I have a hard enough time coming to terms with high school and college reunions but this date in history really threw me for a loop:
It was 20 years ago this week when Hurricane Bob touched down on Aquidneck Island.
I was a mere spring chick at the young age of 27 with a husband of only four years and our first child only a toddler. Our first home was a mobile home in Bay View Park on Connell Highway. It was the summer of 1991 and all was well with the world. That is until the skies turned a scary dark gray and we were all reminded that living on an island can be both beautiful and deadly at the same time.
According to the National Weather Service, Hurricane Bob made landfall over Newport, RI shortly before 2 p.m. on August 19, 1991 with sustained hurricane force winds between 75 and 100 mph.
In fact, it was the only hurricane to make landfall that season. It caused a storm surge of 5 to 8 feet with rainfall that measured from 3 to 6 inches. Bob was responsible for six deaths (all in Connecticut) and caused more than 680 million dollars in damage. That’s what we know now. But at the time, all I knew is that I was scared to death for myself, for my family and for my community.
After having survived this historic weather event, I was left with some lasting impressions:
When preparedness turns to reality. As a New Englander, hurricane tracking became a part of the late spring – throughout the summer – into the fall way of life. No matter how old you were, you expected the meteorologists on the 6 o’clock news to give you the weather outlook and the hurricane report from June to November. I remember a local station making tracking maps available to the public so that we could follow along. That was all well and good until late that summer, after thinking that we might have dodged the proverbial weather bullet. The reports were fast and ominous. Before we knew it, we were stocking up on water, batteries, dry goods and important documents. We were ready to leave at a moment’s notice.
What would happen with our home? The knots developed in my stomach with the first report and then, of course, the million and one questions. What will happen to our home? How will we clean up? Will there be anything left TO clean up? Will we be safe? Over and over the concerns for our future kept going through my mind like a never ending ticker tape. In my mind, we were still newlyweds with a new baby and a home that was likely to fly away like a scene from the Wizard of Oz. I can still feel those knots today as I think about it.
Evacuation became a reality. Then it happened—the dreaded evacuation announcement. As the winds began to escalate we heard the call to evacuate not only on the radio and on the television but by our very own Middletown Police with loudspeakers attached to their squad cars informing us and our neighbors that it was not safe to stay at home and giving us information as to where we could find safe shelter. We knew these guys personally (as you do in a small town such as ours) and the look of concern on their faces gave us cause to get a move on.
The calm before the storm. We were lucky to have family nearby, in a safer and higher part of town, to shelter in with. We did not have to take advantage of the shelters made available to us, but in the back of mind I wondered about those who did. It was scary enough to be away from your home and your things. It must have been even scarier to be in an institutional setting knowing that you might not have a home to go home to. This thought stills stays with me to this day post-Bob and post-Katrina. The calm really wasn’t as calm as the stillness in the air made it out to be.
And then Bob hit. Although, I tried not to show it, I was beside myself. All that we had worked for was likely to blow away to a pile of sticks. It felt like you couldn’t help but think of the worst as the skies were so dark, the announcements so threatening and the winds howling like a scene in a horror movie. I am usually a glass-half-full kind of a girl but this event really scared me. We just held on and held on to the desire to make fun of our meteorologists when it was all over, praying that they might have made much ado about nothing.
The aftermath. But they weren’t whistling Dixie. Bob hit and hit hard with entire trees down, some by their roots, electricity and phone service interrupted, water and millions of leaves everywhere. It looked like a war zone. Yet through it all, my only concern was for my little home; our first home to call our own. By the grace of all that is good, we drove into our little driveway to find that our home was still in tact. The skirting around the house was damaged; there were tree limbs to be cleared but all in all, we had survived Bob.
So many years later, I look upon that time in our lives and continue to be thankful that after spending more than half of my lifetime on this beautiful island, we are still safe and still here. And with every passing hurricane season we continue to be mindful of the power that Mother Nature holds with regard to weather.
We will continue to pay attention to its ebbs and flows and will always respect its strength.