As a writer I get to live vicariously through my characters. I get swept up in their lives, sometimes cry for them, worry a bit, and cheer them on. I use the real-life things that have touched me or stories I hear from people around me. All in all, it makes for very interesting experiences.
In 2005 I listened to stories that my husband and some of his fellow DMAT team members told about what they had seen in the New Orleans area after Hurricane Katrina brought that city down. They had gone down there as part of a medical response team to try to help. My husband was there for six weeks. Hearing about the courage and resiliency of the survivors and their determination to rebuild was amazing.
When I wrote Hostage Heart my heroine was a young lady from Louisiana whose family was devastated by the “hurricanes”, even losing a beloved family matriarch to the flooding. I relied heavily on the stories from my husband and the tales my late grandmother always told me after living through several Florida hurricanes, and I hoped it gave me a feeling of authenticity that I could put into my story.
About a year ago in the north eastern community where I live in the Hudson Valley of New York, I personally lived through Superstorm Sandy, barely downgraded from a hurricane. What was most memorable, aside from the fierce winds, driving rain and sixteen foot waves crashing in from the river, was the fact that I was lucky to be part of the rescue efforts in my small town.
I was a part of a local volunteer ambulance corps and we had just moved into a brand new building. The town supervisor was looking for a place to host a shelter for the many residents who would be displaced by the rising water or who would need assistance due the high winds and loss of electricity. We had the room, we had a generator, and we were a relatively safe distance from the river. Just a few families evacuated before the full brunt of the storm hit (a little more than a year before Hurricane Irene hit another part of our county and left my town unscathed, people expected the same thing).
The town dispatched buses to aid evacuation as the storm grew stronger and it became more evident we were not going to escape nature’s wrath again. While other members of my family and several of my friends responded to the many ambulance calls and aided in rescues, I was one of those who manned the shelter, greeting evacuees, keeping records and offering comfort however I could. A few of our corps members were affected, one losing his home to the river, and others needing heat and electricity. Residents in the town were generous and gave many much needed donations of clothing and other goods.
One of the scenes I wrote into my latest novel, Karma Visited, came directly from the night that Superstorm Sandy ravished the waterfront communities in the county I live in.
We had stragglers arriving through the day, but when the first busloads of evacuees arrived I remember looking down the hallway to see a large mass of shocked faces, dripping clothing, frightened children and broken spirits moving towards the only salvation they could find that night – us. We accepted many family pets (preparations were made to keep them separately from the human evacuees), but I remember seeing this young girl holding her beloved pussycat. The cats paws were literally wrapped around his owner’s neck. I don’t know who looked more scared. These are the two images that remain in my mind. The shelter was open for a week. By then many of the evacuees were either able to return home or had made arrangements with family; a few who lost their homes and possessions were put into a longer term facility where they could live, go to work and school, while trying to rebuild.
Although I spent the bulk of that week in the shelter, it was to care for those who managed to find some modicum of comfort, some who literally watched their homes floating into the river, others who needed warmth and electricity in a powerless community, and some who thought they were safe until trees crashed through their roof. My own family was relatively unscathed – a few trees fell on the property missing the house and doing minimal damage otherwise. We left our pussycats home after assuring their safety and arranging visits home to feed them – they managed without lights and the TV. At the end of the week we came home, cleaned up the debris, threw out some spoiled milk, and finally allowed everything we had seen and done to take hold of our emotions.
One year later, I still see areas in the region that need rebuilding, I hear of families still trying to start over. Here at home I see a community that has survived. Every day I pray for the people who still need our help and support fundraising efforts in the community.
One year has passed, one year… I feel very blessed to have been a part of the recovery and very, very blessed that my family seemed buffered through the storm.
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