The dark and stormy night

It was a dark and stormy night with river levels rising rapidly. That night, 20 years ago, Enelda Cary and her husband went to Houston to meet her nephew flying into Houston from Panama. They expected to begin the drive home in the late afternoon. That was not to be due to a delay. “We got there in time, but the immigration took two hours. By the time they cleared him and we could leave, it was dark,” Enelda said.

“When we left the airport, we headed straight to Shreveport,” Enelda recalled. That plan fell apart at the Trinity River. A driver had landed in the river.

“She could not see that it was flooded,” Enelda said. It was that dark.

“We decided it was time to stop. We saw a post office. It was after hours so it was closed but the lobby was open and the parking lot filled with cars pulled over to wait out the storm.”

Enelda and her husband climbed out of the car and joined others inside the post office lobby to stretch and get out of the weather. “My nephew had not slept in two days. He decided to sleep in the passenger seat while we went in.”

Going inside offered little relief. “There were so many people there that we could hardly get in. Still we stood there for 45 minutes to an hour until somebody said. ‘I know how to get across the river. Follow me.’”

Nearly everyone followed him out of the lobby into the rain to their cars and down the road. “When we got close to the river there was a police blockade. We could not go on. The policeman sent us another way to higher ground where there were restaurants. We parked in the parking lot of a pizza place near the Mexican restaurant. The Mexican restaurant was open.”

“The staff were nice. They said, ‘We will serve as long as we have food.’ We had a good supper,” she recalled. The restaurant owners took food out of the freezer until they ran out of food. Still everyone stayed inside because the rain kept falling and the river kept rising. The manager said the women and children could sleep on the tables as long as there was room.”

The Carys chose to go back to their car to sleep and wait for the river levels to subside. Their nephew greeted them and said the wind had blown so hard that the car had been shaking.

Eventually they all settled down as best they could and slept for the rest of the night. “My husband slept behind the wheel. I went to sleep in the back seat. When we woke up, it was morning and almost everyone had gone,” Enelda recalled.

This time the Carys could cross the river and head to Shreveport. As they approached Minden they slowed in astonishment at the carnage they saw: roofs ripped off buildings, buildings with the top story removed, mattresses in trees and clothes strewn across the landscape. A tornado had hit during the night. That surprised the Carys. They had heard nothing about a tornado, only about flooded roads.

“If we had not been delayed by immigration we probably would have been there when the tornado came. We missed the tornado,” Enelda said still surprised 20 years later. The annoying, lengthy delay at the airport kept them at the airport. The rising river levels that dark and stormy night stopped their journey north and forced them off the road, safely away from the destructive path of the previous day’s tornado.