Call this the "winds of October": watching as a storm moves across the Atlantic, then into the Caribbean, reaching fierce power and soon a course that could take it to where you live: the north-central coast of Florida, halfway between Daytona Beach and St. Augustine, as Fox shows in one of the graphics below.
And so it was last week: though our county has not experienced a direct hit from a hurricane coming directly from the ocean in recorded history (its experiences were mainly brushes with ones that made landfall many miles to the south), as the storm approached, that possibility threatened to become a reality -- and this was a storm, a cyclone, that at one point, south of Haiti (where one radar image of it would totally resembled a demonic jack-o-lantern skull), had reached the highest category, a "five."
I knew very well what fives could do, having traveled twenty years ago to survey the damage from Hurricane Andrew -- which turned entire communities to bare cement pads where houses had stood -- and interviewing officials at the National Hurricane Center, including one who nearly died with his son in their home at the storm's peak, and others who survived it. One man described watching one of those heavy metal tool boxes that stretch across the back of a pickup trucks whirling in the air. Another saw a storage shed doing the same rotation.
I also had closely surveyed the damage by Hurricane Katrina, and had read much about Hurricane Camille. These were tremendous weather events, and now, though it soon dropped back to a "four" -- bad enough -- the storm continued to move our way.
We have long had copious supplies in our home (food, water, flashlights -- a real laundry list, even a well with hand pump and water purification devices), but I decided to shutter and find "high ground" -- a place nearby likely to have electricity, so I could work.
Before leaving, many, many prayers were said and not a little Holy Water spent; every room was prayed over, as well the entire property.
As we finished shuttering and prepared to leave, news came that the storm was expected to land somewhere between Cape Canaveral and Daytona, then chain-saw its way up to us: a direct hit. And there were concerns it would reach "five" status.
In the end, the eye stayed just offshore, and our town incurred what amounted to mostly very strong tropical-storm conditions, with periods of hurricane force. There was no massive devastation. There was some spectacular destruction along the beaches, and flooding up in St. Augustine -- where the oldest Marian shrine in the U.S. has the world's tallest free-standing Cross.
Many were praying, for sure. And to good effect. There were trees down, including two pines that fell right next to our property, one of them coming within several inches of our mailbox, but not touching it, as nothing else really touched the property, not even a screen enclosure that's surrounded by vegetation and an oak that lost two huge limbs.
The winds whip first one way, then slam in another. They blow where they may. In the future, there will be greater tempests.
Though our county bore the brunt of "Matthew," there was certainly that sense of a wall, a bubble of protection.
Thank God for that. Thank you, Blessed Mother. And Saint Joseph, Padre Pio, Saint Michael, Saint Raphael, Saint Gabriel, the souls of the departed.
It's not a story that tells too well; it was the feeling upon returning home and seeing a bit of mayhem all around but your property, at least this time, behind the shield of Grace. There was just this sense about this storm and all else happening in America and the world at this tempestuous time.
Meanwhile, St. Augustine flooded, yes, including the cathedral. I'm not sure yet how much destruction there is at the shrine.
But it has been a light in darkness and weathered storms before (hurricanes have hit that city directly, through the centuries), and the Cross, high as ever, still stands.
--M. H. Brown
[resources: A Life of Blessings]