Column/Hurricane season blues

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 8, 2006

Last week, Florida and the East Coast experienced Tropical Storm Ernesto, and our nation commemorated the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

This week we’re keeping an eye on Tropical Storm Florence.

When a hurricane gets into the Gulf of Mexico, everyone who lives within 300 miles or so of the Coast – in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida or Alabama – all have the same agenda.

Email newsletter signup

We are watching the Weather Channel, waiting to see if the storm shifts or changes direction, gains strength or weakens.

There is really nothing more patriotic, in fact, than a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico.

We are suddenly united – one in our trips to Home Depot for plywood, and to Wal-Mart for bottled water and batteries for flashlights and radios.

We have became so united that I think sometimes our sense of self-preservation makes us a little insensitive to other countries facing the same natural foe.

This is an aspect of hurricane watching that has bothered me in recent years.

On more than one occasion, I’ve heard television newscasters, meteorologists or reporters express a near excitement at the prospect of a hurricane hitting another country.

Last week when reporting on Tropical Storm Ernesto when it was still in the Atlantic Ocean, one such newscaster suggested the best case scenario would be for the storm to “slow down over Cuba.”

Of course, that’s a better scenario for those of us in the United States, but it’s not that great for the people of Cuba.

Hurricane Katrina was a terrible natural disaster, no doubt. One of the worst in American history.

But how quickly we forget Hurricane Mitch, which killed 11,000 people in Honduras and Nicaragua in 1998. Another 8,000 people were reported missing.

I’m not saying I’d prefer the storms to make landfall in the U.S., but couldn’t we be a little more sympathetic to the plight of people who are generally less fortunate than we are in terms of the quality of their housing and shelters.

The comment about the storm slowing down over Cuba struck me as particularly cruel. Maybe because I’ve experienced a stalled hurricane, and it’s really not a lot of fun.

I was staying with my mother in her home on the Mobile Bay to ride out Hurricane Danny. (Don’t ask me why we stayed – this was 1997 – pre-Katrina). We woke up to high winds and heavy rain, but nothing that indicated what was in store.

The electricity was out, and we couldn’t get any news of where the hurricane was, so we called my brother in Texas. He told us Hurricane Danny was sitting at the mouth of the Mobile Bay, like a washing machine on spin cycle.

For seven or eight hours, the storm stalled, dumping more than 40 inches of rain in the area. When Danny finally did move, it went east into Baldwin County, where even more rain fell.

Keep in mind that this storm was not considered particularly threatening. It was a Category 1 hurricane. And we were fortunate. My mother and I watched the storm blow and even suck the water out of the bay, but with no real damage to her home. Many homes and businesses to the south of us were not so lucky.

I think about that when I hear about a storm going over a place like Cuba or Haiti. I consider what type of shelter is protecting the people there. Maybe newscasters should think about that, too.

Tammy Leytham is editor of The Selma Times-Journal.