TONGA!

by Judy Tomaini Rock

 

Unless you have been through a major storm like that, you can't even guess what it would be like. I have heard my Parents talk of a blow down, but when we were traveling, I was too young to really understand what it was about.

Several years back, my husband at the time, and I decided to go to my Summer cabin, about 70 miles from here, on the Weeki Wachee river, for the weekend. The weather reports were for rain, and just a wet weekend. We decided to go up to The Sugar Shack as we call it, and sit in front of the fire place, and catch up on some reading. The Shack is a three room, natural rock front cabin, with a rock fire place acrossed one end of the living room / bedroom. It was built a room at a time the main part with a high sloped roof facing the water, with high windows overlooking the roof of the kitchen. There are windows in the kitchen facing the water also, so you can sit at the table and watch the wildlife come into the yard. Mother bought it 30 years ago, for a retreat from the mad house here at the Giant's Camp. And over the years she trusted it to me.

Back to the story!!!

We got there about 9:30pm and didn't bother getting grocery's as we always had food there in the freezer. We read a while and went to bed. The rain was steady on the tin roof, and we went right to sleep. At 4am, the crack of lightning and thunder jarred me awake. The whole sky would light up turning the night into day. One right after the other, the storm was right on top of us. Weeki Wachee Gardens, where the shack is located, is an area that is quite low and bowl shaped. We get some really bad storms up there. I have been through a couple of hurricanes here at the camp, but never anything like this. I turned on the TV for a weather report, but just regular programming, no ticker tape weather on the screen. We have 100 foot tall bald cypress trees in the yard and the lightning was bouncing off them, from one to the other, like some sort of wild dance in the sky. There was nothing we could do but wait it out and go back to sleep. At 6am, the sound of breaking glass, and the roar of a freight train awoke me. One of the high windows, has sucked out of the wall, and broken on the roof of the kitchen. It was so bright out you could see without turning on a light. The wind was whipping around the yard, and tree limbs were flying through the air.

 

We had no idea what was happening, by now the weather was on all stations. But everything happened so fast, they were caught with their pants down. By 7am the water was up to the yard and headed for the cabin like a sink filling. I called Mother at home, which was also on the water, and told her we were on the way. I was concerned about Tina and Alexzander, as they liveD acrossed the bay in St. Petersburg, and knowing Tina, she would want to come home to help save Mother. The only way for her to get home was over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. I prayed for her to stay home and ride it out. As we were on the phone to home, the water rose from ankle to knee deep, in a matter of minutes. We hadn't unpacked the car, so all I had to grab, was the over night bags and lock the door. The old man next door ask if we could help him put his TV and other big stuff on blocks, to save it from the salt water being pushed up the river by the wind. My husband went to help him, and was moving the car to high ground on the road.

 

By this time, the yard was under, and looked like the pictures I had seen on TV, of the flooding in the west. We started to leave as the water was covering the road. We had to go a block west, then about 3 blocks north to the high road that surrounds the Gardens. We made it 2 blocks, and a woman in a big car, flew around us. We had a little Festival, and the push of water almost pushed us off the road, and into a canal. Trees and yard furniture were zipping by in the water, and there were white caps over the road. The car started to float, so we went out the windows, and left the doors closed as it was almost water tight. Years of car racing helped out after all. We floated the car as far as we could, and then came up on an area of about 150 feet that was between us and the high road. It looked too deep to get through. Ron being 6'5" and 300+lbs would save the day, along with my life. The woman who passed us up, got out of her car, and tried to walk against the current flowing past, she was swept away. People were standing on the high road, but couldn't help us because the danger of being swept away was too great. Ron told me to hang onto his belt and no matter what, don't let go. He put the bags with the important stuff, like my medicine on his shoulders, and we started walking out. I could feel the water pulling the sand out from under my feet every time I took a step.

 

One time a big wave hit me and I almost fell, but caught my self before I was swept away. We made it the 150 feet to the road and collapsed on the ground. By then the car had sunk completely from view and I knew in my heart we would never see the Shack again. It was so full of memories of my girls growing up, and now all would be lost. It was like a storehouse that never changed. Pictures hung on the walls, that the kids had drawn in crayon as little girls. Old toys they took up, to put as if in a time capsule, so when they went back they could remember the good times there. Memories!!! We were taken to a shelter at a high school about 10 miles away. I hadn't stopped crying since I closed the Shack door and drove away. It was like losing a family member. The whole thing was like a bad dream. I was wet and freezing cold. I had no idea how deep the water was back home, because the reports were bad, the same thing as here. Cars were blowing off bridges into the water. 90mph winds, tide surges of 15 feet. And here I was helpless to do anything, but wait. We were some of the first to be taken to the shelter. The ones that came in after us told of being picked from their roof tops, just as the water washed over them. A ham radio operator set up and started to make calls for people. Some how, they got through to Mother, nothing was under water at home, but it was close. My Sister Patti was on the other coast, and she would drive over and pick us up and take us home. We lived....

The next three weeks were another story for another time. There is no way to convey the feelings I had, and to put them on paper, but the "No Name Storm", or the "Storm of the Century" as it was called, gave me new respect for life, and the fear you may never know in your life, but I felt in that few hours of time.

That happened in the early 90's but I still can't watch any flood pictures on TV without living it again.

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2006 Judy Tomaini Rock, All Rights Reserved - Published with the permission of Judy Tomaini Rock

 

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