Once there was another Isaac’s storm

Published 11:52 am Tuesday, October 9, 2012

FISHTRAP HOLLOW — A hummingbird was buzzing the lantana’s breakfast bar, and the yard is clipped and the critters fed. It was hard to believe a storm was coming.

The Gulf Coast, once again, was taking it on the chin, and my thoughts were there, not here, eight hours north. I was hunkering down with Jeanette and Johnelle in Henderson, La., sitting in the dark with the boys at Iggy’s bar in New Orleans, evacuating Pascagoula, Miss., and its flooding with Jo Grierson. I have all of those friends on my mind, at least.

No region is without its weather risks, but, for some reason, a hurricane captures my imagination more than wildfires or tornados or earthquakes. Hurricanes are both deadly and majestic. As Carl Sandburg wrote of the sea: It is the face of a rough mother speaking.

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Hanging on my wall is a Winslow Homer print of a wicked storm, and it is terrifyingly beautiful. Painters paint stormy seas, not tornado wreckage.

And somewhere on my iPod is the clever James McMurtry song “Hurricane Party.” Hurricanes both horrify and inspire us.

This one, of course, had the name Isaac, which made me think of the book “Isaac’s Storm,” Erik Larson’s brilliant recounting of the 1900 Galveston hurricane and the chief Texas weatherman at the time, Isaac Cline. Let’s just say, Isaac was only human.

Hurricane Katrina made us think no progress had been made in death prevention during natural disasters. It, in fact, was a natural disaster that had a lot of unnatural response. But then you consider Galveston. Some 8,000 men, women and children died in that Isaac’s storm, half that many in Katrina.

That statistic, of course, is not impressive at all if you consider the century-plus time lapse. No doubt things should have gone differently during Katrina. And if six people die — the toll at this writing — in Hurricane Isaac, that’s six too many. Every storm is someone’s Katrina, a wise official said.

The seven years since Katrina have been an uphill climb for the people who survived it. Baby steps have been taken toward recovery. Amongst the vacant lots new construction sprouts, and there are once again restaurants and bars and stores.

The libraries are new in Biloxi and Pass Christian on the Mississippi Coast. I sat in their gleaming facilities not long ago and was impressed. Towns that rebuild libraries have my admiration.

And the repairs at private residences are slowly but surely rebuilding the Coast.

One Gulfport man interviewed on the Weather Channel was just finishing up the extensive remodeling Katrina had dictated. With Isaac’s approach, he had to pause to nail up plywood over new windows.

And yet he was philosophical, the way folks on the coast are wont to be. “It’s just part of living here,” he said, and with a shrug, he put another nail in the plywood.

Jacques Cousteau may have said it best: The greatest resource of the ocean is not material but the boundless spring of inspiration and well-being we gain from her.

For everything, there is a cost.

(To find out more about Rheta Grimsley Johnson and her books, visit www.rhetagrimsleyjohnsonbooks.com.)