On September 15, 2004, Hurricane Ivan one of the worst natural catastrophes ever recorded in the United States of America hit the Gulf Coast with a vengeance. In its wake, it left massive destruction in the Gulf Shores, about twenty-four direct deaths and thirty-two indirect deaths in the United States of America alone (Stewart 5). It destroyed a massive number of homes and buildings resulting in a huge loss worth in USD billions in Alabama alone. The disaster disrupted our lives completely.
When the hurricane befell the Gulf Shores, my friend Isaac and I took shelter in a special needs shelter that had been set up in our neighborhood. I remember the week before we had woken amid Hurricane Ivan’s tragic news of its aftermath in the Caribbean. At the moment, the evacuation process was underway in some of the counties in Alabama State. In the Gulf Shores, animals from Alabama Gulf Shore Zoo were also being evacuated. I tried hard to block much of the trepidation and confusion I felt. I thought of the previous week and how Isaac had surprised me with my favorite Mango Meringue cake for my birthday. I thought of how my grandparents and my friends had joined in later to wish me a happy thirtieth birthday.
Desperately clinging on the good memories that I had of the earlier days kept me less scared of the thoughts of being completely separated from my loved ones. The thoughts of not knowing what would happen to them were more threatening and stressful than what the imminent catastrophe represented in my mind (Mawson 95).
We were more than five hundred persons in the shelter at the time. Some of the other people who took refuge in the shelter were patients, children, and medics from the shelter. This group of selfless staff took up the responsibility of providing medical service to all of us as well as coordinating survival activities that took place in the shelter.
Immediately we settled in we faced a major food crisis due to the large population in the shelter. Subsequently, the strong adults in the population were organized into small groups and sent to collect food and other necessities from nearby vacated institutions.
After we had enough and the doors were securely locked, Isaac and I took part in securing all entries with some heavy metallic items that we found around. This was supposed to protect the doors from breaking once we were hit. Once we made sure that all the entries were well secured, we joined the group of volunteers who were busy passing additional blankets to the sick and the elderly among us. At this moment I remember both the children and the adults looked apprehensive of the uncertainty that faced us. As a matter of fact, helping in these trivial ways was the only thing that kept me sane and hopeful enough amid the glaring disaster.
We anxiously waited for disaster to strike. On the early morning of 15 September 2004, the State of Alabama became a center of the strike zone. I heard a very loud bang that left most of the children screaming to the top of their voices. I was scared that the tornado would set the doors flying in all directions and kill us. I could tell that Isaac was also apprehensive. I guess the true definition of fear is the apprehension of the uncertain. We held on together and somehow I knew there were strength and courage in masses.
In the midst of this darkness, there was a glimmer of light. I experienced the infinite hope that was inspired by the boundless magnanimity of strangers that stepped up and volunteered to save lives. In the middle of a traumatizing life-threatening disaster, we managed to work together to create our own small paradise.
After the storm, we went back home to face the backwash of the Hurricane Ivan. Buildings, homes and major bridges in Gulf Shores laid in debris. Long pine trees scattered everywhere and we had no power for some time. I had awakened to a nightmare that haunted me for long. I remember seeing the building that housed our office in total ruins on our way home. At that moment we were unsure of our employment. Our shared apartment was also partially ruined on the roof.
What followed were experiences that I never thought I would ever have prior to this calamity. Isaac and I had to apply for aid in the form of food stamp. An application for disaster assistance was premised on the fact that we were no longer gainfully employed. However, qualifying for this program was a challenge in itself. The bureaucratic systems that had been set up to aid the needy in the wake of the hurricane dehumanized us due to lack of personnel training that led to the ineffective and less expedient distribution of assistance (Ritzer). It was very difficult for my friend and me to adjust to the new normal.
Amid all the confusion, there were major clean-up efforts in the Gulf Shores and other hit counties in Alabama. No one can deny the mayhem the tornado left and the optimistic behavior changes that we adopted as a community going forward (O’Brien 670).
Today the construction industry in the Gulf Shore has invested more in building solid infrastructures that have the ability to withstand wind and floods. Bridges in the area have been elevated as one of the hard lessons that were learned from the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan. Likewise, more comprehensive evacuation policy has been put in place.
In the aftermath of one of the greatest catastrophes ever recorded on earth, we learned to trust, care, sacrifice for each other and to always hope for the best. Somehow despite our suffering, we all became heroes by overcoming all adversities and rose together to rebuild our community through lessons that were bench marked by Hurricane Ivan.
Mawson, R. Anthony. “Understanding Mass Panic and Other Collective Responses to Disaster.” Psychiatry 68 (2005): 95-113.
O’Brien, K. “Global environment change II: From adaptation to deliberation transformation.” progress in Human Geography 36.5 (2011): 667-676.
Ritzer, George. “The McDonaldization of Society.” Ritzer, George. Thousand Oaks. Pine Forge Press, 2004.
Stewart, R. Stacy. “Hurricane Ivan Tropical Cyclone Report.” National Hurricane Centre (2005).