People From Around The World Who Survived Natural Disasters Share Their Stories

People From Around The World Who Survived Natural Disasters Share Their Stories

We're used to seeing coverage of floods, hurricanes, and other natural disasters on the news. But it's something altogether different to actually live through one. The people in these stories have nearly been swallowed up in flash floods in Central America, lost everything to wildfires in the prairies, and watched their neighbor's house fly past their window during a tornado. Luckily they lived to tell the tales of their harrowing experiences.

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36. Time to get out of dodge.

I just moved to the beach in South Carolina about 4 months ago. About 3 weeks after moving down, Hurricane Matthew was heading toward the state. Initially, I didn't plan on leaving, but the most astonishing part for me was that two days before the storm, the lines to get into gas stations were MILES long. Like, it took around 2 hours for people to get gas.

I decided to leave the next day, and the State Government decided to reverse both lanes of I-26. Nothing is freakier than seeing both lanes of the interstate going the same direction. Even though I didn't stay through the storm, just experiencing this made me feel like the situation was completely serious.

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35. Climb the hills to safety.

I lived through the the 7.8 Kaikoura Earthquake in November, though it ended up not being too bad for us.

It hit about 1 in the morning on a Monday, and I was grumpy because it woke me up. I tried going back to sleep, but it kept waking me up - like someone was roughly shaking me awake. The bed was getting thrown about - it felt like lying on a trampoline when someone else was jumping on it and there was a long low rumble.

We knew it was a really big one when, after scouring twitter, news sites and radio we decided to start walking towards the hills, at 1:30 am, with our tiny dog in our arms, because there was a tsunami coming. Tsunami sirens are not a happy sound. It ended up being 2 feet high though so we would have been fine.


34. All shook up.

I remember the Northridge earthquake. My stepfather's house was in woodland hills and the house was destroyed. They had a pool, with a slide. The stepsister was away for something, don't remember what. Her bedroom actually crashed into the pool slide. Her bed, her belongings, and everything fell right into the pool, from the second floor of the house. She's damn lucky she wasn't sleeping in that room when that earthquake happened.

I was in agoura hills at the time. Not quite as close to the epicenter but I remember when our dog woke us up. Our golden retriever was going absolutely nuts and next thing I know we were shaking violently. This was on the second floor and my mother was screaming at us kids to not run down the stairs.

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33. It hit without warning.

Tornado. Since our house was near train tracks and an airport, and it wasn't even tornado season, I didn't place the rumbling noise as something out of place. I was headed upstairs to the second story when it clicked. The resonance wasn't dissipating as a plane would, it was ominously steady. Another family member was there and I asked if they had heard a siren, which would alert everyone, then all the lights went out. We booked it down the stairs in the darkness as the noise droned on and things hit the house. We made it into the basement. The tornado touched down before and after our street, destroyed some businesses, rained glass and debris on our neighborhood, but spared the houses. We sat around without power the rest of the night while police rerouted cars from the highway down our street and back onto the highway, ton of people who must have come to gawk, but weren't allowed into the area. Turns out one of the first things the tornado sucked up was the city's tornado siren!

tornado-541911_1280-300x197.jpgImage by skeeze from Pixabay


32. Horror for the holidays.

2004 Christmas Tsunami, and I was staying in the Rasa Sayang/Golden Sands in Penang. The earthquake woke me up, while I had a massive hangover. Fine, I've been through earthquakes before, no problem. Go down to the beach front pool area, relaxing having a bloody mary and some food. Then people start moving towards the beach, so I go to have a look. There was a massive chunk taken out of the horizon. We just watched it. For like, 10 mins. The sea started to retract, and the fisherman boosted out to sea without saying anything. People uneasily moved away, but continued to watch. The moment I saw the speed the sea was coming back, I knew it was about to get real. I and everyone around me ran. A girl got caught, and her partner managed to snatch her back out. Reactions of a mongoose. It's only luck or a miracle for me, that our section of the beach happened to draw the full wave further down. I got back to the pool area, and turned to see the wave had begun to turn. It still made it to the pools though. The fishing village 200m down the beach was demolished. They were pulling bodies out of the water for the next couple of weeks.


31. A windfall of free time.

There was a massive windstorm in Western Washington in 2006. I remember the power died during the day, and we'd had a fire going. The winds progressively picked up as the night went on, and I tried to fall asleep but the wind sounds were just too intense. I remember a few particularly crazy gusts, when I thought the house was going to collapse, and the sound of trees falling. I'll never forget the cracking and popping sound of a massive doug fir that fell and crushed my neighbors truck, as well as most of his fence, a neighbors fence, and cutting the road off... When you get rain for several days straight, and hurricane force winds, trees become really scary. Unfortunately Washington is home to the 2nd tallest type of pine tree in the world, the Douglas Fir, along with basically every other tree you can imagine. Trees are everywhere here, I'm fairly confident in saying we have the highest tree density in the US... Power took days to restore, and the rain caused a fair amount of flooding. Not to mention, the falling trees and massive rainfall caused landslide warnings in my neighborhood in Seattle because of the hills.

But hey, school was cancelled. I think it was the first time the Seattle School District had shut down for something other than snow, if memory serves.


30. Grab the kids and run.

I was on the beach when the Boxing Day tsunami hit. Was sitting there talking with my brother when he noticed the bubbling water. He went 'that's not good.' We started packing our stuff up and were walking up the beach, I looked back and saw the water receding and just about died. Screamed 'RUN RUN NOW' while my brother (smartly) yelled 'TSUNAMI IS COMING RUN FOR YOUR LIVES' We started running as quick as we could. There was a women about 20 feet in front of us with three kids one in her arms. He grabbed one, I grabbed the other and the three of us just ran. We were lucky and got high enough but I'll never forget that sound. It was terrifying.

big-waves-crashing-3060266-300x200.jpgPhoto by Ree from Pexels

29. Lost at home.

My families experienced a tornado that ruined my hometown in 2008. Growing up in the midwest tornadoes aren't that uncommon and when bad weather rolls through you usually sit on the front porch and wait to see if you get lucky enough to see any action. Well that day we did get "lucky" enough. I remember even as the winds beared down on us and it felt like my brains were being sucked out of my ears by a freight train thinking there was no way a tornado was over on top of us.

It got real in stages like when we had to crawl out of the cooler over a flipped car that had replaced the former bar top and when we pulled seriously injured people out of rubble that used to be their houses. Directly after it was like something out of a war movie. Sirens were blaring, fires, injured people screaming under houses. Just general chaos.

I remember the most eerie thing of it all was when I was walking across town to my former house and got totally lost. I had lived there my entire life and with no land markers I had no idea where I was in my half mile walk home. The gravity of the situation really hit hard when that night when the town was to be evacuated my dad picked us up and it was showing on the news and he made a silly comment about how it, "must have been pretty bad, huh?" as we're sitting there shell shocked.


28. A relaxing beach vacation turns deadly.

Boxing Day Tsunami. I was on a beach on Koh Lanta, Thailand, with my family. The "Oh no" moment came when we realized that all the water that had receded since we got to the beach after breakfast now was coming back in, and fast. We didn't get very far up the hotel grounds before it came over us. I have a pretty scary memory picture of the first wave hitting the low brick wall separating the beach from the hotel grounds. The water shot straight up from hitting that, and there I was like 10 feet away looking at what felt like a wall of water 35 feet high. Seconds later it came over me, slammed me into a wall that caused me to black out for a few seconds and when I woke up I was pretty much body surfing the wave down one of the hotel ground trails scraping my upper body pretty badly. The scars are still clearly visible.

I have never been more frightened then when I gained control again and stood up only to realized I didn't see a single human being anywhere close to me. Not my family nor anyone else. The relief when I could hear my mother screaming my name was immense. Only one of us got badly hurt when a glass door from the bungalow; my brother's girlfriend was taking cover behind cut her legs pretty badly. She was close to losing it at one point due to a very sloppy first surgery at a local hospital (it was total and utter chaos there at this point) but they managed to fix it when she got to Bangkok.

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27. Give it the hose, it'll be fine.

Black Saturday. It was a huge bushfire that killed nearly two hundred people, injured four hundred and destroyed three thousand plus buildings including over two thousand homes, in Victoria, Australia in February 2009. Some of the people that died or were injured were people I knew or knew of.

We were a bit stupid; we'd moved from an area where bushfires were very rare and the yearly disaster of choice was floods. So we didn't really have a plan in case of bushfire - which, if you live in a fire-prone area, for the love of God make one. So we weren't listening to the radio, we weren't packed to go, we didn't have an escape plan.

The 'oh, this is real' moment was when I was standing on the top of a hill, overlooking the paddocks, the sky was black and orange and in the distance I could see this line of orange. And I went 'oh, that's pretty close.'

Then we just started hosing everything down, because it was too late to run. The fire got within five-ten minutes of us, my friend's property was partially burnt, went up to their shed before the wind changed.

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26. If it's the last thing you do...

San Francisco 1989 my boyfriend and I were in our apartment and we felt an earthquake. We are both native Californians and were not phased that all. We went and stood in the doorway and waited for it to stop.

But it just kept going and after a couple of seconds the power went out and the earthquake kept going. We realized this was not a normal quake and we looked at each other in fear. There was not much damage at our house because we were in Bernal Heights which is on bedrock.

Our neighbor went out to his car to listen to the radio and we could hear it. It said the Cyber structure had collapsed and I was very confused. I did not know much about computers at that time and I thought it was very strange that there was a cyber structure which was an actual physical thing that could collapse during an earthquake. Later I found out that this was the Cypress structure which was a freeway overpass.

When the earthquake started were watching the show Small Wonder which is about a little girl robot. It was a terrible terrible show and we were laughing at how stupid it was. As we were standing in the doorway scared that we might die I remember thinking if I die the last thing I will have done was watch that stupid plastic sitcom about a little girl robot. So I was glad I didn't die.


25. Cold side effects.

I was in Michigan during the Ice Storm of 2013. Most of my city went without power for a week, with some areas going as long as 12 days. I was without power for 9.

It's not unusual to lose power in Michigan (a lot of our power lines are old and need replacing), especially in winter. It was a Saturday night when power went out, so I just piled on extra blankets onto my bed and figured power would be back on in the morning. That exact thing had happened at least 10 times in the past to me that I can remember, and it's probably happened even more times than that and I just never realized it because I slept through it.

It wasn't until the next morning, when I woke up to a house that was about 50 degrees Fahrenheit inside and with no power on yet, that I realized it was getting real. I ended up having to use my fireplace for those 9 days and making a blanket-bed on the floor near it to keep from freezing. My pipes actually did freeze, and I had to slowly warm those up before I could use them. At the coldest, I think my kitchen (the farthest room from my fireplace) dropped down to just barely above freezing.

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24. Close call in Christchurch.

Valentine's day earthquake, Christchurch New Zealand 2016. I was visiting. Decided to go out by myself. Had a coffee at the mall. Finished it up. Things started shaking. I'd been in small earthquakes before so I was okay. Then it got worse. But I'm still thinking "how bad is this? Is this a 2 or a 7?"

The ground was moving up and down. I looked around and saw people getting under tables. That's when I went "oh crap" and jumped under a table. I've never been so terrified in my life.

I held onto the table leg while I jolted up and down. I cried hysterically as it got worse and worse. I didn't even have time to wonder if I would die because the fear was stopping thoughts. I just had feelings.

The worst part? When it stopped, everyone was gone. They had all evacuated the mall. I was left crying under a table. My partner called and told me to go outside. I did. And no one cared. I was terrified and they were all so normal because they were used to it. It shook me up a lot. I found the only other crying person and we stuck together.

Turns out it was a 5.7 and the building I was in had collapsed last time which is why everyone else left.

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23. Scared, but not scared away.

I was 3 days into a 20 day trek in Nepal when the 2015 earthquake happened.

I could feel my knees buckling like I was on a trampoline as it happened. Your body goes through a weird moment as it happens, like your legs are yelling to your brain " Brain, the ground is moving! DO SOMETHING" and your brain replies "Come on legs, the ground doesn't move like that, it's the GROUND" and since the two of them can't decide, they freeze and panic. It feels like you're imminently about to die.

Nobody fully knew the extent of the disaster until a week later, when we were acclimatizing to altitude in a small village. When the signal finally came in and the BBC came on, you could feel the air get sucked out of the room as everyone realized it was far worse than anyone had guessed.

I spent the next 3 months in the country afterwards (partly since the airline straight up cancelled my flight) and had some pretty wild experiences afterwards.

I saw the worst of, as well as the best and truest moments of humanity during that time. It messed me up for a while, but in the end it really proved to myself a lot about who I am and my own character. I had an incredible opportunity to help out, and that experience inspired me to pull out of trade school when I got home and refocus my life towards a career with NGO's and international aid.

That and going back to Nepal, those mountains are incredible.

Nepal-Earthquake-rubble-April-29-jpg-300x169.jpgClark Norton

22. Becoming a sob story.

Hurricane Sandy for me. I have so, so many stories to tell. That entire month felt like living in a recently-occupied war zone. And I was on Long Island, which, for those that don't know, is not only a coastal region, but a coastal region completely surrounded by water (the Atlantic to boot), and barely above sea level. You can imagine the results. It was  a time.

I knew it was horrible. I thought repeatedly the whole time that it was an act of God, punishing us or something, that's how bad it was. But what really got me was when I was sleeping on the cement floor in my basement (the rest of the house was cold as ice), and I turned on a battery-powered radio for some noise.

Every station was playing little infomercials about donations and relief efforts. About Sandy. Inspirational speeches with government officials. About Sandy. Heart-felt stories, interviews with survivors, the artificial voices of celebrities calling for the listener to have a soul, and help. All of this, usually accompanied by sad music (Home by Philip Philips is one I remember vividly). And at that moment, in the second week living in a leaking, powerless, heatless, hole-riddled house, on a ripped up street littered by fallen wires and tress, I understood that the rest of the country and a bit more actually pitied us. I'd never been pitied before. It felt bizarre. So I turned the radio off.

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21. Saved by man's best friend.

I was still living in Peru when the 2007 earthquake happened. It was late afternoon, and lazy 8 year old me was sleeping in the living room, when I was woken up by my dog barking at the shaking window next to me. Now, small quick tremors are fairly common in Peru, specially in the coastal regions, so I dismissed it and tried to calm my dog so I could fall asleep again. I had walked 4 steps from the couch to grab her, when the entire wall length window shattered in front of me, huge sharp chunks falling right into the couch I had been lying in just seconds ago.

Fully woken up, I could hear what sounded like a million car alarms ringing from the ground and see towers wobbling side to side. My parents were still at work, and I was alone in a 10th floor flat with a panicking dog running circles around me, so I don't know how I managed to get myself together. I lifted my giant English Cocker in my arms and ran into the emergency stairs, just ran and ran until I could see some street lights, since the damn building had no emergency lights and everything was dark. When I finally crossed the lobby's doors, I could see the pavement below me cracking and entire trees shaking from their roots up.

I stayed in the streets for about an hour until my parents arrived. I later learned I was the only person in our building that left, our neighbours took the elevators and got stuck, and those who didn't stayed inside praying for safety. It was a miracle none of them got injured, however, others were not so lucky.

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20. More than slightly rattled.

I was in the 2010 earthquake in chile (8.8) and I remember every single second of it.

It was like 3 am and I was trying to sleep, my dog was acting very strange but we thought that he was playing or something, few seconds later everything starts shaking, my mother starts screaming while she is standing in the doorframe, my grandparents are locked in their room and I just stood froze in shock, not because of the earthquake but because of the reaction of my mother, she was terrified.

I realized that my mother was more scared than I was, so I tried to calm her saying that everything was going to be fine (even though my first reaction was "holy crap we are going to die"), then suddenly everything is black, the whole house is without electricity and the earth keeps shaking more and more aggressively, 30 seconds later (it felt like an hour) the earthquake finally stops.

My grandparents were trying to get out of their bedroom while I was trying to calm my mother, my legs were shaking and my mind was numb, I just reacted to say "was that it?" to which my mother replied "I hope so".

Few hours later we are sitting in the living room with lanterns and flashlights everywhere listening to the radio, the whole city was without electricity and the south of the country was destroyed, tough week for chile.

Definetly the most frightening thing I experienced.

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19. It was really real, for real.

I live in the Gatlinburg, TN area. We recently had some devastating wildfires. The whole day, I kept telling myself everything was going to be fine. There's no way the fire can get from the Chimney Tops (local mountain peak and popular hiking trail) to downtown. I was underestimating the wind and how dry it was.

It got real very, very fast. I started hearing about fire that had spread to Twin Creeks and Cherokee Orchard. These areas are directly next to the city proper. But I'm a town over, so I should be safe. Then I heard fire trucks approaching my house, and we were told by the fire department that we had to leave. Oh crap, this real.

Videos started coming in of the mountains surrounding Gatlinburg. Everything was on fire. The city center was fine, but everything else was burning. It looked like magma flows on the mountains. Oh crap, this is REAL.

And then the news started talking about people trapped in a hotel by fire. My dad was in that hotel. Everyone made it out of the hotel, but it didn't look good for a while. It felt even more real the next day, when I heard that they had found three bodies. Then five. Then 10. They're still finding remains. I think last official count was 14. It will be higher.

When I saw National Guard helicopters and trucks, it felt a little more real. Now that I think about it, I still don't think it feels entirely real. Nothing like this has ever happened here.

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18. Leave town to avoid helping neighbors.

Been in a few hurricanes and two tornados.

First Tornado: didn't know any better. Was playing monopoly with family at my grandma's in an all glass room. We didn't notice until it was about over. The house behind us were all wrecked. We got really lucky.

Second tornado: Was driving to the Talladega spring race in college on spring break. The weather was really bad. I didn't know how bad until we stopped at Waffle House and they had a TV going telling everyone to stay off the roads.

Pre-Hurricane: It is almost always the same. Everyone is going everywhere. Getting gas (believe me, you want a full tank), Supplies, raiding groceries for food & booze, cleaning out pot dealers, and so forth. All this is happening on a clear sky hot day with a nice stiff wind that is welcome in the heat.

During the storm: Unless you are in the eye, it is pretty manageable. The problem is outside of the people getting the direct hit, you don't know where the eye is going to be. I'll use Isaac for example, I was in Baton Rouge and it was nothing. 40 miles south and it was a disaster. Same with Katrina, Baton Rouge didn't get it that bad.

After the storm: no a/c, it is miserably hot, and you are helping neighbors clear stuff off of the road. It is worth getting out of town just to avoid this. The nights are miserable.

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17. Blown away on holiday.

I was on holiday in Taipei when Typhoon Dujuan hit. We were told to be back at our hotels around 6pm when it was scheduled to hit and everyone seemed pretty chill about it. Anyway, we decided to not let this ruin our holiday, so we thought we would go out for a while and then head back to the hotel around 4pm. So it hits 4 and we're in an underground mall in the subway station that was about two stops away from our hotel. We planned to walk from the subway to the hotel as it was about a 20 minute walk.

Anyway, my "Oh no, this is real" moment was when we surfaced from the tube station and two of my friends (who were walking in front of me and my other friend) disappeared. When we got to the top of the steps we could see why. The typhoon had hit harder and earlier than expected. Our friends had essentially been blown out of the entrance of the tube station and were nowhere to be seen. We were quickly swept out but managed to grab hold of a nearby statue and get to the door of a nearby shopping centre, where security let us inside. We could see lamp posts swaying so much in the mind that we thought they were going to snap and stuff flying around everywhere. Cue a frantic bout of trying to contact my other friends.

Eventually we found them at another door of the shopping centre and managed to persuade the guard to let them in. We spent a while huddled together in the basement of the shopping centre with a bunch of other people until the fire brigade came and tied a rope between the entrance of the mall and the entrance of the subway and escorted us across it one-by-one. Never been so glad to get back to my hotel.

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16. The curtailed commute.

I was going to college in Wisconsin, working as a delivery driver/cashier in Northern Illinois during the blizzard of 2011. I had to drive to work the first day of it, which was normally a 25 minute drive. I left extra early because I knew it would be snowing a lot, but I was not prepared for that.

I had my "oh crap" moment pretty much as soon as I hit the highway I would take to commute. It was terrifying. It was snowing so hard you could barely see anything unless it was like a few feet in front of you. I have never white-knuckled my steering wheel so bad, I sweat my fingers were losing feeling because I was cutting off circulation.

A part of me felt like just going back and saying I couldn't come in, but I really needed the money and I was stupid so I decided to keep on going. That 25 minute drive ended up taking about an hour and a half and I was chain smoking cigarettes the entire time because I was so nervous and scared.

I finally get off my exit and start heading to the restaurant. Then I get a call from my boss telling me to hold on because they might not need a driver/cashier that night. I ended up going to Target and killing an hour there before I got another call back saying I didn't have to come in. My bosses always forgot I wasn't from that town so they forgot that I actually had to commute.

I was miffed, but there was nothing I could really do aside from head back home and hopefully get there before it started getting dark.

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15. Escape from the inferno.

I was part of an evacuation from a forest fire last May. My entire city of 90,000 were being told we needed to evacuate. My wife and I finished up at work and decided it was time to leave. The sky was a little dark and smoky, but we weren't too worried. If it was really dangerous they would have evacuated early. Right?

Well, we were travelling home to pick up some stuff, but the roads were packed. Everyone was trying to get somewhere. Then we started seeing water bombers fly over our heads. Then cars started jumping curbs and driving down sidewalks around us. We started hearing honking and yelling. Sirens began to wail as fire and police tried to get through.

That's when we saw the flames. They were shooting up from homes a block away, along with a nearby wooded area. It was huge. A wall of fire 50 feet tall shooting up out of a neighborhood. Engulfing everything around it covered in smoke and flame. Right in front of us were cars turning around and instantly stuck in gridlock traffic as the fire raged closer.

Luckily, the police took over quickly and directed all traffic in one direction away from the fire. A two way street quickly became a one way as everyone ran from the fire.

My wife and I safety escaped the city that day along with everyone else, but thousands of homes were lost, including our own. We never even got home to pack a single item. Everything was lost except the clothes on our backs..

firefighters-featured-300x150.jpgImage by David Mark from Pixabay


14. When the hail's that big, you better run.

I've been in 3 natural disasters on my life:

The first was in 1984, and I'm only 10 years old. I'm walking home from school in North Carolina when I start getting pelted by softball-sized hail. I'd been told in school that this was a sign of a major tornado, so I did what I'd been told and made myself the lowest thing in the area.

In all honesty I probably would've taken less damage of I'd just run to my house. Maybe not. It turns out that an F4 tornado had touched down just a few miles down the road. But I lay there, getting pelted until the storm passed, like I'd been told to do.

The second was in 1989. I was only 15 when Hurricane Hugo passed over my head.The power was out, no lights, no news, pre-internet. I'm up on the trunk of a tree that is currently on the roof of my house, operating a chainsaw for the first time in my life, trying to cut it loose to prevent further damage as the eye of the bloody hurricane passed over.

Thank you dad for making me do that.

This was the event that made me love having a natural gas stove. Even though power was out for days we were able to make hot coffee for the entire neighborhood, cook hot meals for the neighborhood, and have hot water for baths.

The last one was in 2000. I'm driving home to River Oaks, TX. I'm taking a right off of Belknap onto Jacksboro Hwy the sky turns yellow. If you don't know, this is a sign of SEVERE storm activity and/or a tornado. I floored it, getting home in just enough time to for the tornado to touch down.

Part of the Bank of America sign landed in our "yard". We were pretty much unable to leave our house for 3 days due to downed trees, damage to electrical lines, and blocked roads.

sky-3335585_1920-300x200.jpgImage by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

13. Razed to the ground.

Nothing too serious but this was the closest I've ever been. I was playing around on my Xbox while my wife played on her computer in the other room. It was a normal hot as balls midwestern July afternoon, but as cliche as it sounds, something just felt very wrong suddenly. I notice it seemed like it was too dark outside for as early as it was and it's eerily calm too.

I idly pulled out my phone to check the weather radar and confirm my suspicions. I'm alarmed to discover a classic hook echo near the leading edge of a severe supercell that's heading directly for our little town, ("hook echoes" are a strong indication of rotation within a thunderstorm). I'd seen quite a few severe storms over the years but I knew from what I could interpret from radar data that this one was likely different. I then hastily looked out our other apartment window to the Northwest and see the sky is almost jet black.

A few moments later the sirens go off we pack up our cats and haul them and us to a family member's house because the apartment complex doesn't have a real basement. It hadn't even reached us yet but just being outside in close proximity to this behemoth of a storm was otherworldly. The storm rumbled continuously, LOUD, broken only by other more pronounced cracks of thunder from lightning striking closer by, but it NEVER stopped. This electrical storm began to put on one hell of a light show as it drew nearer and the street lights began to come on at 5:00 in the afternoon.

When we eventually retreated to the basement all hell was breaking loose outside, I couldn't see much through the EGRESS windows but it sounded like a goddamn freight train was rolling through the neighborhood, for like an hour. We ended up being fairly lucky, overall damage was negligible, downed trees, broken windows and such. However, not even one mile to our north, a trailer park and a huge storage lot for tractor trailers was completely demolished, along with a few outbuildings.

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12. The damage is done.

I'm a reporter and I live in an area affected by Hurricane Matthew. The morning after the hurricane passed over our area (I'm in North Carolina), I was honestly feeling like it didn't live up to the hype. It was a bunch of rain and not much else. It was a mild inconvenience at best from my vantage point. Then I went to work.

While exploring the inner city and some areas affected by flash flooding, I saw a guy carrying chunks of carpet out of his house. I asked him what happened and he invited me inside. The first thing that hit me was the stench. Wet carpet and early onset of mold is not a pleasant mixture.

His house had gone from totally dry to knee-deep in water in an instant. His wife (who only had one leg) had to be taken to a shelter by fire truck. A small pump she'd been given by her doctor to administer some medicine she needed was ruined as well.

While he was giving me a tour of his house, his friends were dumping buckets of water into a trash can, then carrying it out to the street to empty. He told me that his landlord had insured the house, meaning it could be repaired, but everything inside, this dude's whole life, wasn't covered.

When we walked outside, I looked down the street and there were five or six more people just like him.

When the rivers here crested, they cut our county in half, meaning the only way to get to shelters and to do stories south of the river, we had to beg the national guard to give us rides on the back of deuce and a half's across the flooded highway.

I don't know that I'll ever forget the month of October 2016 as long as I live.

hurricane-irma-2857982_1920-300x200.jpgImage by Paul Brennan from Pixabay

11. A storm makes home unrecognizable.

The Joplin, Missouri tornado. Came out of my then brother in law's basement. Saw smoke above the trees. Saw a parade of emergency vehicles pass by from the city next door. Tried to call my family - no reception. Texted my mom "Hey, you guys didn't die in a tornado, did you?" No response.

Then, ten minutes later, FWAM. My phone starts lighting up with texts. With pictures. With news. I wanted to drive to my parents, maybe see what I could do to help, but my in laws insisted we stay with them. They didn't want us anywhere near the damage. My sisters, who were closer to the area where it hit, went out looking for people until emergency crews came on the scene. The stuff they were texting - they dug out some seriously damaged people. Some dead people. My dad called a few hours later - told me he was called to work to assess damage at his plant, and to hunt for some missing guys. He found them - drowned in a pipe outside, caught by the weather.

All of this, ALL of it, seemed unreal. Like it wasn't really happening. It wasn't until the next day, when my in laws finally relented and let my then husband and I go into town so I could see my folks, that the reality smacked me. The was unreal. A town I graduated high school and college in, just ... split in two, the center a jumble of lumber and debris. It looked like a flattened garbage dump. Every landmark, gone. And then there was the bizarre sights, the things that showed how strong the winds were - metal siding wrapped around poles, semi trucks at a trucking facility knocked over like dominoes on one side of the lot, and on the other tossed around like it was thrown from a kid's toy chest. Cars on top of other cars. Debris jammed through surviving walls. An apartment building that looked like someone took a knife to it and sliced it in half.

THAT is what made it real. And even now, though I have the memories, and I can see pictures online, and the streets look vastly different from before the storm, it still doesn't seem quite like it happened. That amount of damage is just...I think the brain sort of keeps you from taking it all in when it's a place you called home.

tornado-1650683_1920-300x225.jpgImage by skeeze from Pixabay

10. Sounds like the end of the world.

Hurricane Ike, in Galveston and Houston in September 2008. The Wikipedia page actually downplays its devastation. I lived off of I45, which the eye of the hurricane followed very closely.

When the eye hit us, I took a smoke break from trying to sop up rain that was blowing in through the cracks of the windows and doors (not large cracks, just very strong wind). In the eye of the storm it was eerily quiet compared to the howling winds that had blown down every neighborhood fence. I knew that my smoke break was over, and the eye was nearly passed, when I saw a 30ft tall tree coming down the road towards me, roots dragging the ground...

I lived with a cop at the time, and had several friends who were EMS and firefighters. Despite the media blackouts, they told me, for two weeks afterwards they were pulling 50-100 bodies out of the water everyday around Galveston island.

Where I lived at the time, power was out for three weeks after. Gas stations were dry. Grocery stores were rationing, and only letting in a dozen or so people at a time. An illegal curfew was implemented. Cops would pull you over just for being on the road.

My cop roommate had left me with a shotgun to protect the house while he was on duty during the storm and the day after. Three guys broke into my neighbor's backyard and ours (the fences were blown down) and tried to steal the neighbor's generator, and smashed the back window to our house. I ended up firing at and hitting one of them. But they all got away. Supposedly there were riots in some places.

I realize we were lucky where we were at. Whole neighborhoods had been wiped clean from the face of the Earth, you could hardly tell they were ever there at all.

I was born during hurricane Alecia, took my drivers test during Allison, evacuated for Rita, survived Ike, and now I don't live on the coast!

key-west-86025_1920-300x199.jpgImage by David Mark from Pixabay

9. Almost fun for a kid.

I was about 8 years old and my brother and I were outside playing. It was a slightly overcast mid-summer day when suddenly the sky got very dark and everything felt "still". The sky sort of looked inside out kind of, but I can't properly describe how eerie it was to my 8 year old self.

I remember looking over at my brother who was standing there staring at the sky kind of stunned at the sudden change and then realizing that I could hear my mom yelling. I looked back and she was running towards us and screaming for us to come inside.

Once inside my mom had us hide under the big oak table we had in the dining room (we didn't have a storm shelter) and to keep us calm she put on our favorite record which was one of those fun little compilations of Halloween songs (one eyed, one horned, purple people eater, witchy woman, love potion #9, etc) that had bright and cartoonish cover art.

After that I just remember the constant rumbling roaring noise from the tornado that seemed to drown out all other sounds and watching debris and the aforementioned roof flying past our big front window and thinking I was going to die. The roof has really stuck with me over the years because it flew by kind of tilted sideways and I could see the individual tiles flapping in the wind as it went past in seemingly slow motion.

And then, just as suddenly as it had arrived, it was gone and we could hear "werewolves of london" song coming from the record player.

We went outside and the houses on either side of ours were completely destroyed as well as the giant willow tree in our front yard which had twisted so far that it had cracked all along it's trunk and half the branches were tore off.

tornado-599805_1920-e1577128627777-300x229.jpgImage by skeeze from Pixabay

8. Sucked into an underwater vortex.

I almost died in a flash flood in 2010 while I was living in Central America. I was walking along a dirt road alone at night (dumb, I know, I was 18 and didn't know any better) and it was raining pretty bad, but the water was only up to my ankles so I thought I was fine. Within 5 minutes it had risen above my knees. I waded straight into a current and literally had my legs swept out from under me and was completely underwater before I could realize what had happened.

Well, turns out the current was caused by a huge concrete drainage pipe that went straight underground and didn't let out until the ocean about 200m away, and I was getting sucked straight into it. By some small miracle my face hit the edge of the pipe as I was being pulled through and I guess I managed to somehow grab the edge of it with my hand just before I went in, honestly I'm not entirely sure how as my memory of this part is a bit blocked out. Anyway, in some weird state of adrenaline-fueled strength I pulled myself out and found my way to higher ground. I hung onto a fence and I think it was then that I was hit with this realization of "I am going to die here". If the rising water didn't get me, I had a pretty good chance of a croc from the adjacent river finding me sooner or later. But I was barely conscious and pretty much just gave up and sat there waiting for whatever was gonna happen.

Thankfully, a local boy from a house nearby spotted me a few minutes (maybe?) later and carried me into his family's home. They put me into someone's bed and I passed out pretty much immediately, woke up a few hours later totally covered in mud and my feet and legs were cut up and just bleeding all over the place. When I could move around more a few days later someone carried me to a bus stop so I could get to the airport and fly home to the US.

It took a couple months for everything to sink in, but eventually the PTSD hit me REALLY bad. I still get night terrors and sleep paralysis sometimes which are a special kind of torture I would wish on no one. My scars are pretty much entirely faded though which is a plus.

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7. Just a part of life.

I grew up poor on the Gulf, so we lived through a lot of the hurricanes. Our worst were Katrina, Rita, and Ike. The scariest part about them is how quickly they build up; you have 3-4 days of worrying, and then suddenly at 3am your parents pull you out of bed and order you to pack because of the mandatory evacuation. So that was always the scary part - scrambling into a cramped car in the dead of night, with just your vital documents and as much food and emergency supplies as you can fit, not knowing what will happen.

Second scariest is evacuating. Even at 3am, millions of people are evacuating, and that's millions of cars backed up on every single road. You can't waste gas on air conditioning, so it's boiling hot and cramped in the dead of a Texas summer. You'd move maybe ten feet in an hour. The roads were so clogged that I remember people getting out of their cars and playing Frisbee on the interstate. If you're close to the hurricane, it's even more terrifying, it sounds like the sky is getting ripped open. We were lucky to have family to stay with, but that doesn't stop the destruction. I remember watching CNN when Ike made landfall, realizing the flooded area and collapsed buildings looked familiar, and asking my mom, "Wait--isn't that our neighborhood?" You never want to see your house on CNN.

Third scariest: Coming back. It always looks like those post-apocalyptic movies: houses ripped apart, streets flooded, trees torn out of the ground or splitting open buildings. Most of the dead are in their houses, but sometimes the bodies were washed into the rivers and streets. (Graves float upwards in floods. The cemeteries were always torn apart, with caskets and corpses thrown everywhere and rotting in the wet sun.)

After Rita, because we were too poor to evacuate, we lived at home for a short while. No electricity besides the generator, no running water, no emergency services, living off MREs and boiled street water. Wild hogs and alligators prowled everywhere (chased out of their usual homes by the storm), and I remember playing in the huge felled trees in the streets. Lots of people kept watch with guns to chase off looters. It felt like living in a zombie movie. Eventually FEMA would show up, and you'd wait in line forever for your ration of bottled water and MREs while they tried to reconstruct everything. So that's always tough too; trying to figure out how you move on from there, after your area has been torn to shreds.

It was odd growing up and realizing not all kids understood the FEMA markings for how many bodies were found in a house. I know that should have been obvious, but FEMA was such a normal part of my childhood that it never occurred to me.

storm-407963_1920-300x200.jpgImage by Michelle Maria from Pixabay

6. Hit not once, but twice.

I was in Christchurch during the 2011 Feb 22 Earthquake.

Imagine if you will, waking at at 4 ish am, by violent shaking. Not your normal small earthquake, the kind you know. This is something deeper, sharper and something you automatically know is serious. You wake up under your desk, having scrambled under the nearest solid object before fully conscious. Then everyone piles out, stands around, and waits for it to be ok.

That wasn't Feb 22. That was September 4, 2010.

What followed was months of rebuilding, of political talk, of watching the closed buildings and clearing rubble. Of insurance claims and getting your life back together. Nobody died, but that's just our building code. Five months of being on edge.

Then, just as the new year is starting properly and schools and universities are getting back on, just at lunchtime, a jolt. Not a slow sway, but hard, aggressive. A peak vertical acceleration of 2G. You're awake anyway, braced in your doorway as the entire flat throws around you. You hope, as bad as it felt that it's going to be ok. That it's just going to be damage and a few days of aftershock tension.

Then you turn on the TV.

Earthquake injuries and deaths had always been a foreign thing. That occurred in other countries with bad buildings. But the TV and radio were fast. Images, shock and horror from just a couple of kilometers away in the center of the city. Building fronts fallen down, people trapped and crying, bloody and screaming.

The shaking had stopped. But it wasn't over.

The city got shook to bits. People were dead. Buildings collapsed. 185 dead. Days without water supply, some places weeks. Power was out for days and weeks for people.

Nearly six years on? We're not rebuilt. Parts of the middle of town are simple gravel lots. The cathedral is a gaping urban ruin in red tape wrapping.

Disasters are one thing, but how it can mess with your mind is another. We had a serious earthquake a month and a bit ago, that basically cut a major town off from the rest of the country. It was felt up and down the islands. This one went on for multiple minutes. It was soft and rolly in my city, which meant it was far away, but it kept on going.

All I could think of was those poor souls near the middle. I know we live on shakey isles, and we have building codes and preparation, civil defence and the earthquake commission. That people, in a disaster are good people, who help out, who are charitable, and who are kind.

But there lurks something at the back of your mind, something that you never really remember day to day. That it could go all so sideways so quickly. I'm a hundred km or so from the middle of the Alpine Fault, the source of the island I live on and it's mountain ranges. The fault is overdue to rupture, and has about 9 meters of pent up movement.


5. Had to see it to believe it.

October 17th, 1989. Bay Area, California. After school I went home like any other day. I wanted to go play before dinner so I took my bike just kitty-corner to the court off our little suburban street. I'm out at the end of the court with a couple other neighbourhood kids. We're riding our bikes around and trying to jump off the curb rises at the corners of the driveways (We thought we were so cool). Throwing a couple balls around too and shooting hoops at the lone basketball hoop. I knew I didn't have more than a couple hours because the World Series game was going to be on.

We're playing, not a care in the world, and then all of a sudden at around 5 pm it starts to hit. This earthquake was so different than all the others I remembered growing up. Almost every earthquake I could remember was short and jolting. Like a hard tight shaking. But this quake, it felt like the solid roadway asphalt had somehow turned to liquid and it felt like I was standing on slow rolling waves of water. That's the exact moment I thought "oh crap." It wasn't like other quakes. It was weird and different. The ground felt like liquid waves of water, not solid hard ground. I could feel one foot higher than the other, and then that wave rolling under one foot and transferring that height to the other foot which had felt six inches lower a second prior.

The point where I knew things were really bad was when I looked up behind the houses at the end of the court. I look up behind those houses and there were these gigantic pine and redwood trees that speckled the little foothill behind the homes. And these gigantic huge 3 foot to 8 foot diameter trunked behemoths are swaying so far back and forth... are rocking so far... that the god damned trees are crossing each other at the top two-thirds of their heights. These gigantic things that are so rigid and strong and buried deep into the earth are rocking and rolling so far back and forth that their normally straight trunks are crossing each other in the air above me!!! It was the most shocking, scary, brain freezing, agape, incomprehensible action my eyes had seen.

I got tossed off my bike pretty quickly (I was standing up with the bike standing between my legs). And as soon as the shaking finally stopped and the low rumble of earth moving and bending and the swishing and rustling of all the flora around us started to quiet, mothers' screams started to break the silence as we sat stunned. Like car alarms being set off progressively getting louder and louder. Each of the neighbourhood parents that were home started screaming at the top of their lungs for their kids to run home immediately. I didn't even try to get back on my bike, I ran rolling it next to me as fast as I could possibly sprint. The rest of the night was spent trying to figure out communication (telephone lines were all down), electricity (power lines all down), food, water, and aftershock after aftershock tearing us away from whatever comfort we had gained throughout the night and into the next morning. The 7.0 Loma Prieta Earthquake. Didn't realize how lucky we all were until we finally got power back and started seeing all the news reports of the destruction and damage around the Bay Area.


4. Walking through fire.

Mine was actually fairly recent. I live in Fort Mcmurray, Alberta, and had the pleasure of experiencing one of Canada's biggest natural disasters. My day started out so incredibly normal. I had the day off and it was a really warm day out and the fire had seemed to be under control, so I went in my backyard and tanned. I was laying down for maybe an hour when I realised I couldn't feel the sun on my face anymore. I looked towards the sun and saw that the sky was on fire and the smoke hid the sun. I was the only one of the 4 people in my house who had the day off. We had fires all the time, there were always rumors of being evacuated. But this day felt different.

I went inside and packed a bag, grabbed my dog food and put her leash on her, just to be on the safe side. That's when my sister called me, saying she had been evacuated from her workplace, and was stuck in traffic going home. It was voluntary at the time, and the same thing had happened a few days prior, so I still wasn't worried. I called my roommate (T) who had got a ride to work and asked him if I could put my things in his truck, just in case. Within half an hour I was under a voluntary evacuation. I called my other roommates (Z&J) to see if I could pack anything for them and if I should wait for them at home.

The smoke was getting worse. My sister then called again saying she was waiting for gas. While on the phone I heard the alberta emergency alert system through the phone on the radio (which they tested recently, and cause an intense panic attack) it was time for me to go. My sister asked if we could meet at her place since I could get there faster to gather stuff for her and her fiance, and it was furthest from the fires. I called my T again, and asked if I could take his truck and told him where to meet me. He got to my sisters as my other roommates (Z&J) made it home, but they had no gas. I told them to take our longboards and get to my sisters. They have scars from where the embers burned them as they fled for their lives. We couldn't go pick them up. We couldn't make it to the end of the street with traffic.

4 hours after I left my house, my roommates, sister, brother-in-law, and myself were finally together. But we didn't know where to go. We didn't know what was best. Do we go north and hope we don't get trapped there (the road eventually ends)? Or do we go south, through the fire, where we don't how bad it is. We hear southbound is closed. We decide north. It takes us an hour to get to the highway. By that time we hear rumors of southbound being open again. We change our minds. We go south through the town. Turning towards the fire was the scariest moment. We had no idea what we were driving through. No idea if what we were going to see. No idea of the devastation that lay before us. That was the first point the I didn't fully know what was coming. There wasn't a set target or goal or something to do. It was only, I hope we can get out of this alive.

forest-1161868_1920-300x169.jpgImage by skeeze from Pixabay

3. Forced to leave it all behind.

My family lost everything in the little known flood of Baton Rouge, Louisiana last year that the Red Cross called the "Worst US disaster since Hurricane Sandy."

In mid August it began raining. Then it rained some more, got more powerful, and didn't stop for days. There was talk that the local rivers were going to crest and cause some pretty serious flooding. We lived somewhat close to the Amite River, but our neighbors said our neighborhood hadn't flood in over 100 years.

Local news said that the near by high school may get a little bit of water inside from the rising river. We thought we had a couple of days to plan on how we were going to shelter in place because of the weather forecast.

On the 13th of August, I woke up, walked outside and starting walking toward the direction of the river. Some of the lower areas were collecting water but there was no standing water anywhere near my house or even my neighborhood. I went back home and told my wife we should probably get some supplies in case this got serious. Maybe we should even pack a car in case we need to leave, but I'm sure there will be nothing to worry about.

About 30 minutes into slowly packing there is a loud banging on my front door. It's my wife's cousin. I open the door and she says, "What are you doing?! Get out of the house!" I look behind her and my entire yard is under water and the water line is only about a half inch front going over my doorstep and into my house.

I was floored. The river wasn't supposed to crest until the next day. I thought we had more time.

I yelled at my wife, "We have to get out of the house. Now!"

We packed up both our cars in about 10 minutes with only our most precious memories. Everything else we had built in a 10 year marriage was left behind. We evacuated about 5 miles east away from the river to my wife's grandmothers.

After being there for about an hour someone comes to the front door and says, "You guys need to get out. The river is coming."

Sure enough, her yard was flooding.

We evacuated a second time in as many hours to her cousin's house even further east. After only an hour we were told again that the river was on the way and we had to leave.

We evacuated three times that day. I drove back through the flooded waters at some point because we left our cat. When I got back to our house I sloshed through knee deep water filled with trash and our water logged belongings. Got the cat safely though.

When it was all over it was a surreal feeling. We were homeless and lost everything that didn't fit in one car. (The other car got left behind during one of the evacuations and flooded.)

The reality of it all hit me about a week after the flood while we were living in a tiny room at my sister-in-laws house; my wife, me, 3 year old daughter, dog, cat and fish. After about a week, the shell shock wore off and I thought, "This is our new life now. This is real. I'm so glad we have each other and no one was hurt."

We're still homeless. Living at the moment at my mother-in-law's house. But we hope to buy a new home soon.

key-west-81665_1920-300x199.jpgImage by David Mark from Pixabay

2. Submerged overnight.

My house went underwater in the Queensland floods in 2011. I live on a street almost a mile away from the river, several meters above the water level.

We were warned about flooding in the area, potential flash floods, etc. Fairly usual for a Queensland summer. This time however there had been a lot of rain and flash flooding further north which eventually filtered down to the river.

My younger brother was getting nervous and thought we should evacuate. We spent hours trying to dissuade him. The water had never gotten to less than 1-2 meters away from our street level (we live across from a catchment so we can easily see the water levels during heavy rain). After a few more hours, the water levels were getting much higher than we'd seen before and thought it best if we move our cars to higher ground "just in case it got to street level". Later, we moved a lot of furniture and electronics upstairs. "Just in case it got a few inches in the bottom floor".

Eventually we decided to leave. The water was getting close to the street level which only meant another foot from reaching our bottom floor. We left to spend the night with family who live in a neighbourhood close by. We had heard that the water had risen further, but had no idea how far as it was dark and we couldn't see anything from our cousin's house.

The next morning there was no power. We thought the flood must have effected the power elsewhere and blacked out a large area. We left their house to go check on ours, only to see neighbours grabbing bags of clothes and other items and heading down the road. Our cousin's house was at the end of a long road, fairly elevated, but with a dip in the middle of the road leading to the rise. This dip at it's lowest was about 1-2 meters underwater and some good Samaritans were helping evacuate people from what had essentially become a small suburban island via dingy.

We got across this new river and met up with some friends who lived near us (just up the hill from our house) who picked us up in their 4x4. We had to take back-streets as several of the lower main roads were underwater, but we managed to get home.

My biggest "Oh crap..." moment was when we finally got to see our house. There is a high school behind our house, which is at the base of this large hill, with an elevated sports oval right behind our house. The water at it's height was about 2 inches from being level with the oval. We walked across it to survey our house. Seeing water lapping at the bedroom windows on the second floor of our house was the most surreal experience I have ever had.

This may not seem like a huge amount to some people. Floods happen and water rises sometimes, however this particular flood was recorded at reaching 19.4 metres (64 ft) at its peak. Basically, if I look out my windows right now, I can't even see a body of water in any direction. To have it come up that high overnight just blew my mind.

flooding-2048469_1920-300x187.jpgImage by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

1. The wildfire that ate California.

The Butte wildfire in California 2015. It started a couple days before the "this is really happening moment" and the entire time neighbors and myself were sure the fire would be under control in no time. Wrong. It was Friday afternoon, two days after fire broke out, the entire sky was orangish-red with the summer sun trying to penetrate the thick smoke, ashes falling like snow. My property (was) densely forested so the only way to gauge the fires distance was by the increasingly audible noises it was making. It started as a low rumbling accompanied with the occasional exploding water or propane tank. That's when it started to get real, every boom was the fire taking a house, a neighbor's house. The power had gone out earlier and since my water comes from a well, no power=no water, I'll never forget how helpless I felt when the sprinklers I had placed around my home fell silent. I was packing what I thought was most important, literally cramming my car with things. In hindsight, I really needed to A) prioritize better, I left passport, birth certificate and nostalgic things. B) should have started packing on day one.

By then it was closer to evening and the rumble of the fire had grown to a roar that words fail to describe. I think the freight train comparison so many use lacks the full spectrum. It's a never ending relentless inhalation, leaving only louder, closer explosions and the ashes to escape. (There, I tried) As I was bringing another load to my car I caught a glimpse of a sheriff's car at the end of my 1/4 mile driveway with a frantic arm waving out the window, motioning me to leave, then he left. Roughly a minute or two later, my good friend's fiancé who live together about a mile towards where the fire was coming from sped up my driveway frantic and in tears saying that he was still at the house trying to find their cat and round up the chickens and that she could see the fire from their home. She begged me to go convince him to leave, which I did. That's the first I saw of the fire, when I got to their property. I could only see the fire jumping and "licking" at the sky as the flames climbed the tree canopy, still, despite the intensity, it seemed to be about a mile away. Without much debate, he agreed it was time. FYI he found the cat. There wasn't anywhere to put the chickens though, so we opened the coop to at the very least give them a chance to run. We go back to my house, they're getting ready to leave and for whatever reason I had an overwhelming urge to stay myself. I guess I still thought there might be something I could do. They, of course, return the favor and convince me to follow them. So we drove another mile or so away to a nearby fire station. There I ran into my closest neighbor who had evacuated earlier and from there we could make out the tallest trees around our homes. An hour or two goes by, It was starting to get darker out as the sun was setting and the smoke grew denser, but we could see the fire reach those trees and the flames were at least a hundred feet tall. I couldn't see my house itself, but the inferno was there.And that's when I felt like, game over. We were forced to leave the station. Shock was settling in, I wasn't as emotional then as I would be later and my friends and I retreated even further, a good four or five miles to another friend's house. We weren't there long before the winds picked up and the fire was closing in there as well, so, we all went to yet another friend's home even farther away. We probably got there around 11pm and by 3 am the fire was in sight again. At this point, I said that's it, left the county and fire zone all together. I made it to another buddies house around 5 am, opened his liquor cabinet and had breakfast with Jack Daniels. I slept all day. When I awoke I had that wishful thought anyone has when they first wake up after a crazy night: "Was that all just a dream?"

Anywho, there is an uplifting part, that evening I got a call from another neighbor, who was helping anyway he could with his tractor. He never left! He called to say my house made it, it actually made it! First thing in the morning I jumped in my car and sped back home, literally blew off a CHP officer/road block and got back in. That's when it was truly real, and harder on me than anything preceding that point. I was driving through the smoldering remains of the very same town that was full of homes and tall trees just the day before. Fires were still burning and smoldering everywhere, I was driving over downed power lines and past blackened road signs. I actually had a hard time reckoning where I was on a road I'd driven at least twice daily for the better half of a decade. On the way in I saw that the last house we evacuated to had also made it. My best friends home, the home we went to after the fire station, didn't make it. I was the first to get back there to find out so I had to call my friend and break the news. Cellphones were still working, but it was a short call anyway. He basically said, "whelp, thanks for letting me know." I bawled for a couple minutes after that looking around the rubble. I could make out the wire frame of the couch and the metal skeleton of his stationary bike that sat next to it. Such total destruction but the fire left everything where it originally was. I didn't spend much time there. I went home, and sure enough, it was there. There was literally a twenty so foot barrier ring that separated my house and the rest of the smoldering, otherworldly scene. I came to learn that not long after I left, a fire crew came to my property and started a backfire (actually found backfire flares in my yard), keeping those flames in control long enough to give my neighbor and I a small buffer from the encroaching wildfire. It worked, for us, but the four homes farther down the road were lost. My sheds, outbuildings, garden, fencing and 90% of the trees were toast, but against all odds my house was there.

I stayed there, and was alone for the first couple days. No power, but I was able to siphon water from the tank to drink and put spot fires out. I went and checked on as many properties as I could reach safely (there were hollow trees burning themselves out to the point of collapsing in any direction) and sharing the good or, more often, bad news. A couple days later, the fire was farther away and folks found ways of getting themselves and supplies in. It was two weeks before I got a generator and three weeks till the roads started opening back up. Power and phone were out much longer before being restored. The whole time, some friends and neighbors who lost their homes gradually came and stayed at mine. At one point there were 12 people in a 2 bedroom 1000sq ft home. But I'm glad there were so many of us, it leant itself to be good support.

That was a year and a half ago, there's still thousands of scorched trees waiting to fall, burnt out cars on properties with an empty hole where a home once stood. But people are now rebuilding their lives.

To this day, but most intensely at the beginning, I carry a sense of survivor's guilt. I felt relief, but I could never feel rejoice in my good fortune while so many close friends, neighbors and strangers suffered such complete devastation. I didn't know why they were able to save my house and so few others. But then I got to meet the firefighters, which really helped to change my perspective. A week or so after things calmed down a group of them walked up my driveway. I initially thought they were looking for lingering spot fires and after greeting them asked them so. The one in charge smiled and said "No, just wanted to meet the guy who's house we saved." It took a lot not to break down then and there. I shook all their hands and hugged them. The captain even had a video on his phone of them courageously battling flames on my property, on behalf of me, a stranger. I knew then that if they had it their way, of course they'd have saved every single house. But that was never a possibility. They did the very best they could and I'll forever be thankful and have the upmost respect of them for that.

We chatted a bit and I asked for a way to contact them. They were a crew out of Santa Barbara. They took my info down and said they'd be in touch. Unfortunately, I haven't heard from anyone to date. But if you know any firefighter that served during this particular fire from Santa Barbara, I'd love to get in touch. I even promised to get them a pizza a week for a year or something along those lines. I'd like to make good on that, least I could do.

wildfire-1105209-300x200.jpgImage by