kathlene_hepburn_web.jpgI was born, raised and educated in Miami and I have lived through many hurricanes during my 69 years but nothing ever terrified me as Hurricane Andrew did. The storm put fear in my psyche about hurricanes which I had never had before.

As a child and during my teen years, we looked forward to hurricanes because they were like the snow days kids in the North enjoyed, our “get out of school free” days. Hurricane season also meant free fruits knocked off the trees on the empty lots by the high winds in the neighborhood.

After a hurricane, when the power was out, Daddy would connect the water pump to the well and we had water.  He would reconnect the gas tank and we were able to use the gas stove and have hot meals as usual.  We used candles and lanterns for light. 

I remember looking out the windows of our home in the 1800 block of Northwest 68th Terrace and being fascinated by the rain and strong winds as the hurricanes whipped around the trees and as objects flew through the neighborhood.  Those were fascinating sights for a child,  seeing nature’s fury.

I do not recall ever having thoughts of danger or death or any sense of fear, until the time lighting came through one window and went out another, narrowly missing me as I looked out from the Florida room. I raced back into the living room and rejoined the family.  Hurricanes are fascinating to watch — from a safe distance.

Then on Aug. 24, 1992, Hurricane Andrew happened.  For the first time in my life I was gripped with real, terrifying fear and a sense of danger and possible death of my loved ones. That was followed on Aug. 23, 2005, by Hurricane Katrina which destroyed New Orleans. Hurricane Wilma and two or three others hit Florida in quick succession.

So, when the 2011 hurricane season arrived, at age 68 I decided not to stay in Miami and especially not during July through September. On June 11, I boarded an Amtrak train heading north and did not return until late November.

This 2012 hurricaneseason saw me exiting Miami again in early July and I do not plan to return until after New Year’s Day.  I will be like the snowbirds, wintering in Miami each year and checking out in June.

Call me foolish, old, whatever, but with the high level of climate change, the higher incidence of tornados and other devastating natural activity, I feel in my bones that we will have a hectic hurricane season equal to or perhaps surpassing Andrew and Katrina.  My advice is to take a long vacation, especially in August, and seek higher ground.

Just imagine what happened in New Orleans during Katrina.  Just imagine what happened in Miami during Andrew. Think of what happened in Haiti with the earthquake, and what happened in Japan with the tsunami. 

Pay attention to what is happening in the world around you. Look at what is happening in the Florida Everglades and what is happening in Norfolk, Va.  Remember we have a nuclear power plant in Homestead near the ocean.  Think Japan and the consequences there. Imagine that happening here if the nuclear plant is hit by a

hurricane and ocean water gets into the facility. 

Envision what would happen on Interstate 95, Florida’s Turnpike, at the airports and the marinas if South Florida is evacuated. 

It is already way into hurricane season this year and time to manage your evacuation. Get your house in order ahead of the game.  Develop a family plan. Where will you all meet? What will you take with you and what would you leave behind? Where will you go?  How much money do you have available?  Is the car in good condition?  Do you need to fill up the gas tank? Does the car need repairs or new tires?

Think and plan this hurricane season. It’s coming and you need to be ready to evacuate — unless, of course, like me, you have become a snowbird in summer.

Kathlene Hepburn-Okehi is president and founder of a nonprofit organization which serve families, youth and seniors in Miami’s Liberty City, Brownsville and Little Haiti communities. She is collecting materials and information about families, businesses, churches and schools for a book on local African American and Caribbean American history.