Surviving a Cyclone

“Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth.”

                                     from the poem “Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye

As I write this, I am waiting to hear that my daughter-in-law and my granddaughter are alive and safe. They have been smack dab in the middle of a Category 5 cyclone.  There is no power, phones or internet as the ferocious Cyclone Pam has ravaged her way through this South Pacific island nation.

Besides the worry for my own family, I am worried about the local Ni-Vanuatu people who have houses made of corrugated tin roofs.  They place rocks on top of the roofs to hold them down during high winds. With this magnitude of a storm, that’s like putting a pin on a stack of papers hoping the papers won’t blow away.

I remember my first real cyclone.  And cyclones, by the way are the same as typhoons or hurricanes.  Depends on what part of the world you reside in.  All are ferocious and many times catastrophic, like this one.  

It was February 1987.  We had only lived in Port Vila for about 9 months. My boys were little guys… Andrew was three and Rob was one. We had experienced a small cyclone the month before.

So when he heard a major cyclone was on its way, we thought, no problem. We’ve been through a cyclone.

We did little to prepare.  Because we didn’t know how severe it could be.  We brought in a few things from outside.

Stocked up on food.  And we waited.

At 6:00pm we heard a tree crack and fall over in our backyard  Hmmm.  I remember thinking, this could get a little scary.

At 11:00pm we were in full blown, raw, cyclone mode.  I remember the wind so fierce, banging against the sliding glass door. We had louvered glass shutters which supposedly allowed for air to pass through so there wouldn’t be too much air pressure built up and therefore the roof wouldn’t blow off.  That was the idea at least.

I shuddered every time there was a gust.  I held Rob close and Andrew was between the two of us.  The four of us hunkered down in bed. The boys, fortunately slept through the night & were oblivious to the danger around them.

I wondered what would happen if the roof came off. 

Would we all fit in the bathtub and cover ourselves up with a mattress? I thought, please can we  just live? I was bargaining with the gods…I’ll do anything I said to them. I don’t care if we loose everything, I just want my family to be safe.

After what seemed like an eternity, the sounds of winds went eerily quiet and we fell into exhausted sleep.  The next morning we awoke, we peered outside & in disbelief, were stunned to see that the roofs of houses all around us were gone. Ripped completely off. 

The first sound I heard was of hammering.  People beginning to rebuild.

As we drove through the town of Port Vila, it was like a bomb had detonated.  And yet the people we saw walking on the road, the same people that had just had their houses blown away, were smiling.  Smiling!  How can that be?  But they were. 

There were steel telephone poles bent down to the ground.  Fish were found on the third story of a bank.  Corrugated tin was everywhere which were lethal weapons during the cyclone, slicing anything in its path.

This was what my daughter-in-law was experiencing, this brave woman, 8 months pregnant with a 1 year old.  And her husband is in Australia working.  

Fortunately she is with Andrew & Rob’s father and his significant other, Alison.  They all were riding this out together in what seems to be a well built house.

This cyclone is worse so I worry and I wait.  What will become of the people who have flimsy houses.  What was their night like?

And so we wait…family, friends, we all are standing by to hear any tidbit of news. 

The waiting is hard but not like having to be in a total destruction.

Tonight my heart goes to the Ni-Vanuatu people who are homeless, missing relatives, traumatized, with loss of all their possessions.  There are reports that possibly whole villages have been wiped out and that 80% of residents have lost their homes. Many would have spent a terrifying night fighting for their lives. And many did not make it.

What I remember about the Ni-Vanuatu is that they are resilient. They will survive this, although it will be a major struggle.

Let’s send them prayers and healing thoughts.  If you wish to help out, you can donate here:

http://www.unicef.org.au/Donate/One-off-Donation/Cyclone-Pam-Vanuatu-Appeal.aspx

*UPDATE- I spoke to my daughter-in-law a few hours ago. They are fine and only lost part of their roof which covered their veranda. She said it was quite harrowing when trees fell on their roof but that they’re okay.  Our family is lucky.  I am a grateful woman today.

When have you had to wait to hear that loved ones were okay? When have you yourself been in danger and couldn’t get word to your family and friends?  What did you do?  Join the conversation below.

 

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Comments

  1. I have never experienced something like that, and I am grateful for that. I think it takes a lot of braveness. My husband gives the advise, take care of yourself FIRST, so you can help others. It is not an act of selfishness but an act of survival and then being able to help others. And that makes sense to me.

    • Jo Hatcher says:

      Ursula, that is great advice from your husband. So great to remember anytime to take care of yourself first. ~Jo

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