Monday, August 29, 2011

IRENE...reflections on a hurricane.

It began day before yesterday Friday, Aug. 26th. We began to realize from online weather maps of a visit from an unwanted weather event named Irene. From TV and online media there was some indication it might reach a category 3-4 before finally going out to sea. Friday evening at Lib’s suggestion I went to our local Kroger store, bought some bottled water (two gallons), some other small items, and some cash money. With increased interest we watched her move up alongside the North Carolina coast and checked on the weather forecasts there from official weather stations. We worried that Mike and some of his family were in for a bad night. They live in Greenville, NC. I also emailed my brother John who lives on the coast in Lancaster county, Va. only to discover when I opened my Google mail, that they had wisely left home and ensconced themselves in a Richmond motel across town.

Late Friday night or early Saturday morning we could hear a light rain on our roof and skylight. Saturday morning at daybreak it continued. TV and computer both indicated we would have significant rain and wind later in the afternoon. We ate a light lunch. Soon Cathy’s family called and volunteered to tie down our deck furniture. My estimate was that we would escape high winds, but Lib wisely invited them over to check out things. It’s great to have family living close who can help out this way. A little later it began to rain in earnest. They came over and secured the deck furniture. It was nice just to visit with them and get their take on the situation.

The electricity had flickered most of the afternoon, but the winds from our perspective weren’t any more severe than a summer afternoon thunderstorm. Around 3:15 the current went off and except for the radio and a cell phone we were isolated from what was happening in the larger world. Later the wind picked up and rumor had it that we had some gusts over 50 mph. Around 5:30 we had ice cream for supper. We checked out the contents of the freezer side of the fridge and were satisfied by their state of frozenness.

It began to be dark by 6:30. Lib and I made preparations for a long night. Before the light faded I took movies of the blowing trees. Some of the time, as I was filming, it would be very calm. Then when I shut the camera off there would be an impressive gust and the trees would dance wildly. It was sort of frustrating not to be able to capture significant action on demand! Lib did see a a small tree fall across the drain ditch near our neighbor’s house.

Around 10:30 the radio announced that 75% of Richmond’s houses had lost power. I called a friend several miles away at whose church we were supposed to play on Sunday. They had power and that was encouraging as was the fact that most of the familiar radio stations were broadcasting. We turned on some small electric candles and went to bed. The concern we had was whether sometime in the night, without warning, one of the nearby trees would finally lose its grip in the wet soil and drop on our roof!

Around 1:00 AM I was awakened by the Verizon phone "battery losing power" signal. It took me a few minutes to find where the beep was coming from. I went to the kitchen for a drink of water and monitored news on the small radio. There were still occasional gusts and then it began to be quiet.

Dawn peeked through around 6:30 and we started the day by 7:30. We ate our traditional cereal breakfast. Our neighbor who brings us their paper to read came over and we exchanged mutual
questions about how we had survived the night. I was sort of hoping we would have electricity soon, but the radio discouragd that. Seems that state wide there was over a million without power and some 300,000 in the Richmond metro area. That’s a lot of lines and transformers to replace!!

Cathy called and brought us over some hot coffee. That helped immensely to put a positive cast on the day. The morning was spent reading and planning for the day. Food in the freezer was still frozen as was ice from the ice maker. We ate bagels and cream cheese with jelly for lunch and planned to have pork chops for supper. They would normally be grilled anyhow. It had been exactly 24 hours since the electricity had been off.

That afternoon we read and listened to the radio to pass the time. Lib and I had several conversations about family and our recollections of past hurricanes. Around 5:30 we grilled the
chops and warmed up some store bought mashed potatoes. That was supper.

Afterwards I drove out in the neighborhood to see if there was any ice to be found. There was
frozen food we hoped to save until the current came on. In a 45 minutes of driving I saw numerous trees by the side of the road. The few stores that were open were out of ice. It was
interesting to see what Irene had done with just 40-65 mph gusts.

We talked by candle light until 9:30 and then went on to bed. Sort of reminded us that this was
how people used to live just a few decades before we were born. And that there were many who
lived much closer to the whims of the weather around even now. Thought about women who daily had to walk a mile or more to carry water from a stream, lake, or well back to their homes.
Where cooking was done with wood or cattle “chips” over an indoor fire area that filled the whole hut with stinging smoke. Where going to the bathroom meant carrying a little container
of water for hygiene early in the morning before daybreak to a wooded area for a bit of privacy.
Whatever time left in the day would be devoted to back breaking hoeing and cultivating crops
to feed the animals and the family. We thought about how delicate is the web that connects we moderns to life through electricity! Without it, it doesn’t take long for life to return to primitive modes!

Around 5:00 am the current returned thanks to round the clock efforts by Dominion power. As
I finish this at 1:30 pm there are many still without, including I suspect, our daughter and her family. Hopefully, when she returns from work it will be on.

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