Tuesday, April 22, 2014


My theme for A to Z this year is a wildly different, but very exciting, HERE'S TO YOU all month long. 26 posts to be precise. The most difficult part was narrowing down the 26. All of you deserve your own post. What you will find here is a post by the featured blogger, with traveling music chosen by me that complements said post, and two links. One will link back to the original post and the other to the main page. This year's A to Z is all about making new friends!

I discovered Steven Symes, Writer and his wonderful blog during the last A to Z.  Steven is a full-time writer. I don't know what you imagine when someone says that, but I picture someone glued to their computer, guzzling coffee (or maybe whiskey), while the rest of their life crumbles around them. They venture out (in my mind) for trips to the park for people watching, or some other venue loaded with strangers, and then back to the keyboard they go. And they write only what they want and lots of it. Turns out that being a full-time writer is not exactly like that... unless you're a bestseller 10 times over. Then it might be something like that. According to Steven full-time writing is like any other job. You write a lot. About what someone will pay you to write. And you can actually have a spouse and family and make it work - with effort. Who knew???

Cue the traveling music:

I Survived a Catastrophic Hurricane by Steven Symes

My camera was damaged during the storm, but this is from right before.
I started to write this post earlier in the week and then thought better of it. It's too personal, too much to go through, but I can't get it off my mind. With the news of the cyclone that battered the Philippines, the memories of my own brush with death and destruction in Tegucigalpa come flooding back in a wave of nightmares.

I survived a catastrophic hurricane and will never be the same for it.

If you want all of the nitty-gritty statistics and scientific information about Hurricane Mitch, you can read about it on the NCDC website here. I was living in the capital city of Honduras, called Tegucigalpa when one of the worst hurricanes to have ever struck the area made landfall. I've known people who've said, "I was in a Hurricane. We didn't have running water or electricity for a couple of days. It wasn't that bad." I wish that had been my experience, because in the thick of the storm for the first and hopefully last time in my life I had serious doubts that I would live to see the light of day again.

The storm was massive and just sat off the coast of Honduras for days, battering it like a boxer. I've never seen so much rain in my life, and I think few people really know what I mean. I grew up in New Mexico with its crazy flash floods, but this was different. People say sometimes the streets become like rivers, but the streets of Tegucigalpa eventually turned into white water rapids.

The death and destruction was nothing short of catastrophic, which was something my young mind had trouble processing. Early in the storm we were hiking up a mountainside (half the city is on mountainsides) when a house right next to us fell over and began sliding down the mountain. That was frightening to feel the ground give way right next to me. Later I stood on my rooftop and watched home after home in the area give way and slide down the mountainsides. Downtown became a huge lake, with water filling the buildings. I watched on television as the prison that was located by the river was abandoned by the guards as the building filled up with water. The army responded as inmates started to flee the building as well. The army was on the other side of the river and the bridge was washed out, so they couldn't detain the inmates. That's when the snipers set up and just started executing anyone who stuck his head out of the prison, right on live TV.

If only that was the end of the shocking violence, but it wasn't. The storm intensified and the capital started to completely melt down. All but one bridge over the river were washed out. Entire mountainsides began to give way as the soil became completely saturated. And I sat in my house, with very little food and water, watching the destruction  creep closer and closer, wonder when my time to die was coming.

Mountainsides are everywhere in Tegucigalpa.
When the storm moved on, the silence in the city was deafening. It was as if everyone couldn't believe it was over. I walked out into the street and that's when I heard it: the screaming and wailing that lasted for days. People were digging frantically in the mud, trying to find loved ones lost. Others were crying over the corpses in the streets. The river was clogged with the dead. Entire buildings stood with two or three walls left. The following day the sky was littered with air traffic as airplanes and helicopters from all over poured in. I saw flags from countries like Japan, France, the United States, England, South Africa, China and Russia on the planes that circled around, waiting for their turn to land and deliver people and supplies.

With roads disrupted, I was forced to walk across the city off the beaten paths. Once we were forced to cut through a barren area at the base of a mountain. It was called El Chile and was an entire neighborhood buried by one of the mudslides. I knew that I was walking over where hundreds of people had been buried alive in an instant. I've been to Gettysburg, and it felt just as somber.

Martial law was declared and anyone out after dark was shot on sight. Looting was rampant. More people died. I went two weeks without having a drop of water, brushing my teeth with Sprite and Coca-Cola, as if that would help.

Two things I learned from that experiences and the images I can never scrub from my memory: any help you can give to people in such a situation is wonderful, especially if you help the professional organizations like the Red Cross (which really knows what it's doing - I've experienced it firsthand) and also that you need to be prepared in case something like that were to happen where you live. I wasn't ready for a huge hurricane and went days and days with hardly any food. Taking a little bit of time to prepare yourself for the worst, without living under a cloud of fear, goes a long way.

When people live through horror and live to tell about it, I want to read it (not that his blog is one catastrophe after another). However, it is full of stories. Thank you, Steven, for sharing not only this story, but all of them.


  1. What a powerful, first hand account. I can't believe the snipers shooting the prisoners.

  2. What a harrowing experience that would have been. I went through hurricane Hugo back in the 80's but I was inland in the U.S. and the devastation wasn't anything like described here, but still it was pretty bad. Better to be in the U.S. in a situation like this.

    I follow Steve's blog and manage to get over there when I can.

    Wrote By Rote
    An A to Z Co-host blog

  3. Steven's great! I've been enjoying his supernatural and occult themed A-Z. Lots of great info there! :)

  4. Nice to meet Steve. I still have a lot of family in the Philippines, but they weren't near "ground zero." Just horrible. Saw a documentary about the storm, and it's amazing that various things had to fall into place to create such a typhoon.

  5. Making a living with words...following the dream!

    I once stayed on an island during a tropical storm. That was enough to scare the daylights out of me. I don't even want to think about weathering a hurricane!

  6. An excellent choice for S, Robin! Nice to meet you Steven.

    I love to read about these experiences, and the people who have survived. I've been lucky, and the worst was feeling a large tremor when I worked in a 21 story building (that was Earthquake resistant, meaning it flexes in the rolling of the earthquake) I was under my desk, as we knew from Earthquake drills, wondering where each of my family was. I went into survival mode, very quick. I live on the West Coast of Canada which sits on a large fault.

  7. I met Steve recently thanks to this challenge. Glad he survived Mitch! :)

  8. That level of devastation is incomprehensible. Thanks for writing about it, Steven. It couldn't have been easy to go back there, but it's important that we're aware. Thanks for the intro, Robin.


  9. Steven! He's been rocking the Challenge with his paranormal series.
    I remember this post. I've been through hurricanes and it's terrifying. And until you see it afterwards, you really can't image the damage.

  10. Horrifying!

    I know too... I had only lived in South Florida for a few months when Hurricane Andrew hit! It was terrifying. The damage ... the aftermath, thousands homeless, walking the torn up ravaged streets. I'll never forget it.

  11. Just the thought of hurricanes terrify me. Last year we were hit with the side-winds of a tornado. That, too, was terrifying, as I was home alone and worried for my husband and grandkids who were at a nearby park. We all made it, but even as I type this, contractors are here banging away on our house, trying to put it back in shape (Almost a year later, there's still work to do.).
    I'm glad you made it. It's awful that not everyone does.
    Deb@ http://debioneille.blogspot.com

  12. He really survived a hurricane! Not a fun experience at all!

  13. Wow that was a horrifying and amazing story. Love the song.

    Brandon Ax: Writer's Storm

  14. Tragedy changes people. Some people become shells of themselves. Others become stronger than they were before and grow. It shows how much Steven grew and appreciates what he endured. I'm sorry he went through such devastation.

    AJ's wHooligan in the A-Z Challenge

  15. What a terrible thing to have to go through. I agree: horrifying and amazing.

  16. Steve is awesome, and what a great post! I hadn't read that one.

  17. That should be copied and posted after EVERY disaster, and in-between as well. Very powerful.

  18. Wow, the things you don't really think about when you see the clips on tv.

  19. What a vivid, awful account of a life-changing experience. I'm going to have to check out Steven's blog.

  20. I can't comprehend that kind of devastation.
    On a happier note, I saw the Mavericks in concert several years ago.

  21. You are right, he's a great writer.
    My 25 years of living in Florida, across the causeway from Melbourne, brought many hurricanes to our door but none as devastating as this one. I'm glad to be away from there.... now all we have are earthquakes and the threat of Yellowstone going crazy.

  22. I'm a fan of horror stories. But the fiction I read about zombie apocalypse, alien invasions, or even Armageddon isn't all that scary. Super flu viruses, nuclear war, and natural disasters are the scariest. The real world is scarier than anything sci-fi or fantasy can conjure up.

    It is amazing anyone lived through this horror Steven. I hope sharing your story is cathartic for you; but it is certainly an eye opener to attempt to be prepared for me.

    Thanks for opening yourself to this pain.


  23. Happy to meet him and I'm headed over to day hello.

    We survived Andrew, and left when Floyd came to town.

  24. Robin! I'm shocked! Thank you for the nice complements. I had no idea my hurricane post made such a lasting impression. And thank you to everyone else for your nice comments.

  25. I agree with, Steven. All of you with your amazing comments... WONDERFUL. And, Steven, you are welcome. This was a powerful story and everyone else concurs!!!


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