On the day I am beginning to write this story, we are getting our very first soaking rain here in the Sacramento valley. Summertime is officially over. I even heard thunder a few times, not a very common occurrence here in this area. While living in Ohio, like a lot of people, I had the opinion that everyone in California worried on a daily basis about earthquakes and fires gone rampant. Now that I’ve lived here in the Sacramento area for a dozen years and haven’t worried about either ever, I’m thinking perhaps this was a rumor started by Californians in an effort to try to keep down migration from other states. Like most people, I have though experienced a few episodes of dangerous weather.
While living in Ohio, I never had to hide in the basement from a tornado, though a few had touched down in trailer parks in nearby areas. While growing up as a kid, my mom seemed scared of them every summer, (or else it was her version of a scary campfire story). At any moment, I expected to be awakened in the middle of the night and carried into the bathroom where I would then be shoved into the laundry chute. The closest I came to being within a natural disaster occurrence I think was Hurricane Andrew in August of 1992.
We lived in Alexandria, Louisiana from late 1989 to late 1994. Early in 1992 I had moved out of an Accounting role and into Manufacturing. The role was called Site Business Planner, a Logistics role. In hindsight, this was a perfect fit for my skill set and preferences. To excel in the role a person needed to have strong analytical aptitude as well as the ability to perform risk assessments. Equally important was the need to find balance and sometimes drive compromises between multiple operating areas. So in other words, it was just like being a Dad, one who watches the long term finances for the family…that’d be me. I particularly loved the need to interact with multiple disciplines; Finance, Operations, Marketing, etc. That role was the most fun of any role I ever had at P&G.
The leader at any manufacturing plant is called the Plant Manager. It’s a very important role and at a company like P&G, it’s typically also used to prepare leaders for roles of even greater responsibility. The early 90’s were a time for lots of initiatives and progress. Business was good and our plant’s results were stellar. Andy, (the PM), wanted to take all of the managers to a plant that was much further along against a program called TQ (Total Quality). Unfortunately, the plant chosen was directly in the forecasted path of the hurricane through Florida so instead, we traveled further north to a Yamaha golf cart manufacturing plant in Georgia.
All of us had been watching the news on a daily basis. The hurricane was a category 4, (later assessed as a 5, wow), so not only were we concerned about our plant, but all of us also had families back in Louisiana. We decided to fly home a day early and because the storm would soon be hitting land in New Orleans, we flew into Shreveport which is in the north of the state. We then rented vehicles so that we could drive into Alexandria. It was a rather ominous feeling as we were the only vehicles driving southward; being passed by hundreds of cars traveling to the north, out of the storms direct path. People were flagging us down, telling us we were going the wrong way…sort of like Mr. Mom when he dropped off the kids at school for the first time.
When we arrived, we all went directly to the plant. Most of us had our cars there in the parking lot anyway, but we wanted to ensure any point of potential rain seepage was closed off and sand bagged. I had called Kim earlier in the day and asked her to buy duct tape to seal up all the windows, especially those in back facing the pool. She had also smartly let a few inches of water out of the pool before the bulk of the storm hit landfall.
I know I could look this up, but I like to recite all my stories from memory. My recollection was that Andrew turned into a tropical storm right before it made land down near New Orleans. The eye of the storm made a right turn, up into Mississippi, (I think). When a storm like that hits land though, the tracks of the winds and the rain are hundreds of miles wide. If you prefer facts, you can follow the link below to learn more about Andrew.
We stayed indoors all the following day, of course, looking out our glass patio doors, watching the winds whip all the trees and bushes around from our dining room.
We’d never seen winds so strong. All day long, we watched the tall bushes that bordered our back fence, bend almost at 90 degree angles at times. Limbs and debris were flying everywhere. Minus the witch riding the bicycle and the Munchkins, the day pretty much looked like the storm scene from The Wizard of Oz.
The pool overflowed, (of course), and we watched as the water line crept closer and closer to the house. Alexandria had a great drainage system. It had to, for Louisiana gets about 60 inches of rain every year. Even still, there aren’t many systems that can handle a dozen or more inches of rain in a 24 hour period. Our front yard was graded perfectly so there never was any worry there. The back yard however had a swimming pool and outside of the couple of drains in the yard, the yard was relatively flat. All things considered, other than making a giant pool out of our backyard, we held up great. It was scary couple of days, the water line got to within about six inches of our back patio door. We lost electricity and phone service for the greater part of the day but with the help of a dozen candles, we managed.
That was an experience one does not forget. When a person experiences any force that Mother Nature brings, it not only humbles you, it makes you appreciate this precious and fragile life. As I’m finishing this story, Hurricane Mathew is hurdling towards Florida and the Eastern Coast of the USA. I am hoping for zero deaths and minimal damage. If they’re lucky, the storm will dissipate as Andrew did for us in ’92, more than twenty years ago.