When a Poet Meets a Hurricane: Life After Matthew

When Hurricane Matthew swept through Charleston last October, saturating the ground with rain water and whipping up high winds, the roots of the large hickory tree in our neighbor’s yard loosened their grasp on the soil beneath them. Like any tree in high wind, especially ones with compromised roots, the hickory thrashed back and forth in the storm until, at last, it fell.

My husband and I, along with our cat, had evacuated to Kansas City and were safe and sound in my mother’s living room, enjoying her company and a sense of being “home.”  We would not know for another day or two that that hickory tree landed on and crushed the back corner of our house, taking the power line and electric meter with it.

file_004The news came via phone from friends who live nearby and who had, when learning we’d evacuated, offered to drive by and check on our house. They sent pictures by text and we cast them onto my mother’s television. The tree, as long as our house is wide, appeared to be swallowing our new home, and though we could see that the roof had been crushed where the tree had hit, we couldn’t tell how much damage was sustained or how far back it went. We wondered if the entire roof wasn’t compromised.

The drive home was somber and tense, our minds full of worst case scenarios. We drove until dark the first day, then checked into a hotel for the night. No sense in driving all the way to Charleston where there were no hotel vacancies, we’d reasoned.

As directed by our insurance company after filing our online insurance claim, I called the file_000mitigation company we’d been referred to as soon we arrived at the house the next evening. The sun was just setting, the sky was blue, and the wind was still. The man on the other end of the line, Lorne, asked me to describe the damage to him. I tried to be as specific as I could as I walked through and around the house verbally noting how large the hole in the roof, how flooded the laundry room, how wet the ceilings and walls, how damaged the flooring throughout…..at the end of our conversation Lorne asked me if the house was habitable.

Well, there’s a gaping hole in the roof and no power, I told him. So, no, I don’t think it is habitable. 

That was four months ago. Since then my husband and I have been shuffled from hotel room (where we lived for over six weeks) to two-bedroom apartment  (into which we fit three additional family members over the holidays). I cannot begin to list all the untruths and delaying tactics we have been subjected to or the patience we’ve had to tap into each time someone asks us for our claim number (they know damn well who we are!) or tells us “everything’s behind schedule because of the hurricane.”

It took over a week for both the field adjuster and the tree removal people to arrive. When they showed up the same morning, they got into each other’s way and the field adjuster was unable to make a complete inspection. It took another two or three weeks for the City Building Inspector to look at the property, and that was only because our general contractor waited for him outside his office every morning for a week. More recently, the building permit was delayed because there is no plat for the house and the plat surveyor is behind and won’t be out for another three weeks. New trusses for the roof, which will have to be ordered, are on a four week delay. And even before all of this, it took 30 days for the desk adjuster to provide the (ridiculously low) initial estimate; another 30 for him to respond to the (much higher) estimate our GC provided.

Meanwhile my husband and I are juggling phone calls with insurance agents, adjusters, and contractors, packing our belongings in boxes to be moved out of the house and into we don’t know where (there were no storage pods left in the city), maintaining our teaching duties, preparing for the holidays, checking on our cat housed at friends’, and explaining over and over again to our family and colleagues what had happened. At times, it felt impossible to keep up with all the demands of the situation much less basic needs, like healthy food and quality, anxious-free sleep.

My husband and I are still in the apartment the insurance company arranged for us and while things are generally calmer and we have found a workable rhythm to life, reconstruction has yet to begin on the house and we don’t really know when it will. There’s still a slew of paperwork to wade through and dependence on the cooperation of a couple of other bureaucratic entities to secure. So while the rest of the city has pretty much recovered and moved on from Hurricane Matthew, we continue to wait for resolution.

It was not until this week that I was able to put my full attention on Zingara Poet. I could see that my poor pet project was listing on the waves, submissions and emails neglected since late September despite every intention, even the hiring of an intern, to respond to submissions in a more speedy manner this year. Yet I did not want to bring my anxious energy to my poetry reading. I’ve leaned that the two just don’t mix — so kept putting it off until I was in better spirits.

I am glad to say that, as of this writing, most of the October and November submissions have been reviewed and responded to. In the week to come, I will be looking over the rest of December submissions and sending out my decisions. Likewise, poems for most of the first half of 2017 have been chosen and their dates of publication scheduled (only a few spots left). With luck, I will be able to enter the new submission period (later this year) caught up and, I am keeping my fingers crossed here, from the comfort of my own home.

Thanks to all the poets out there who have waited patiently for a response. As always, I am impressed by the quality and breadth of the selection.

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