Goodnight Irene

Interesting times, indeed. Last Tuesday, the East Coast experienced something most of us are pretty unfamiliar with. A 5.9 earthquake. I have felt a 4 before and a 2, but neither of those “vibrations” could have prepared me for the length and the intensity of the swaying sensation I experienced last Tuesday.

I detected a couple of the 2-4 magnitude range aftershocks, and I thought I felt one last night, but I cannot confirm whether it was an aftershock or not. I was laying in bed, reading by candlelight. (Post Script: there was a 2.3 aftershock listed on the USGS’s website from 9:06 p.m., so I am guessing that was what I felt.)

Because immediately following on the path of the earthquake was Hurricane Irene. Now, I am a Tidewater girl, born and bred, and a hurricane is not a new or unfamiliar experience for me, unlike an earthquake. It didn’t look to be especially severe, and my family took the typical precautions of hurricane-preparedness: we bought ice, put batteries in our electric lanterns and radio, put the candles and lighters in central locations, and battened down the hatches.

The storm slowed considerably and we were subjected to moderate winds and rain for almost a full 24 hour period, which is the longest I can remember a storm lasting. Period. Power started flickering around noon went out finally at 2:30 on Saturday. From 2-5pm, we were listening to frequent and surprisingly close pops and cracks as trees and large limbs came crashing down. A dead tree we knew would come down in our yard dropped first, around 2pm. It took out the fence, but left the trailer full of canvas tents and SCA furniture, and the shed full of the same, alone.

Not too long later, the dead tree in the neighbor’s yard cracked 4 feet from the roots and tipped into a living hardwood next to it, and there it remains, a looming threat.

After that, other random living and dead trees came down, most of them in the neighbor’s fully wooded lot next door.

Those were 3 very stressful hours. After that, things sort of leveled out and we had dinner and opened up a few beers to take the edge off the nerves. There was very little sleep Saturday night between a very loud generator running and continuing cracks and pops of falling limbs and maybe another dead tree around 11:50 that night.

I left the house at 6am on Sunday morning expecting to find power still on at at least one of the area commerce centers and hoping to score a couple of bags of ice. As it turned out, there was no power, anywhere, for several miles. No traffic lights, no businesses, nothing. I kept trying different routes to venture out further and further, but each way back home was blocked by downed trees and power lines except the one road that takes you to the high school that is always used as a shelter in emergency situations. I meandered back home with the news that the area was much worse than I had expected it to be, and we settled in, guessing by the damage that we could possibly go a week without power.

It was a hot night and the generator is still roaring away 2 doors down, so sleep remains elusive.

Things are looking up today though. There is a possibility we could have power back as early as sometime tonight, though I am more positive it will be sometime tomorrow. My in-laws have power back in the East End of Richmond and they are happily taking Grace to their air conditioned, television-capable haven. She was holding her own with little mini-meltdowns whenever she would ask when the power might come back and I had no good answer for her. She was pretty content to play in the mud and stack up twigs outside, and indoors, we would play make believe games, build a fort in the living room out of sheets, pillows and sheepskins from Pennsic, we would color, paint, and so forth. Thankfully she had just experienced Pennsic, so she could at least relate the two experiences. But I wouldn’t say it was the easiest thing for her or us. She will have a blast at Nana and Papa’s house and I will stress less about my mom trying to care for her by herself with no power.

We are back at work today, which is how this is getting posted. I do not have one of those handy internet-accessible phones, so I was completely in the dark (pun intended) about what was going on in the world except for what little WRVA would share. It is a little sketchy downtown with few traffic lights functioning and there are no cops helping guide traffic along. It is especially sketchy for pedestrians.

I took home some new hurricane preparedness lessons from Irene. We have the ability to easily get dry ice, and in the future we will definitely make the investment to get a few blocks of dry ice. The chest freezer is doing well, but the fridge would have benefitted from a block or two of dry ice keeping things very chilly.

Other than that, we are okay. We have our camp kitchen equipment keeping us fed and caffeinated. We had a pantry full of homemade pickled goods that were quite cool and tasty last night. There was plenty of fresh water if we had needed it, which, thankfully, we didn’t. We will likely be out of warm water by today, but friends who have power back have offered us the use of their showers, and I will gladly take them up on it.

What shocked me was to come back to work and hear the people in my office who had no food whatsoever in the house. Hearing about the 1-2 hour long lines wrapped around the block of a McDonald’s in the East End. People who didn’t have so much as a loaf of bread and some peanut butter in the house.

Somehow, after incidents like the aftermath of Katrina, I would have thought people would prefer to be over prepared and ready to care for themselves, rather than hope for the best in any emergency situation. If I could get any message across to the general population it would be this: be willing and able to look after yourselves and your immediate family. You never know what tomorrow might bring. Particularly when you have so much early warning as with a hurricane. It is such a simple thing to do to have extra water and some food that doesn’t require electricity or a microwave on hand in the event of an emergency. Anyone who doesn’t make the most basic preparations puts themselves at the mercy of the local McDonald’s having power, or even worse, waiting on local or federal relief services that may not be there right away.

Think for yourself, plan ahead, and don’t EVER rely solely on the Government to be there to help you when things get bad.

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