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Published September 8, 2020



Laura, Marco reminded me of Alicia, Stormy

By John Toth / The Bulletin

After the hurricane twins Laura and Marco started to make waves, I started making plans, just in case they decided to pair up and land us the one-two punch. I went to our hideaway, where there is no storm, no rain, but lots of time to reflect.

In my younger days when my Brazoria County beat included covering hurricanes, I waged valiantly against the elements as I delivered the information to readers. It wasn't just my job – it was a mission.
As Hurricane Alicia in 1983 was coming ashore in Freeport, I decided to drive around with an Associated Press reporter to “get the feel of the storm.” We found downed power lines, heavy rain and wind. We were the only ones on the road.

That little excursion did nothing except get us wet. The real story about the storm and how it destroyed lives came later.

I was hired by the Houston Chronicle to cover the Brazoria ounty area two months before Hurricane Alicia hit. I spent the night Alicia was to make landfall in the Brazoria County Courthouse, but I probably should have been at the Freeport Police Department.

That's where Jim Payne and his crew at KBRZ-AM were broadcasting until something in the radio tower broke. That was the best place for information about the storm, and Jim and his group were very good at it. But that's just part of the story for a newspaper man.

The next day I went down to Surfside to take some photos and talk to some people.

I was actually given the day off, so I didn't tell my editors in Houston that I was heading down there. We didn't have cell phones back then.

Entry into Surfside was restricted to residents only, but Marshall Phil Pesses let me in. Among other things, I found a destroyed mobile home with only one wall that remained standing.

In the background, a man was sifting through the rubble. In the forefront, sitting on the steps that used to lead to the front door, sat a young woman with a little girl in her lap. I snapped some pictures and got into a conversation with them.

The girl's name was Stormy. I made sure of that by asking both parents if that was her real name, not just a nickname.

It was getting late, and I needed to let the editors know what I was doing. I had to get back over the bridge and look for a working phone before the 5 p.m. news budget meeting. As I was making my way back, I saw a payphone, but the lines leading to it lay along the ground. I stopped, and guess what? It still had a dial tone. I called the news desk just minutes before the meeting and headed back home, thinking that I would write the story remotely.

When I got back to Clute to my apartment, which for some reason still had power and phone service, a message was waiting for me. The editors wanted me to deliver the roll of film to Houston right away. I could write the story at the Chronicle, they said. It was going to be a long day.

When I got to the Chronicle, I dropped the film off at the photo department, and one of my editors found an open computer for me. The story wrote itself. The only problem I had was convincing editors that the little girl's name was really Stormy.

The story and photo ran the next day on Page 1. It was my first P1 story in the Chronicle.

I covered many other stories during my 12-year stint with the Chronicle, but the Stormy article was special – not only because of the name, but also because it reflected in a very real, emotional way how the devastation felt, not only how it looked.

I met Stormy briefly many years later. She remembered the hurricane and the story in the paper. Her parents kept a copy of it. No matter what happened later in her life, that little girl sitting in her mother's lap with the mobile home falling down all around her became etched in time.

I have told this story many times. It's one of my favorites. So, if you get me going on hurricanes, expect to hear about Alicia and Stormy.

(John looks forward to hearing from you on this subject. Send me a note at john.bulletin@gmail.com. You can even send an old-fashioned letter to: The Bulletin, P.O. Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516.)