This year’s rain makes me think of the fall of 1999. That year, Hurricane Irene forced Gov. Jeb Bush to declare a state of emergency for the entire state much like Hurricane Irma has done this week and forced Gov. Rick Scott to do the same. Irene struck Florida as a Category 1 days after it developed on October 13, 1999.
I was writing for The Jacksonville Business Journal that year and, like writing for Clay Today, we scurried to develop a plan in the event the region took a direct hit. At the Business Journal, our paper hit the streets on Friday, here at Clay Today, we’re on the streets on Thursday, so the similarities are real, almost uncanny the more I think about them.
The main thing that’s different is the dynamic in my house. That year, 1999, our son was in kindergarten and Clay County District Schools had shut down that Wednesday – deadline day – as did Duval. One of our editors, Mary, had brought her two boys to the newsroom and I had my son Lochlin tagging along with me.
Mary is a take charge woman. One has to be in the editor’s role. She forcefully told her boys to go sit in a corner and read, so my son joined them.
We had discussions with the editor in chief about what to do with the computers and where other assets would be stored to move out of harm’s way.
Meanwhile, I plugged along writing my stories for deadline. It may have been an hour, it may have been 16 minutes, but before I knew it, Lochlin was running up to my cubicle crying. After I got him to slow down and breathe, he was able to tell me what was going on.
“Those two boys over there said, ‘We’re all gonna’ die’ Is that true, Dad?”
I tried to comfort him as best I could, as dark rain clouds hovered over the Jacksonville south bank. I got up from my chair, walked over to Mary and asked her kindly to control her two kids, who were four-to-six years older than our son.
They ended up apologizing and played together contentedly until we put the paper together and made an early deadline.
Fortunately, after the threat of Irene, life got back to normal in the newsroom and in Jacksonville.
I write this as thousands of families have been forced from their homes due to the damage from Hurricane Harvey. Our hearts go out to the people of Texas and Louisiana whose lives have been placed in disarray.
Nobody can foresee how something so devastating will impact their lives much less really plan for how to respond to a force that furious. When things got serious with Harvey, I called my oldest sister in the Houston suburb or Westbury and she pledged that she would be alright. Three days, she said she was fine. At that point, I told her to call me if she needed anything.
We reach out, we prepare, we do the best we can do.
This weekend, I hope to be in Northeast Georgia at my nephew’s wedding and celebrating a new chapter in his life with my family and others. Hurricane Irma may have some say in that decision. I pray otherwise.
We pray for the best and prepare for the worst, but regardless of what happens remember to slow down and breathe.