Days of Hurricane Ivan

Sure enough, about 30 minutes later a flatbed tow truck drove up highway 41 from the direction of Brewton across the interstate overpass. The trooper motioned him over to me. The driver, an older man with craggy face and grey hair,  hopped out and without barely saying a word to me pulled my truck up on his flatbed and motioned me to get in. We drove off towards Brewton.

It was apparent that the driver wasn’t happy about being ordered out by the state troopers. As we drove he told me the fee would be $100 for a “storm tow.” I would have paid twice that much just to not spend the night in my truck, but still showed a bit of rebellion and told him he was going to have to take a credit card. He grumbled under his breath, but there wasn’t much else he could do.

He lightened up after that and we made some small talk during the 20 minute drive. I didn’t see much besides forests until we came closer to Brewton. In Brewton we drove through the center of town and pulled up to an auto repair shop. The driver must have called ahead as there were still people at the shop, which surprised me. By now it was almost 1:00PM and the town, directly in the projected path of the storm, was closing up.

The shop owner, an older silver-haired man, met me at the tow truck and asked what happened. Once my truck was off the flatbed his mechanics rolled it into the shop. The owner promised to try and get my truck fixed and get me back on the road that afternoon.

While I waited on repairs I called Terry to let him know what happened. He expressed suitable concern and offered to pick me up. I thanked him and explained that with all highways diverted north there was no way for him to get to me.

About 4:00PM the owner came over and told me the hose and cooling fluid had been replaced and they were ready to test. The owner warned me that the engine had gotten pretty hot, being run without water, and there was a good chance the aluminum head had warped. The mechanics and I stood around the front of my truck looking at the engine while the owner started it. The engine fired right up, and we silently observed water leaking out between the engine block and head; indicating that in fact the aluminum head was badly warped and I wasn’t going to be driving the truck anywhere, anytime soon.

All I could think to say to the people who were gathered together was “thanks for trying.”

By now we could feel effects of the approaching storm. The wind was picking up and all the stores I could see were already closed. The auto mechanics were obviously ready to get home and tend to their own families. The owner told me he’d keep my truck inside his shop, a concrete building which was about as safe a place during a hurricane as I was going to find. I grabbed my suitcase of clothing; the owner closed his shop and drove me a few blocks away to the town’s Red Cross shelter. He wished me luck as I hopped out.

The designated Red Cross shelter was the gymnasium of the Brewton High School, right across the street from the town’s library. The buildings were arranged with ample green space and parking lots. There were some lovely large hardwood trees set around the area and the buildings looked fairly new and substantial.

I’d never been inside a Red Cross shelter, but knew that people were expected to bring their own food and bedding. I had neither.

The shelter was already pretty crowded. I checked in with the female Red Cross volunteer at the door and explained my situation of no food or bedding. The lady was sympathetic but could do nothing to help other than point me to an empty spot on the gymnasium floor. That spot happened to be next to a family of five and close to where a rather attractive blond lady, by herself, had made camp.

The family members introduced themselves (husband John, wife Mary, and three children of varying young ages) and we got to talking. At some point the blonde came over, introduced herself as Brenda, and joined our conversation. John and Mary lived in the area and had decided to evacuate here as the nearest shelter. Brenda explained that she lived down in Orange Beach, on the Florida panhandle about two hours driving time south. Her area was under mandatory evacuation orders and she had been turned away from every shelter between Orange Beach and here, for one reason or another (overcrowded shelters, wasn’t local to the the area, etc). I described how I arrived here and explained my total lack of food and bedding.

A few of the local townspeople overheard me telling my story and suddenly I had some donated snacks for a dinner (I hadn’t eaten since breakfast). John and Mary also shared a sandwich from their cooler, loaned me an extra blanket and arranged two of their large suitcases side by side for me to use as a bed. They all had mattress pads with them so I gratefully accepted the makeshift bed. They also gave me a flashlight, explaining they had purchased several at a dollar store on the way to the shelter.

So now I had a blanket and bed, a flashlight, food, friendly people around me and a safe location for riding out a hurricane. I was in pretty good shape compared to just a few hours earlier.

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