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Monday, August 29, 2011

STORMPOCALYPSE IRENE

They started warning us about Hurricane Irene a week before it actually
arrived. And when I say, warn, I mean WARN. It started off gradually with
weathermen casually saying it might be a problem come the weekend
but by Friday it had built into a crescendo. People started hitting the
grocery and hardware stores for essentials. I think the climax came with
the hourlong newscasts from NBC on Friday and Saturday, complete with
the computer graphics showing a flooded Holland Tunnel and lower
Manhattan if an 11ft storm surge hit New York City.

For my part I wasn't too worried. I live over ten miles from the ocean and
there are no lakes or rivers nearby. I went out on Thursday and hunted down
some size D batteries for my flashlight at Target where there weren't too many
customers. Most, in fact, were shopping mostly in the "Back to School" aisles
with their kids. It was a different story at the local supermarket but the bread
and milk hadn't sold out yet. All I really needed was some sugar free strawberry
jam and low calorie peanut butter. I'd bought a small cooler at Target and two
freezer packs in case we lost power. When I returned home from my shopping
expedition I cleaned the two folding chairs and table on the patio before
bringing them inside as a precaution against sharing my apartment with spiders.

On Saturday I went out and got gas for the car and made sure to charge up
my cellphone and camera batteries. I kept the laptop plugged in until I went
to bed.

I was all set for the coming Stormpocalypse.

Saturday had been overcast with some torrential downpours but there had been
 very little wind. It had picked up a bit when I got up on Sunday morning, but
it didn't seem all that bad. I toasted a bagel and zapped a cup of hot water in
the microwave for tea and settled in to see which unlucky reporter would be
the one getting drenched by waves. Then the phone rang. It was my brother in
law.

"Do you have power there?"

"Yes, why?"

"Preset your oven to 350."

"What? Why?"

It seemed that my sister had started cooking some manicotti and  then the power
had gone out in Whitman where they live and she was coming over to my place to
finish cooking it. Now it was time for me to go into red alert. I had just gotten up,
was in the midst of breakfast, and was  still dressed in the old hoodie and
sweatpants that serve as my pajamas. I had an hour before Cheryl would
be here, so I got washed and dressed and set about straightening up my
apartment. And then, at 11am, my power went out, too.My sister ended
up cooking the manicotti on the gas grill on their patio.

From what I've heard on the radio in the past day, that's when most of the
other towns in our area lost their electricity as well.

I spent the rest of the day reading and listening to my transistor radio. Unfortunately
it only has  the FM and most of the stations were continuing their usual
programming.I finally found a Boston talk radio station, WTTK, that was
simulcasting the New England Cable News broadcast. This was fine for
awhile but it turned out that "Live & Local coverage" meant "not quite live"
as they kept rebroadcasting a videotape of about two hours worth of stories
in a loop. I caught on after the third repeat of a story of the flooding in
Bridgeport, CT. As the afternoon wore on I drifted in and out of sleep in
my easy chair. I had a cold cut sandwich for lunch and a peanut butter and
jam sandwich for dinner.

By 6pm the wind had died down and I was antsy from sitting all day, so I put on
my jacket and took a short walk. Our apartment complex is on the same street
as the town high school and the power lines are all on the far side of the street,
so I was able to see there were no lines down. I went down to the end of the
street where it empties onto the busy Rte 18 and saw that the traffic lights were
out. Polite drivers would treat such a situation as a four way stop sign intersection,
but I live in Massachusetts. There weren't a heck of a lot of polite drivers as I
watched two cars narrowly avoid a collision and realized that I could possibly
be the proverbial innocvent bystander if there were an accident while I stood
there. I beat a hasty retreat back to the safety of my apartment and settled in
for the night. Eventually, I went to bed at 10pm which is very early for me.

I woke up Monday morning around 6am and started listening to a local station,
WATD. The power was still out in much of the South Shore and I called the
NationalGrid power company to see what I could find out. It didn't take too
long to get a live person and report our outage but the estimate she gave me
for getting the electricity back wasn't good news: 3 to 5 days. While I'd
expected it would be down for a day I hadn't expected possibly a week.
As I listened to the news I learned that some transformer lines had gone
down which was why many of the towns had lost power at 11am on Sunday.
Ironically, there were some areas of towns that hadn't been effected, and a
few of the towns had their own power companies so they
had no problems at all. At least I'd be able to buy fresh food in those towns so I
wasn't too upset.

Neither was one of my fellow Seniors who lives in the next building over. There's
an unused barbecue pit in the complex backyard and she set up a small camping
stove, then let everyone know she was boiling water for coffee and tea if we
provided our own cups. I walked over with my own tea bag and got a cup of tea
to take my meds with. A few of us swapped stories about past hurricanes as we
waited for the water to boil. When the handyman came by he told us the northern
part of town still had power.We were just a block south of where the power stopped.
He confirmed the estimate I'd heard earlier and I started making plans for the
duration.

My cellphone charge was still good but my laptop battery was now at 50% so I
needed to find someplace to recharge it. I also figured I better check in and let
my friends and family online know I was safe, so I grabbed the laptop and headed
over to the Panera Bread Cafe in Hingham where they still had power.  I got
there about 12:30 and the place was a madhouse with a line going out the door,
but it didn't take too long to get to the counter. I ordered a sandwich and iced tea,
then found a vacant table, sat down, and logged onto Facebook. I had to be
quick because the battery was rapidly running down and there is a half hour
time limit for internet use between 11:30 am and 1:30pm  at Panera's. I managed
to post my Status and answer some inquiries from folks who'd asked if I was
alright and might have been able to answer more except for Facebook choosing
today to insist on demonstrating the new secuirity measures. I got the warning
from the computer that I had 10 minutes worth of power left just as I finished
my sandwich. There wasn't a power plug near my table, so I shuit down the
computer and left.

I went to Abington and the Senior Citizen Center where I found a wall plug
and recharged the laptop as the regular Monday Seniors' Bingo game went
on around me. Storms may come, and storms may go, but Bingo is forever!
I sat there listening as strange arcane terms like "Wedding Cake" and "Postage
Stamp" were called out and players yelled "Bingo!" until the last game was
over. Oddly enough, that was just as the computer reached full charge!

I decided to pick up a new carton of milk and a bag of ice. Iheaded over to
Trucchi's for the milk but they had no ice. Neither did the Abington Ice place
(which oddly enough is just over the line into Rockland)but I found some back
at the other end of town in a small Brazilian grocery. I drove home through
some of those four way intersections where the traffic lights were still out and
managed to stop at each one without being rear-ended by anyone, and then
put the milk and ice into the cooler.

Ten minutes later, the power came back on.

My neighbor who'd warmed the water for tea this morning had made plans
already and cooked hot dogs and hamburgers on her camping stove, so even
though we had our power back on, a bunch of us ate outside on her patio and
swapped stories and then yes, genealogy! It was a nice evening and we all
agreed we should do it again before the weather turned colder.

So that was how I spent my time during Hurricane Irene. Well it wasn't
quite the Stormpocalypse here that was predicted, people in other parts
of the the East Coast were not so fortunate. None of the minor inconveniences
we experienced here compare to the loss of lives and property some people
have suffered, and I'm grateful my friends and family weren't among that
number.

And the weather forecasters are already talking about Katiya, the next tropical
storm that could hit next week.

8 comments:

Heather Rojo said...

Great story, Bill! We lost our power at 11 AM, too, but got it back later the same day, but only because our neighbor chased a PSNH truck (on foot!) as it went down the street. We shared our leftover Bash food with some friends who had no power. Where would we be without good neighbors in these situations? (like your neighbor with the hot dogs) I'm glad you're back to civilization, and I hope everyone else is very soon.

Donna Hague Wendt said...

Thanks for the great story, Bill. Glad it had a happy ending!

Greta Koehl said...

We lost our power here at 2:30 a.m., got it back at 11:15. I think Snowmageddon was more fun than Stormpocalypse. And we didn't lose power then.

Your post reminded me of my least favorite thing about Massachusetts - the way people drive there. Drivers in the Washington, D.C. area may be obnoxious in a lot of ways, but they will actually do that four-way stop thing when the lights are out.

Wendy said...

So glad that everything worked out as well as it did, and that everybody back home is safe and dry (and didn't blow away in the storm)! Hurricanes are always an adventure - it sounds like Irene was no exception.

Claudia's Genealogy Blog said...

Great story....About 15 years ago we had a bad summer storm in Western PA and our power was our for three day and no ice to be had.

Lost a freezer full of food, but at least I could cold initially because I have a gas stove. You can light the electronic ignition with a long lighter.

Dorene from Ohio said...

Glad to hear you are okay!!

dee-burris said...

Glad to hear all is well with you.

Karen Packard Rhodes said...

Wonderful tale. Some people have complained that the storm was over-hyped. That always happens, but I think you know that it is better to be prepared and have the storm not come (which was our situation here in North Florida) than to be unprepared and have the storm come!

Kudos to the lady with the camp stove.

On the Hounds of the Internet, a Sherlockian forum, one of the participants quipped that it was no surprise Irene lost steam down to a tropical storm when she got to New York -- everything that hits Wall Street gets downgraded!