This time it’s a hurricane called Florence, not Floyd.
It was September 17, 1999, when I encountered Hurricane Floyd, which slammed into Wilmington, North Carolina, like an errant freight train the size of New York.
My mother, who lived in nearby Hampstead, N.C., was scheduled to have surgery the day before the hurricane hit, and I was expected at her bedside. Besides, a hospital can be the safest place to be in a big blow.
Editors can be merciless, and mine at the time, Nigel Wade, was not going to miss the opportunity of covering the Category 4 hurricane with someone already there.
After 52 years in the news business, it seems like everything I cover these days I’ve covered before.
Now along comes Category 1 hurricane Florence with 83 mph gale force winds almost to the day 19 years after Hurricane Floyd slammed into Wilmington and ripped the fir trees out of her shallow sandy soil.
Here is what I wrote back in 1999.
“At 2 a.m. Thursday, Hurricane Floyd rapped on the hospital room wall like a sledgehammer.
“Black silhouettes of trees battling to stay upright danced across the drawn curtains of my mother’s room as the roar of Floyd sounded like a sustained thunderclap.
“At 3:30 a.m., Fearsome Floyd reached its crescendo, and my mother’s hospital bed was moved away from her window when a tornado passed nearby.
“If you touched the walls with your hand, you could feel them shudder. But the walls at the New Hanover Medical Center held throughout the pounding, although the electricity went off and backup generators had to be used.
“The result: The ice machine used on my mother’s leg went kaput, and fans were switched on in each hospital corridor to cut the heat in the midst of this tropical storm.
“When it was over, the corridors were filled with the shouts of children freed from their confinement in a special section of the hospital normally used by staff. They might as well have been singing “Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead” as rubber balls careened off walls and Beanie Babies littered the hallways. Soon, the macabre story about coffins oozing from the mud in an ancient cemetery in the middle of town had spread from floor to floor.
“The end was just the beginning. Floyd had left behind more water than any other hurricane in North Carolina. And thousands were left without power.
” ‘I’ve never seen rain like this in all my years in this neck of the woods,’ said Dr. James Hundley, my mother’s physician.
“Hundley, 57, was 13 years old when Hurricane Hazel ravaged the beach area of North Carolina in 1954. “Even then there wasn’t this much water as there is now.”
“En route to my mother’s home in Hampstead early Thursday morning, the hurricane’s unwanted visit is evident. Plastic flowers from Greenlawn Cemetery are blown across Shipyard Avenue; most of the movie titles have been ripped off the Cinema 6 Marquee on Oleander Avenue; the birds are missing; mounds of pine needles are the highway’s new median strips, and cherry pickers line the streets like sentries as they dismantle the giant broken pines.
“Even the ticky-tacky produce stand on Highway 17 has lost its strawberry sign.
“One road to my mother’s house is flooded; the other has caved in and has devolved into a mudslide. I get to her house on foot. The electricity is off; the food is rotting in the refrigerator. The cat is missing.
“But as I sit underneath a dripping ceiling in the Sloop City Amoco rest stop dictating this story, I am suddenly aware the sky is blue, the sun is shining, and Floyd has become a whisper once again.”
After that fearsome night, the sun did come out again and my mother lived another seven years, succumbing to a disease that claimed a body ravaged by Alzheimer’s.
I will never forget that night in the Wilmington hospital and how quietly my mother slept through it all. . . . although she was never the same after the surgery.
And I will never forget the sound roaring outside her hospital window while I slept on a mattress on the floor and experiencing one of the worst weapons Mother Nature has in her arsenal.