How to Survive a Natural Disaster

Hurricane Andrew, 1992.

Twenty years ago, as I eagerly awaited the first day of school, there stood a category 3 hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean. This storm would go down as the most devastating storm in United States history (until Katrina). Every year we watched the summer storms batter the Caribbean; Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba and the Bahamas. Usually, by the time the storms reached the shores of South Florida, they would lose their strength and touch down as tropical storms or at worse, at category 1 hurricane. It is said that Miami sees nearly 100 thunderstorms a year, so we were used to lightening, heavy rains, rough winds and blackouts.

By the time I was twelve, I can say that I had survived at least six hurricanes. All of them had been quite disappointing until Andrew in 1992. Sure, a few trees would fall, some light flooding occurred and we’d be out of electricity for a few days, but that was to be expected. But Andrew changed Miami forever. The category 3 hurricane rocked Dade County, leaving over 100,000 homeless. People sought shelter and protection in their closets because their windows were blown out and their roofs were torn away, and when they came out, they could see endless destruction as far as their eyes could see. Residents had to spray paint their addresses on the street, because their homes were blown away.

A massive mango tree fell on my neighbor’s house, we heard the crack, the thud and the screams. Our kitchen door was ripped off of its hinges. My father chased after it into the storm and nailed it back into the threshold. We prayed that it would remain put until the storm ended. With winds running through the house over 100 miles per hour, it would have pushed our roof off. We were lucky. After eight hours of torrential rains and winds, I am blessed to say that we survived Andrew with minimal damage. A few damaged windows, some roof damage and worn-out kitchen door.

We were without electricity for two weeks. School was cancelled for at least three and we all had a new-found respect for mother nature.

Sandy reminds me a lot of Andrew. New Yorkers (in the boroughs) got a taste of what a hurricane might bring, but Irene was misleading. I’m not sure what preparations were made along the Jersey Shore, Lower Manhattan or some of the lower-lying coastal areas, but I don’t believe those communities were physically or mentally prepared for the kind of aftermath that comes with a storm of Sandy’s magnitude. You can never really be prepared for “the storm,” you can only learn.

I will never forget what Andrew did, therefore I have the utmost respect for mother nature. Aside from stocking up on batteries, non-perishables, and clean water, there was not a whole lot anyone could do to really prepare for Sandy. From here on out, it’s all about the aftermath. How will the people respond? How will the local government, state government and F.E.M.A. handle the situation?

Once again, I was lucky, I think one tree was actually uprooted on my block, in Morningside Heights. Others were not so fortunate. Lower Manhattan is underwater. Flooding has redrawn the New Jersey shoreline. Breezey Point (Queens) was devastated by an uncontrollable blaze, leaving over one hundred homes charred to the ground and hundreds of thousands are left in the dark, without electricity.

The text messages, facebook check-ins and phone calls started at 5 a.m. “We are fine, thanks for checking up on us,” I quickly replied. They called from Miami, the Midwest, Boston and even West Africa. I rolled out of bed, fixed myself a bowl of cereal and began to watch the local news. The images were breath-taking and the stories were heart-breaking. I cannot believe that all this mayhem and destruction occurred all within the a few miles from my doorstep.

So I have survived Andrew, Katrina and now Sandy, three of the most costly natural disasters in United States history. How did I do it?  With a little intuition and a whole lot of luck.

Hurricane Sandy, 2012.

39 thoughts on “How to Survive a Natural Disaster

    1. How to survive a disaster is to listen to the weather and get out do not return until the power is on and you can make cents of it.

  1. I think a lot of people do not respect mother nature and the fact that you do is a great thing. I don’t think we should ever understimate nother nature—she is way more powerful than any of us can imagine!….I also think you are right, that it’s hard to fully ever preprare for a storm on a city level, but the aftermath always serves as a learning lesson. I think New Orleans learned from Katrina and most likely New York / New Jersey will learn from Sandy.

  2. I was especially interested in your post, since my partner works in disaster response. She directed Habitat for Humanity’s response to the 2004 tsunami in Asia and to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

    We’ve moved a number of times over the past few years, as her work has taken us to the sites of natural disasters. Glad to know you’ve survived 3 of these storms. Having lived in Haiti following the earthquake, i know there’s a lot to be said for batteries, water, and non-perishable foods. We also used some solar lights in Haiti which were pretty good. And hand-cranked radios are also helpful in some instances.

    Congrats on Freshly Pressed. I was FP last week. Hang on for the ride.


  3. I think people tend to dismiss how powerful Mother Nature can be because it reminds us how not in control we really are.

    I live in Delaware, which was for a long time projected to be where Sandy made landfall, and I admit I had a very “whatever, I’ll believe it when I see it” attitude. I didn’t do much in the way of preparation beyond putting the grill in the garage. When I see the pictures of NJ and NYC, and know that could have been us had the storm hit a little farther south, it’s pretty sobering.

    Glad you’ve survived another one!

  4. It’s tough to be prepared for disasters, losses, unexpected deaths, life upheavals. It’s even tougher working through the aftermath, not just physically, but emotionally, as well. Sounds like you’ve learned much through each experience and have become strong and resilient.


  6. Thanks for sharing! I hope and Pray that things will return to functional asap, and especially the hurting and pains are endured with Faith. We all need to be looking towards God Almighty that we might recieve mercy as so many did. I am very sorrowful for those who lost people, I prayed and will continue to pray for the people affected directly and indirectly for patience and Love for themselves and each other.

    1. You are so right, Michael, about the need for strong faith to endure these times of adversities. Our lives our in His hands and so we are dependent upon Him, for His grace and mercy upon us.

  7. I remember my first earthquake after moving to California at the age of 7. My “expert” advice to my little sister, who shared a room with me was, “Michele, hang on!”

  8. I’m from Westchester County, so north of the city. My town is right on the Long Island Sound and most of the town is located below sea level. Every time we have a torrential downpour, the brook in the town floods the high school football field (happened the first week of my junior year of high school) and certain neighborhoods. My old house had a basement that would flood every single time it rained. Not much we could do about it. When Hurricane Bertha hit in 1996, we got about 3-4 inches of water, the swells swallowed up the entire beach, and there were trees down everywhere.

    I didn’t experience this one firsthand because I happen to be stuck in Boston right now. Amtrak and the MTA are shut down. 90% of my town is without power, including my house which sucks for my father and my sister. 3 huge trees came down, including one in front of our house which hit a still standing tree so it’s currently being supported at an angle. Roadways are blocked with downed wires… luckily my family and all my relatives are okay. And of course, the lovely Long Island Sound caused some flooding. However, like you said, there isn’t much you can do. Could we have cut down certain trees in the backyard? Sure! However who is to tell which one would be most likely to come down in a hurricane? I can’t even imagine Lower Manhattan or Atlantic City right now.

    Also here’s hoping we get no major blizzards this winter! I still remember blizzard of 96. I think school was cancelled for nearly a week!

  9. My heart and prayers go out to those who had to come up against Sandy and any other storms in the past. I just post about the Sandy Reminder. People lost so much, it really make one appreciate what we have in life.

  10. I happen to live in the line of fire, right there where Africa’s sprouts like to head first, but I don’t know if it’s that we’re in a new cycle, but lately storms reach our area rather disorganized and then turn to monsters when they reach the Bahamas. I have witnessed a few and last year Irene turned into a hurricane right above our island. I even noticed when her eye crossed right over my home, everything stopped and became quiet and some 10 minutes later the wind and rain started pounding again. Storms are a scary thing, they mustn’t be taken lightly.

  11. What an inspiring post! Unfortunately, being in a ‘modern age’ means sometimes we stop thinking about our surroundings and the dangers that lie outside of the internet and technology. There will always be one factor that is one step ahead of us – nature.

  12. Although we experience destructive tropical storms each year, we always do manage to bounce back. People need the strength of spirit to do so.

    But sometimes, the tenacity of spirit is not enough. A better disaster risk management is urgently needed. I hope all those affected by Sandy, including Cuba, will recover soon.


  13. Thanks for putting things in perspective and reminding people of the hope that there will be another day and things will get better. Living in the Midwest we have tornadoes that are completely unpredictable but nothing quite like Hurricanes that can go for hundreds of miles. Like you said, you can only learn and move forward!

  14. An impressive share! I have just forwarded this onto a
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    And he actually bought me lunch due to the fact that I
    stumbled upon it for him… lol. So let me reword this.
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