With hurricanes such as Harvey, Irma and Maria, the season’s in full swing. As destructive as they are, few compare to Hazel. That’s because no one was quite ready for Hazel. The National Weather Service began giving hurricanes names in 1953 and preparations were unlike today’s.
Hazel was the first killer storm with a female name and, as a child, I lived through it. In so many ways, it was from Hazel that we learned how to keep ourselves safe during killer storms. And learn we did.
With 150 mph winds, the category 4 hurricane made landfall near Calabash, NC., moved west to the Appalachians and then turned north, leaving a path of destruction through the heart of the eastern states and straight into Canada where it entered as a tropical storm.
There was no prejudice with Hazel. She cared not whose lives she took, their ages or status in life. She took them one and all. Nasty hurricanes, cyclones, tornadoes and their ilk are like that. Before hitting the mainland, Hazel had already taken an estimated 1,000 lives in Haiti. Once it landed, 95 more lost their lives in America and another 81 in Canada.
I remember Hazel as if it were yesterday. We lived on a farm in southeastern Pennsylvania about five miles north of the Mason-Dixon Line when she struck. Aware of hurricanes, but having never lived through any, we were naïve as to their strength and the destruction they could create. No one ever expected what had happened and that in itself may have been the reason so many suffered.
I was an eighth grader at St. Mary’s. When the nuns left us out early, we kids were in our glory. It was Friday, Oct. 15, 1954. Dad picked us up early. The rain had just started. But by the time we arrived home, it was falling at a good clip and the winds were blowing harder than Dad would have liked. As the night wore on, the storm increased, both in rain and wind strength. With the eye passing over Gettysburg, we were in the top and bottom right quadrants; the most severe parts of the storm.
There was little mom or dad could say or do to alleviate our concerns, other than to pray that everything would be okay. Still, we feared for our safety. The nearest neighbor was a quarter of a mile away and the telephone and power lines were already down. The only consolation we could find in this whole mess was that if it continued, there would be no school on Monday.
Outside my our bedroom window stood a 200 year old stately maple. Wind gusts reaching 100 mph threatened the huge tree. With each gust we were convinced it would come crashing down while we slept. What we didn’t realize was that we were on the leeward side. Our sisters’ bedroom was windward. Had we known that, we may have been tempted to cheer with each gust.
As it had for all the years before, the stately maple withstood the force of Hazel. But just thirty feet away a giant pear tree, one Mom used to make her pear butter and jams, failed to survive. Sometime in the middle of the night, while us kids shook with fear over the maple tree, the pear tree came crashing down across the lane. Realizing there’d be no more pear butter, Mom was fit to be tied.
School resumed Monday, but much to our delight we couldn’t make it. The storm moved on but the blocked roads weren’t cleared until Wednesday. Needless to say, when we did get back to school, each kid relished in tales of how they escaped the wrath of Hazel. And each time the story was told, it grew dramatically. For quite a while, we kids were the most popular in school. And all because of Hazel.
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