He convinced me that it was okay for us to ride out the storm in my apartment located at the back of someone’s house.
We moved our two cars close to the house but forgot that hurricanes uproot trees. I have never been as scared as I was that night.
During the day, we went to watch the early signs of the hurricane expected that night at Pensacola Beach, a beautiful beach with super-white, sugar-like sand and water always clean and blue.
Huge waves, several feet long, made water run from the ocean to the houses on the beach and it looked very scary. Boats and yachts were being tossed like leaves. We ran back inland and waited for the hurricane.
DID NOT SLEEP
That night, we never slept. The one-floor apartment was tossed, swinging all over. The glass door and windows were facing a force I have never seen before.
We had to put sofa sets and other items around the doors and windows to avoid destruction. We slept under the staircase.
Hurricane and tornado preparation calls for one to stay in the basement if any exists and in the smallest room (bathroom or closet) with the head kept between your legs and if possible below your back so that any fall only hits the back. We had two coffee tables to protect our bodies.
The huge tree next to the cars was uprooted and destroyed the two cars. The house was not massively damaged but needed repairs.
The hurricane caused massive destruction and also spawned other destructive tornados. Ivan is reported to have caused an estimated US$ 14 billion in damages and was then the sixth costliest hurricane to have ever hit USA.
For close to one month, we relied on food donated by the US Army called MREs (Meals Ready to Eat). Not the best food, but it was available and distributed at the local shopping centre for free.
Electricity, gas and heat services resumed after three weeks. With the Florida heat, most of us slept outside our houses with minimal clothes on our bodies. Everything came to a standstill.
BACK TO WORK AFTER THREE WEEKS
I was only able to return to work after three weeks. Fortunately we got paid. Those with insurance got paid while the Government provided soft loans via the SBA (Small Business Agency) to cater for damages.
During the Hurricane Ivan crisis, a Kenyan friend who was facing a rocky marriage went home one night and found it locked from inside by his American wife. No problem.
Their house was destroyed by a huge tree which fell on the roof and some of the branches were right inside the living room. They were waiting for the insurance company to come and assess the damage.
He climbed the fallen tree and descended into the living room via the branches, safely into the house. His wife was not impressed charged at him with a kitchen knife.
He grabbed his cell phone and called 911 giving details of his location as he run away half naked, dressed only in underwear. His wife grabbed his cell phone and threw it in the swimming pool.
HURRICANE KATRINA COME KNOCKING…
He ran towards the police station and managed to get two armed huge policemen to accompany him to the house. He was instructed to leave over his safety and was allowed to take his earthly belongings, which fitted in his car. The marriage came to a halt that night.
Around 3:00 am, he arrived at my house and called me using a friend’s cell phone. I did not recognise the number but took the call. What has made me laugh again and again to this day was how he framed his calamity.
He used to call me Njamba and reported it this way: “Njamba, I was hit by Hurricane Jane”. That confused me because I only knew of Hurricane Ivan. Then I remembered his wife’s name and opened the door. We spent the rest of the morning discussing the two Hurricanes, Ivan and Jane.
Later, Hurricane Katrina hit Florida and Pensacola again in 2005. It was time for me to leave Florida.
Now I live in Baltimore, Maryland. The weather and seasons here are not too bad and the Kenyan population is large enough to make you feel at home. I am from Murang’a and Baltimore is known as Murang’a Ndogo.
Kuria Mwangi is a Service Coordinator for individuals with Developmental Disability in Baltimore, Maryland