Monday, September 23, 2013

Rebecca's Hurricane Story, August 1991

Rebecca at Camp Bernadette before the hurricane
This is the story that Rebecca, at age 12, helped me write about her experience with Hurricane Bob:

Camp Bernadette is a Catholic-run camp for girls built in 1953 in northeastern New Hampshire. It is south of the summer tourist town of Wolfeboro, and on the shore of Wentworth Lake, which has about eight square miles of water and is ten miles west of the Maine - New Hampshire border.

The camp houses about 300 girls, counselors, and staff. The main path through the camp runs down a slope to the lake, with stables, playing fields, and tennis courts at the top of the hill; a boathouse and docks at the bottom; and small whitewashed cabins on either side, along with a store, dining hall, chapel, and a camp radio station. 

On Sunday night, August 18, 1991, violent thunder and lightning and heavy rain had kept the campers awake. Monday was dark and rainy and the campers were given an extra rest period after lunch to make up for the sleep they had missed. In the middle of their rest, the assembly bell began to ring. They assumed that the rising wind had caught it and tried to go back to sleep. However, they were convinced to move to the dining hall by a counselor who arrived at their door, her face bloody and cut by flying debris. 

Rebecca put on her rain poncho over jeans and a shirt. Some girls, still sleepy, brought their pillows. Others brought stuffed animals. Rebecca left her white bear behind, napping on the top bunk. 

To get to the dining hall, which was built on stilts at the water's edge, the girls had to wade through angle-deep water. Inside they found water dripping through the ceiling from the second floor. It eventually "rained" almost as hard inside as out. 

The decision was made to evacuate the camp. A head count was taken and the girls arranged in groups by cabin numbers one through twenty. The police, firemen, and ambulance crews arrived. Although the camp still had power the firemen cut all incoming electricity because some of the lines were being knocked down by falling branches. 

At this point Rebecca looked out the window toward the lake. She saw what seemed to be ocean-sized waves. The boat dock was gone and only the roof of the boathouse was above water. She says she began to cry but tried not to let the younger campers see her distress, as they were still enjoying the unusual situation. But after the lights went out, everyone began to be afraid. 

The firemen began leading out small group of girls up to the buses waiting at the top of the hill. They started with Cabin 20 and worked backwards, younger girls to the older ones. Rebecca (Cabin 9), watched as Cabin 10 was led out, all holding hands tightly with their fireman and with each other. Not too far up the path the fireman stopped the group just as a large tree fell down ahead of them and across the path. They continued around it and then up the hill and out of sight. 

Rebecca's fireman arrived to lead her group, warning them to hold hands and not let go for any reason. As they started up the hill and around the fallen tree they saw that one of the cabins had been completely flattened by another falling tree. 

They were all crying now, from fear and from the pain of the wind-driven debris hitting their faces. Rebecca let go of the hand of the girl next to her so that she could brush at her face. Her rain poncho acted as a sail to fly her through the air for several feet until her partner could grab her hand again. 

Once loaded onto the buses, the campers were taken to nearby Kingswood High School to spend the rest of the afternoon and the night. The townspeople brought blankets and food for them. Rebecca shared a blanket with two other girls, while sleeping on the floor of the school library. She envied the girls who had brought their pillows and stuffed animals. 

After a collect call home on Tuesday afternoon (Aug. 20) Rebecca was picked up at the high school by her dad. They went back to the camp for her belongings. Bill (Dad) described it as looking like a cross between a war zone and a lumber camp. Logging crews were cutting up the huge trees that were down everywhere.

No campers were seriously injured, although three of the sleeping cabins were completely destroyed by falling trees. 

All of Rebecca's belongings were recovered. The white bear was still napping, safe up there on the top bunk. The rain poncho was left behind at the high school. Rebecca didn't want it any more. 

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