawn, bird hunting, even on pleasant days. 1 whistled Popcorn back presently, and let the damage census go till we'd had some sleep and until the light came. The next morning, when we'd finished our coffee and made another tour of the premises, we toilsomely began the third part of every hurricane's routine. While Ricky mopped up the mud tracks through the house, I chopped apart the limbs on the drive and manhandled them to one side. Then I tried starting both cars; neither was dampei out. We drove over to see how the family with the sick father and the hurt child had fared. At the corner we saw the daughter of another neighbor playing in an uprooted and overturned mountain of trees which till then hat stood for perhaps a century. Our friends were safe and we went back, driving past houses with tile roofs like half-scaled fish, under leaning power poles, around roped-off areas where live wires lay, zigzagging through hastily cleared paths in the streets and noticing that not just the brittle trees, but even the mahoganies were riven. Heavy-husked coconuts lay everywhere like a giant's green marbles. Snapped palm and pine trunks stood conspicuously. Stone walls were notched where trees had fallen on them, and sidewalks were sundered where roots had lifted them. People in hundreds were outdoors, doing things or merely looking. Already city trucks were collecting and carting off the mess. Portable cranes were straightening trees. On power poles among the snaggled spider webs of wire, umbrellas were lashed to shield from the hot autumn sun linemen who had begun to work as soon as the wind commenced to drop. Men were setting up concrete lampposts and moving up replacements for metal posts broken by the flung trees. A boy was staring morosely at the ruin of his convertible, and we saw a householder examining a car that had been rolled onto his crotons. Bulldozers shoved boughs and fronds about. Here a roof was gone, yonder a small building had become a pile of cement blocks, and in the distance the stump of a chimney showed. Our shutters had to be set out to dry in such a way as not to warp. I began unbolting them. I next cleared the poinsettia bed, chopping up the large fallen tree to movable sizes. Since our house was dry inside, Ricky went to help people who had wet rugs, sodden draperies, soaked beds, bedraggled linen, drenched and often ruined clothes; people whose windows had broken because they hadn't bothered to put up shutters or whose windows and shutters had failed to keep out horizontal, pressurized streams of water that spurted even through keyholes and drowned whatever was in the rooms. At lunchtime we knocked off and, since the restaurants were open, we met in one. From a human-relations standpoint, it is too bad hurricanes aren't universal and frequent. The restaurant was crowded, strangers doubled up at tables, everybody talked amiably to everybody else—talked a little excitedly and trustingly. Shared peril and subsequent release make all men brothers, briefly. We worked all that day. Hester didn't show up and we worried about her. That night we bathed in the last of the warm water and read by kerosene lamps till we were sleepy. In the morning Hester returned. Her house had suffered only a broken window, but her daughter and six grandchildren had escaped from theirs after the roof came off, but before the walls fell in. These seven, with all possessions lost, had moved in with Hester. "A bad storm," Hester said sorrowfully. "This one was just too had."
1950_12_30--026_SP how to live through hurricane
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