photograph by Matt Ray Photography

Surviving the Storm of a Lifetime … Again is featured in our December 2018 issue. This is part two of a four-part feature: The ApproachThe Aftermath, The Outlook.


 

the Landfall

 

After that afternoon, the wind begins to blow in great rushing gusts. We watch CNN for as long as the power holds out, then retire in darkness. Hurricane Florence is predicted to make landfall sometime after dawn, so we begin the night in our comfortable upstairs bedroom, but as the wind thrashes the windows and we begin to hear the rifle-shot bangs of pecans peppering the metal roof, we retreat to our safe room.

Daisy settles under the desk, and we spend a fitful, sleepless night listening to the roar of wind, the whump of great trees crashing down around the house. The world outside is alive with sound and fury. We doze at last and are awakened by an ominous quiet. We venture outside into a dull dawn, overhung by gunmetal clouds — we are in the eye of Hurricane Florence. It came ashore just a couple miles from our house, exactly as predicted. For once.

Great trees are down all over the front yard, the road. A dense confetti of shredded leaves litters the ground. We give the dog an outside break. Our neighbors appear, briefly, and then the wind kicks up and rain lashes us back inside.

We wait for the hurricane to pass — but Hurricane Florence refuses. Our only contact with the world outside is a battery-powered radio on which we get the low-power signal from the local NPR affiliate — running on a generator. Its staff has forted up in the station downtown with spouses and pets, and the on-air voice promises to “stay with [us] throughout the storm.” This matters — a lot. It is a reassurance that we’re not alone.

The rain is torrential, the wind scary. Hours pass. Then a whole day. Hurricane Florence is creeping southwest at just three miles per hour — slow walking pace.

We lie under Hurricane Florence for almost 70 hours. The hurricane comes at us in waves — a burst of wind, another tree down with a shuddering crash, a brief lull, then the smack of horizontal rain on windows and worse wind.

During one such blast of rain and wind, I peer out the front window and see a squirrel perched atop our built-in deck bench, its back to the furious din, the pecan tree swaying behind him, branches blowing past — as he methodically peels the green rind off a pecan and nibbles the nut inside.

Out front, our pear tree, its trunk a foot and a half thick, simply explodes — part of it splays across the only road into our neighborhood; another piece bangs hard against the roof of the music room, leaning there, branches spread across the lawn.

We play Scrabble; we listen to the radio. Hurricane Florence goes on and on. Each time we think the hurricane is done, we are jolted by thunder, terrified by great splashes of lightning, startled by the rough push of wind against the house. Friday night passes, then Saturday night. All day Sunday, the storm rages. On Monday, at last, Hurricane Florence seems to quit for good — then, as we try to start clearing the debris, it comes back for one last bash.

Read Surviving Hurricane Florence: The Aftermath

This story was published on

Gerard was the author of Our State’s Civil War series. He has published fiction and nonfiction in numerous other magazines, and is the author of two historical novels set in North Carolina. He currently teaches in the department of creative writing at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

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