Sunday, September 19, 2004

Survivin' Ivan

One of the members of our little 'Raptor community, Dixie6256, recently elected to ride out Ivan. Below is her account of the experience. Try to stay calm, boys...this is the story of a woman with "edumacation" AND her own rechargeable reciprocating saw... Here's the tale:

[I'm] A-OK, and thankful like you wouldn't BELIEVE that the power is finallyback
on. I am so glad that my redneck neighbors, even though they tell me
theypity me for it, don't actually look down on me jes cause I have me
some edumacation. (This kinda stuff is our running joke, of course, because
mybackground is just as much redneck as theirs.) They have had power on
their side ofthe street since yesterday due to the vagaries of exactly which
transformerpowers their lines. I pled with the crew of one truck to come
down one more blockfor a quick look because there was no damage to the lines and
they'd onlyhave to close the air gap, but they sympathetically but firmly told
me that theyhad to deal with the main lines with no turning aside. "Two to
five weeks,ma'am," one young man from Illinois said.

Well, the good ol' boy network sprang to my rescue: the neighbor calledhis cousin who dated a girl whose sister's sister-in-law had just divorced(amicably, thank
goodness) a fellow who worked on a road crew with Baldwin CountyElectric
Membership Corporation. And yes--within the good ol' boy network,that
relationship is close enough to get him to drive out here before he satdown to
his dinner. The other two families on my cul de sac were just as happyas
I, but they had at least had generators to power minimal lights and ceilingfans
as well as saving the contents of their refrigerators/freezers.

I date this experience from last Monday afternoon (September 13) when Ipassed
through the school office on my way to class and overheard the principaltelling
the secretaries that all after school events were to be cancelled andschool
closed until further notice. (Further notice has been extended tonext
Friday, by the way.) It has been a long six days. To start, the
athleteswere called to the office by room numbers so that they could call
parents ifthey needed transportation home from cancelled practices or games, and
allteachers received a phone tree and emergency shutdown instructions to carry
outbefore leaving for the day. My middle school would be open as a shelter
if Ivanweakened to Category 3 or less. There would be NO shelters in this,
thesecond largest county east of the Mississippi, if it remained Category 4
orstrengthened. I'm sure you're not surprised to know we had no shelters.
The choiceswere two: hunker down or get the hell outta Dodge.

So many variables go into a decision to stay during a major storm.
Mineincluded a house well built less than four years ago, no trees of any
sizenear enough to fall on the house, and plywood already cut to size for all
mywindows stored in the attic space of the carport. Along with that, I had
beenliving with my parents in '79 when we made to decision to evacuate.
Theyunhappily rode out the night after Hurricane Frederic in a Dodge van
in a Montgomerytruck stop. I had driven farther north to Tuscaloosa to
stay with friends atthe University of Alabama. Strong thunderstorms and
tornado watches andwarnings kept me there for three days without communications.

I felt that I couldtake reasonable steps for security during this storm.
I did not want toexperience once again that disconnect from family and
friends and daily life. Astorm may kick normal routine in the ass, but
it's easier to pick back up ifyou're in the midst of your own place and

So, the shopping began as soon as my son and I left school.
Fresh bread,milk, eight bags of ice. With a teenager in the house, I
keep a good supplyof batteries for video games, for flashlights so that kids in
the neighborhoodcould play what they call Night Find on the four acres I have
and the woodsthat extend beyond me. I've never been without a good supply
of canned goods,and I have recently begun to wonder if that's due to memories of
weeks andweeks without power after Frederic. I know that choosing to have
gas cooking andwater heating is directly related to hurricane aftermath.
The rest of Mondaywas for organization and cleaning--all dishes washed,
all laundry done, all cabinets checked, all flashlights, battery and windup
clocks, radios, andcoke-can sized TV tested.

Tuesday was truly the first labor day of this month. The fourteenhalf-inch playwood sheets had to be handed down from the carport rafters, carriedaround to lean against the house under the windows they fit. Then we used the14.4 battery-powered Black & Decker drill to screw them in place. I worked onthe ladder for
the upper screws; my son finished off the bottom ones while Imoved the ladder to
the next window. I have good tools--there were two batterypacks with the
set I'd bought, and we used up the charge on both of them.Luckily, we had time
to recharge both before the power went out. I like pottedplants on my deck
and patio--they were all carried inside. The tool room hadto be cleaned up
so that the push mower, the riding mower, and the trailerwould all fit inside.
The pop-up camper I backed into the space between thehouse and the
carport. My spare car was driven to the neighbor's house just incase my
driveway was again washed away. I took down the lattice at one end ofthe
deck so that the porch swing and deck furniture could be stowed underneathand
then nailed it back into place. A moment of outward pride in all
thatwork--the builder, who had expressed "admiration" of my request to have
theplywood cut for the windows when I had the house built, came by to tell me
that hehad really thought I had been silly. Now, he intends to offer
cutting plywoodduring construction as a value to make his business more

Wednesday I drove into Bay Minette (county seat and city
to my north) togas up, get tires checked and fixed, pick up some drink mix and
my guests forthe storm. My mother, before she moved to North Carolina, had
gotten close toMazie and her granddaughter Kayla. When Mazie called me on
Monday evening, Itold her that whatever I decided to do, I'd come to get the two
of them.Mazie, at 86, shaky on her pins, and just shy of legally blind, doesn't
drive.And the small wood frame house she rents (closely surrounded by oaks) is
almostas old as she is. I guess the deciding factor for me was when she
told meher landlady had driven by to anoint the trees and the house, to pray for
theirdeliverance from the storm. From my point of view, what the woman
needed tobring was a chainsaw to cut some limbs and a screwdriver to remove a
latchlessstorm door. The wind began rising just before 1 p.m. with gusts
that my sonand Kayla laughingly fell back from as they ran around outside the
housecalling the cat and thereby insuring that she hid effectively from them.
Ivan wasstill over 100 miles from landfall.

Wednesday night found us stepping onto the back deck or front porch fromtime to time to watch the trees bend and whip and the rain fall horizontally.The front door was the sheltered one. I was the only one to open the backdoor, an act that
assured I'd be stingingly rain slapped for my temerity. At 10p.m. we were
all aware of our fatigue. Fear had Murphy pull his mattressinto my walk-in
closet to sleep. Fear put Mazie in a recliner in my bedroomrather than in
the spare bedroom, and fear put Kayla on an air mattress at herfeet. Fear
kept me awake.

By landfall around 2 a.m., I wasn't opening any more
doors, but I'd shinethe flashlight out the window of the front door--the only
glass we hadn'tcovered with plywood. Up to that time, we'd heard the wind
howling and the treelimbs lashing, creaking, and cracking. For the next
hour, all those thingscontinued but added was shaking--if I put my hand against
an exterior wall, Icould feel the house shiver whenever the noises outside were
loudest. I didtest this on interior walls but didn't feel movement.
That small fact was a bigrelief.

The power remained on through so much of the storm that the green-blueflash of the transformer going was a surprise. The color blob stayed on myretinas, a strange experience with my eyes wide open. But once the power went,there was nothing but darkness and noise. I was chiding myself for foolishnessas I crept quietly back into my bedroom for the flashlight. Did I think I wasgoing to wake anyone? I
think age at the opposite ends of the scale kepteveryone else in my house asleep
at that point. I went through the house turningoff the fans, the air
conditioner, the four lights I'd left on, and finallyunplugging the refrigerator
and freezer so that surge wouldn't damage anythingwhen the power did

With the battery TV, I sat in the living room and watched
the radar showthe eye of the storm inch up from the coast until it reached us.
And, ofcourse, I did exactly what the talking heads said not to do.
I opened my frontdoor. There was still a light splatter of rain, but
at times it was hard totell if that water might be actual rain or drops shed
from trees. The low partof my property had flooded since we'd gotten a
foot of rain during the firsthalf of the storm. Some water roared through
my two 24" culverts at the base ofthe five-foot buildup for the driveway,
digging a pool on the other side. Asheet about two inches deep and at
least ten feet wide rushed over the top,creating a waterfall on the eastern
side, and eating away at the packed clay asNiagara erodes its way into Canada.
As I swung back around to return to thehouse, the beam from my flashlight
picked out two large water oaks that hadbeen downed. The one nearer the
driveway had snapped off about three feet fromthe ground. The other on the
far side of the new Lake Hamilton had come up byits roots. Both had fallen
to the west, nowhere near the house. I went outat the beginning of the
eye, which was huge, and had not seen clear skies aboveme. The neighbor's
boys were more adventurous. They drove their father'swrecker up and down
the road a couple of times, down my driveway to thewaterfall over the culverts,
reversed out, and later reported that they were amazed athow many stars they
could see when there were no streetlights. We adults inthe neighborhood
found out for ourselves the next three nights when we'dcongregate to report on
our labors and share news before trying to fall asleepduring still nights that
cooled far too slowly after 90 degree days.

When the storm resumed, it was definitely the less powerful back quarter.I sat through another half hour after the eye, then carried the battery TVto my bedside. My thought was to lie down on top of the comforter whilewatching the coverage. My body's idea was to sleep. Mazie woke me just after 8 onThursday morning. We
cooked a hearty breakfast, both to stoke the fires forthe energy we'd need for
cleanup facing us and to use up the perishables ofegg, milk, bread, and bacon so
that they wouldn't go to waste withoutrefrigeration. A daylight survey
showed that I'd suffered the least damage in theneighborhood. The driveway
had withstood the waterfall--only a quarter of it on theeast side had washed
away, leaving me plenty to drive over until I can getthree loads of clay
delivered. I used my battery reciprocating saw on smallerlimbs of the two
oaks that had fallen. Not a single shingle had come loose onthe roof.
Trees were stripped of leaves so that they presented themid-December look
we recognize in southwest Alabama.

I drove Mazie and Kayla home shortly after noon, and it was eerie toslalom from lane to lane on Hwy 59 to avoid downed trees. The anointing, itseems, had worked on everything except the latchless storm door. Safety glasssparkled on the wet wood of the front porch, frightening Mazie into thinking thatthere would be ravages
beyond. Everything inside was perfectly fine, however,and I did a walk
around her house. One limb was on her roof, but the angleallowed me to see
that it hadn't damaged anything in its relatively short drop.

The time that followed has been one of working at restoration. My son isat his
dad's house because they got power back sooner than I did, so I tookthe plywood
down by myself. The neighborhood boys hoisted it back into itsplace in the
carport rafters. I've ridden over the dry parts of the acreage onthe
mower, picking up limbs to make a burn pile for the fire department toapprove.
A sweetheart of a damn Yankee from Boston pulled his van into mydriveway,
opened it to reveal a generator which he plugged into my freezer for threehours
on Friday and three hours today. I believe he saved the whole load.

I know how lucky I've been. Friends and coworkers are surveying
housesthat are unlivable right now. My favorite cousin came by to see if I
neededanything done, not only because he was concerned but because he needs
money topay for repairs on his own house and knew I am in a position to pay his
modestcharge in advance. I gave him the $300 I'd withdrawn for emergency
money andtold him to come back after Christmas when I'd have the money saved to
buymaterials for a fence line I want. I gave the Baptist preacher up the
street oneof my five gallon cans of gasoline so that he could get out and
seeparishioners. Right after the power came on, I called to tell him he
could get theeight bags of ice from my freezer. He blessed me both times.
I didn't tell himI thought he had been redundant the first time.

So there you have it, happy ending and all. If John/John wins in November, I think we all know who we should push for the new director of FEMA...


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