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When Florence Came…

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It was just me and the kids against the fury of Florence – a category 4 hurricane hurtling towards the Carolinas. The models predicted that it was headed straight for us and was going to dump torrential rain and tear down trees with its catastrophic winds. I didn’t know what to do. I had never faced a hurricane before.

The last time we were hit by a natural disaster, I was in Chennai, when the city was hit by the worst flood ever in 100 years. We lost internet and cell phone coverage and didn’t have power for a day but we were never in any real danger. I didn’t have to worry about what to do if the flood waters entered the house because others were on top of it. I simply had to “follow” along.

Way back in 2009, when we were living in Boston, a freak ice storm in October crippled most of the state. It snowed and then the temperature rose above freezing point, at which point the snow thawed. Later that night, the temperature plunged to subzero turning the snow into ice. The naked trees with their brittle branches couldn’t take the weight of the snow and fell on top of the electric lines, leaving millions without power for days.

We woke up freezing, only to find out that the thermostat wasn’t working and there was no power. We had to leave. The house would soon turn into an igloo. We stayed at a hotel and then at a friend’s place (try keeping two toddlers cooped up in a pint-size room without toys) till the power was restored four days later. Again there was no threat to our lives or property. We were just a little inconvenienced.

In the five years we lived in Florida, we never once had to evacuate because of a hurricane or a tornado. Sandy didn’t hit us but went up north to wreak havoc in the Northeast.

Back in North Carolina, at our team meeting, everyone was talking about their hurricane plans. Some were leaving for western NC or Florida and some were staying put.

“I don’t know where to go,” I said, choking back tears. “Maybe I’ll call some cousins in Washington DC and see if I can go stay with them.”  I guess my worst fear was about making a bad decision that ended up hurting all of us.

I ended up calling my friend from college who also lives in Raleigh. She opened her home and hearth to me and the kids. She even offered to pick us up so my car can stay safely parked in the garage. My friend from work sensed the panic in my voice and showed up with a trunk full of hurricane essentials. She even got some cash for me, just in case I couldn’t make it to the bank.

All through the week friends and family called and texted to check on us. So many people prayed for us. It wasn’t just me and my kids against Florence. I wasn’t alone or afraid anymore. I was surrounded by an army of angels that I’m proud to call my friends. Two days before the hurricane hit, I saw a rainbow and knew it was a sign that we would be OK.

By Wednesday, the storm was downgraded to a category 2 and its path had changed drastically. It wasn’t coming straight at us. It was playing touch and go with the Carolina coast and then swerving around South Carolina on its way to western NC. I was relieved and decided to stay home and wait out the storm. The kids had Thursday and Friday off and we prepped for the storm. We bought bread, fruit, and cereal bars, filled containers with filtered water. Filled the bathtubs with water to flush the toilets in case the water was turned off.

Thursday came and went with rain and breezy conditions. On Friday the wind and rain picked up. I was afraid our young maple trees would topple but they survived the storm. On Friday evening we lost power. I cooked dinner (the gas wasn’t turned off, thankfully) while there was still light outside. My son cooked the frozen chicken and salmon burgers so we wouldn’t have to throw it out in case power was gone for more than a couple of hours.

We sat in the dark and listened intently to the radio for tornado alerts in our area. As I paced up and down, the kids reassured me that we would be OK and that we would get through this. I was really thankful for their maturity and level-headedness during the whole ordeal. They insisted that I play “anthakshari” with them to keep my mind off the hurricane. It’s a game played in India where teams sing songs that begin with the last letter of the song sung by their opponents.

My son took out his circuit board set and found a tiny bulb that he hooked up with a battery so we didn’t need to use candles. The power came back in a couple of hours and I was really thankful for that.

In the midst of all this, I had friends and family messaging and checking on me. On Monday, I had felt all alone in the world. But by Friday my heart was full, full of gratitude for the amazing people in my life. Some near, some far, some I hear from every week and some I haven’t heard from in years. But they all thought of me, prayed for me and it was nothing short of a miracle that not one hair on my head was harmed.

As I type these words my eyes are brimming with tears, not because I’m alone and afraid but because God sent so many angels to help me through the storm. Infinite love and gratitude to all of you.

Please remember that not everyone was spared by Florence. So many people have lost their homes, their loved ones, and everything they had. If you feel inspired to help these folks, please consider donating something toward hurricane relief efforts in NC and SC.

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