As I watched news coverage of a devastated Florida Panhandle and read remarkable stories of survival during the ferocious Hurricane Michael, I thought what I often think during extreme natural disasters: Why do they live there?
Not that I’m unsympathetic. I grieve for the lives lost and pray for those who came close to death.
But the team name of Hurricanes at the University of Miami is no coincidence. Florida is a place where hurricanes happen.
Sunday’s Los Angeles Times told four terrifying experiences in Mexico Beach, Fla., under the headline, “Oh my God, we’ve got to get out.”
One example: Bobby Baker, his wife and two dogs stayed behind in his parents’ house to take care of his 82-year-old grandfather, who is paralyzed from the waist down, and his 73-year-old mother.
A fishing boat crashed through the sliding-glass door.
Minutes later, an RV knocked out brick walls in the front.
His grandfather and mother were on a mattress in the living room as water filled the house and lifted the mattress to the ceiling. Bobby propped grandpa on the door, then pushed him 3 feet under water and down a corridor until they could escape the torrent. Mom and the dogs were also rescued.
Then I think of my family.
Generations of mother’s side of the family lived in Oklahoma since the Chickasaws were forced to move there in the 1800s. The Folmers arrived in Tornado Alley in the early 1900s.
A favorite family story is about Uncle Harold, my matriarchal grandmother’s brother.
He was out mending fences when he saw the tornado coming.
He quickly dug a hole with his shovel, pounded a screwdriver into the dirt and hung on for dear life.
When the storm passed, the family came running out to check on him. The tornado had taken the shovel.
“Would you look at that?” said Uncle Sam, another brother. “Harold dug this hole with a screwdriver!”
Then I think about Highland, which endured massive fires to the east and west and unhealthy air for weeks this summer.
I recall the 2010 flood that wiped out the old Boulder Avenue Bridge and damaged 75 homes.
And I think about Thursday’s Great California ShakeOut, an annual reminder that Highland sits smack dab on the San Andreas Fault, where the Pacific and North American tectonic plates meet.
It has the potential of an 8.2 magnitude earthquake.
Tell me again: Why do we live here?