My first full day here with Alejandra in Illinois was great. We went shopping for a few essentials, saw a few sites, and went out for dinner together, her treat. She says she’ll introduce me to the bar scene this weekend when there’s more going on. In the meantime, we just went home and spent an hour or two setting up my new room in what used to be her home office. She’s so sweet, moving her desk into her bedroom just so I could have a place to stay.
Anyway, back to the story of Hurricane Florence.
So there I was, staring out the window, when I remembered my prepper supplies. I ran to the closet, checked everything over, and considered my options.
I don’t know my neighbors in my building very well, but I decided to start with them. Most of them weren’t home because it was still early on a weeknight. But I did find four other people and share a few water bottles and small bandages for two of them.
Then I decided to check out the neighborhood.
Walking around in floodwater is a bad idea. You never know what might be in the water — raw sewage, jagged edges, needles, maybe even jellyfish washed in from the ocean. So as strange as this sounds to someone who’s never been there, I decided to use my raft to explore the neighborhood. I’d never used a self-inflating raft before, so it was surreal to watch it puff up so quickly. In just a few minutes, I was paddling my way down the street looking for survivors.
It’s funny how when disaster strikes, instinct kicks in. You learn more about who you really are. When I bought those supplies, I was buying them for myself. But once I knew I was fine, my first thought was to go out into the neighborhood and help people. My dad was a nurse and my mom was a community organizer, so maybe it’s in my blood.
I took my big first aid kit, some water, and some MREs with me on the raft. I saw a few groups of people starting to walk around in the floodwaters and warned them of the dangers. Then I met this cute older couple who seemed like tourists. They had no idea where they were going and the woman had a badly skinned knee. With her partner’s help, I carefully lifted the woman up into the raft with me and cleaned and bandaged her knee. The man wouldn’t fit in the raft, so he walked alongside us as I paddled toward the nearest hospital.
That’s how the first few hours after the storm went. I helped that couple to the hospital, helped a woman find her teenage boy who had been at a friend’s house, and gave out all the food and water that I had left with me. As it was getting dark, I decided it wasn’t safe to be outside anymore, so I headed back home.
The first night was surreal. I felt safe at first because I still had plenty of food and water. I also had fully charged phone and tablet thanks to my solar charger. If the phone or internet came back on, I’d be ready to talk to the outside world for as long as I wanted.
But then there were the screams. The screams bothered me the most. I heard a few crashing and breaking noises, like something falling over or maybe someone breaking into a building. No big deal. But every once in a while, I would hear someone in the distance yelling or screaming. I also heard gunfire — sometimes before the screams, sometimes after. And a few times, I heard motorboats nearby.
After a while, I boarded up the window as best as I could with foamboard and turned on the radio to hear the latest news. The announcer said that police, National Guard, and private contractors had been called in to maintain order. The water was high enough that you couldn’t drive, but low enough that an ambitious person could walk or swim through the streets, which was a bad combination for law enforcement. I’d had a busy day, so eventually, I fell asleep listening to the radio.
I woke up the next day to the sound of neighbors having an argument. It was already mid-morning, which was strange because I’m usually an early bird. As I ate breakfast and listened to the radio, I decided that if the situation wasn’t better by tomorrow, I’d leave town.
The afternoon and early evening of the second day were a lot like the first few hours of the first day. There were more people on the street, though, as people started looking for supplies, lost loved ones, and so on. I did some more patrolling on my raft and was pleased to see some police and paramedics on rafts and boats. I had heard about them on the radio, but this was the first time I saw them. As soon as they saw my raft, they asked me to help. I spent all day helping the paramedics transport injured people, medical personnel, and supplies from place to place. Then when it was dusk, they told me that there was a curfew and suggested I go home. At first, I kept volunteering because they were so short staffed and there was so much to do. But when it was fully dark out, I finally headed home.
I should have left sooner.
I was in sight of my apartment when I heard the buzz of the engine behind me. Suddenly, there was a floodlight pointed at me and a man speaking over a loud bullhorn.
“You are in violation of curfew. Put your hands up and step away from the vehicle.”
I sighed, raising my hands over my head. It was at that point that I realized his request was impossible. How could I get out of the raft without using my hands?
I started telling him as much, but he interrupted. “I said get out of the boat! Habla ingles? Vete de tu bote!”
I climbed awkwardly out of the raft, stepping into the filthy floodwaters that I had mostly avoided for the past day and a half. The floodlight and bullhorn voice were coming from a small motorboat with several men on it. I assume they were men, although I could barely see them even when I shielded my eyes from the floodlight. They were dressed in black from head to toe.
The man in charge proceeded to grill me. Why was I out after curfew? Where did a [blank] like me get a raft like that? At first, I was relieved when he told me to leave. But then as soon as I put my hand back on my raft, he shouted at me to step away and go home.
The man intended to steal my raft.
In a lot of ways, I guess I’ve lived a sheltered life. Because for a minute there, I actually started arguing with him. I reached to grab my supplies out of the boat.
Then he fired his weapon.
Thank God it was only a warning shot. But it was a warning shot with some sort of automatic rifle. I’m not a gun person, I don’t know what it was and couldn’t see it clearly behind the floodlights. But I heard several loud explosions from his direction and heard impacts on the wall a few yards behind me. I ducked for cover, dunking my whole body in the water for a moment as I covered myself and started scrambling and half-swimming away. The men on the boat laughed. I put as much distance between myself and them as possible. When I finally looked back, I saw them pulling my raft out of the water and speeding away.
Okay, this is getting longer than I meant it to be. I’ll have to leave off there for now. Time to get a late night snack, say goodnight to Alejandra if she’s still up, and go to sleep.