As a newbie to southern Florida in 1959, one of the first hurricane’s we got to experience was named Donna. Though I was very young, it was memorable.
It started actually several days before Donna hit land. At that time, the categories did not exist as they do now, nor did the exacting information on what was coming. We did know it was going to hit, mostly the Keys, and from there we were not too sure. We lived in the new community of Margate, so we were fairly certain our home would be safe. Having never been through a storm like this, my parents listened and did as much as they could to prepare.
The first thing was that anything not nailed down outside was brought in. Planters, lawn chairs, and yes, even garbage cans. Any empty container that could hold water was filled, including the bathtubs and sinks. Then Mom and Dad did a check on other supplies. Food, candles, sterno-stove and fuel, flashlights, batteries for the flashlights and radio. Making a list, my father took his car to fill it up, and Mom and I went shopping.
I had gone shopping with my mother many times, but this time it was surreal. People with multiple carts, just grabbing anything and everything they could get off the shelves. Really odd things to survive, even to my young mind. Why would you need 3 shopping carts full of Saran Wrap or Comet? People grabbing things right out of other people’s hands. One woman had a cart filling with ice cream. My mother got the things as best she could that we needed, and we left. It was wild not only in the store, but in the parking lot. Getting gas for her car was next, and we waited in line for almost 45 minutes. People yelling and telling others to hurry up. Bad words were flying. I started to cry, and my mother never took me on a pre-hurricane shopping trip again.
We got home, and Dad was putting masking tape in strips across the sliding glass doors. We unloaded the car, putting the ice into the ice chests. We had gotten several loaves of smashed up bread, peanut butter, jelly, fruit, chips that had been ground almost to a fine powder. It was very scary to see adults act like they did in the store. We listened to the television, something unheard of during the day in our home, to get instructions on what was to be done, and where the best idea of time and landfall would be.
We had a good hot dinner, and as we ate and cleaned up, the storms outside started. Lots of wind and rain. Nothing at that time that was too unusual for Florida. As Mom put me to bed, the storm raised a bit more. I did fall asleep. I kind of woke when my Dad came and opened the windows just a crack in my room by my bed. I asked what he was doing. Dad explained that the wind was coming from the other side, and would not come in my room, but that cracking open the windows on the opposite side of the house would keep the roof from blowing off the house. He gave me a kiss and said to go back to sleep. I rolled over, and tried.
There was a horrible smell, that I later grew to understand was the destruction of the plants, and the wind and rain hitting the house. After a while, I went out to the livingroom to look out the windows at the storm. It was both exciting and terrifying. I still remember the wind making the rain go perpendicular to the ground. I wondered where the water was going if it was moving like that. Everything outside was in greys. Darker grey was plants being whipped and torn, lighter fast-moving grey was water. The wind howled in an eerie manner, and the sound of the rain water and wind was a constant driving sound. I was totally enthralled. My mother caught me watching, and pulled me back from the jalose windows to sit and hold me in a large chair in the living room.
Then, all of a sudden, there was silence. Such a silence as I had not heard before. No wind, no rain. Just that terrible smell. Then I heard neighbors outside. My father said that it was not over, but we were in the eye, for me to try to go back to bed. He then closed my windows and cracked open the windows on the other side of the house. Somehow I got back to sleep again before the eye was over. When I woke, we were in a bad rain storm, but the hurricane was ebbing in our area. None of the electric worked for a couple of days, and we ate a lot of peanut butter for lunch. Mom kept the refrigerator and freezer as cold as possible, but as food melted, we ate it cooked on the sternostove.
Several days later, we went to Key West. I remember seeing boats inland, upside down, the remnants of what were buildings, some missing all but on partial wall. Trees and plants shredded and with root structures in the air. One building had a tree right through the boarded up window.
Over the next years, we would go through several hurricanes a year. Donna was our introduction. Betsy and Camille were our last ones. I never got to the place where I feared the hurricane too much, but never liked them either. The one thing I have always wondered, however. What happened to all the ice cream the one lady bought during Donna.