Couple barely escapes Ike with their lives

September 14, 2008 5:14:29 PM PDT
Paul Norton wants you to know one thing: He and his wife Kathi didn't ride out Hurricane Ike at Crystal Beach for kicks. HURRICANE IKE: Watch live | Breaking news on Ike | Roadway incidents | Interactive tracking | Viewer photos of Ike | Doppler radar | During the storm | After the storm | Hurricane guide

They planned to leave their home two blocks from the beach on Bolivar Peninsula before water was expected to rise Friday afternoon. But they woke up that morning and water was already rising, preventing them from leaving home.

"There was nothing we could do," Kathi Norton said, outside a large evacuation shelter in San Antonio on Sunday.

Despite news reports about stubborn Texas coastal residents riding out the storm, Paul Norton he and his wife didn't intend to defy evacuation orders.

"We didn't have a hurricane party," said the 68-year-old retiree.

When the couple realized they couldn't get out of their house in time, they made careful plans to stay there. The home is 14-feet high on stilts. Kathi Norton put on a life jacket. They wrapped their important documents, credit cards, money, cell phones and phone contact lists in plastic, then put the package into a leather bag that they vowed to hold onto, no matter what.

Soon, the precious package -- and the Nortons themselves -- would be swept into the raging waters of Hurricane Ike.

The couple clung to one another in an overnight fight for life.

On Friday night, the walls of their home started to break. They saw refrigerators, lawn mowers, hot tubs and other items from neighboring homes float down the street.

"There are 300- to 400-gallon butane tanks flying around" and butane seeping out, Paul Norton said.

At 11:30 p.m. the deck tore off their home. Closer to midnight, "the house started buckling," he said.

Then all of a sudden there was a "big buckle," he said.

"The whole floor was just opened out," he said. He made his way out of the house and pulled his wife along. The outdoor staircase started to break, and they grabbed it.

"I look up, the house is coming on us," Paul Norton said. Their flag pole temporarily kept the house from collapsing on them. That gave them a few seconds to get away, still holding onto the staircase.

"We had to grab that staircase and float wherever it took us," he said.

Kathi Norton said, "You never know what a hurricane is like until you ride it on a staircase."

They endured four-foot waves. Paul Norton went under water one time and didn't think he was going to make it back up.

For hours they held on. At one point they were perched in trees. They finally made their way onto someone's motor home. When it started to sink, they clung to the rafters of a nearby structure and stayed there until 7 a.m. Saturday.

"We just couldn't be up there anymore," Kathi Norton said.

They jumped off, found shelter behind a garage and stayed there and shivered until they were able to get closer to their home.

"We got back to where our house was -- there was nothing," Paul Norton said. There were only three houses remaining where 25 previously stood in a two-block radius.

Finally around 4 p.m. Saturday, the Coast Guard spotted them and sent in the National Guard. They were airlifted to Brazoria County, then taken to San Antonio.

"We're trying to get back to Houston," said Kathi Norton, a 47-year-old landscaper, explaining that they think one of their vehicles may have survived because of where it was parked.

As the Nortons spoke, busloads of new evacuees were arriving in San Antonio, bumper to bumper. One family rested their heads between their knees in exhaustion. Children and families wandered around outside and inside the shelter.

The Nortons had not yet reached family members Sunday to let them know they are OK, because they lost their bag contain phone numbers and other valuable during the ordeal.

They're not sure what their next step is. Paul Norton is retired. Kathi Norton is a landscaper.

"We're not shelter people," Paul Norton said.

"We have limited funds, and we don't know what we're going to do," Kathi Norton said.

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