Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurricane Irene (very long, 3 day account)

We don't tend to get all that excited about tropical systems here on the Outer Banks. Most of the time a tropical storm or "weak" hurricane will travel up the southern coast and shift/turn to the east. That's what the models, for many days beforehand, were showing. So we made plans to ride it out, as usual. Sebastian and I even came up with the idea of making a weather station, and he was going to record his own weather reports to put on YouTube. We bought a few things to make wind socks and an anemometer to measure wind speed. We advertised to friends and family on Facebook.

Then the storm started shifting to the west, and with every 3-hour update, it would shift a little more, until finally, it was putting us directly in the path of the right front quadrant of a Category 2-3 hurricane. That's not anything I'd ever experienced. I was here for Floyd, but we were living further north and on higher ground. We were here for Isabel, but I don't think we got the worst of that here on the coast. Still, we prepared to stay. We had food and flashlights and water and a firm understanding that if anything were to happen, we were fucked because evacuation for residents was mandatory. There would be no EMS to rescue us if we had a problem.

The weather was to start deteriorating Friday night. We spent Thursday buying last-minute supplies and starting our preparations. After dinner that night, while working on the weather station, I began to get really, really nervous, to the point that I actually told Sam I wanted to leave. He told me to take Sebastian and go if I really wanted to but what the fuck? He wouldn't come with us? No discussion at all? Of course, I'm not going without him. I'd assumed Brandy would stay with her dad. And honestly, I would have wanted her to. I didn't want him to be alone. Anyway, I was pretty certain that I no longer wanted to do our weather reports. All excitement for that project was gone. For a lesser storm, I would have stuck with it, but for what was coming, I had no desire to do anything but prepare and survive.

I didn't get much sleep Thursday night (again) and I was battling the same headache I'd had since Monday. I was up early on Friday, and before I even got out of bed, I started crying. The radio was nothing but terror-inciting discussion. Even on The Weather Channel (the day before), the meteorologists were stressing the severity of the storm. To be honest, I didn't want to believe it was be that bad for us. Yes, a Category 3 storm is a major hurricane, and pretty brutal.

I wanted to think the meteorologists and news anchors were freaking out over the potential damage any hurricane would cause to large cities, like Philadelphia and New York City, as well as the coastal cities and towns further north that don't really have tropical experience.

I told Sam again that I wanted to leave. I wasn't quite scared but I was definitely on the feeling sick side. Since we had made the decision to stay, it was pretty much to late to change our minds, even though it was only 6:23 AM, and the mandatory evacuation would be starting at 8 AM. We were not prepared to leave. There would be too much for me to do by myself to leave in time. Sam still had to go to work and board up stuff for his boss. We had 3 cats that we would be unable to make arrangements for. I had loads of laundry to do, the yard to finish cleaning up. There just wasn't enough time to leave. Sure, I guess we could have just left with the clothes on our backs and our dirty laundry but I wasn't quite that scared.

So I spent my day getting laundry done (because who knew when we'd have power to wash clothes again) and filling buckets and jugs with water. I think we ended up with 20 gallons of water, not counting what was in the refrigerator and the buckets of ice cubes in the freezer. Plus 12 liters of pop, and 2 gallons of milk (which we'd drink first). We had a few packs of chicken in the freezer that we could grill when the time came, hot dogs and enough peanut butter, bread and dry cereal to feed a small army. There was fresh fruit and vegetables to eat early on. Lots of propane and stuff for the smoker if we needed to boil water to make rice or grains. I think we were good on supplies.

Around 11 AM on Friday, I saw that the forecast changed from a Category 3 to a strong Category 2, still directly over us. I started to feel a little better. I could handle that. My friend even joked with me that the pile of branches that has been sitting in the corner of my yard for 3 years might finally blow away. I joked back that the stupid thing would probably grow.

We got all the preparations done, then I tried to take a nap. I couldn't. So we took a ride down to the beach to take pictures before the rains hit. It was very comfortable on the beach front. The waves weren't too high and there was a good breeze. Very cloudy. I could have sat out there with my Kindle for hours in those conditions. 

We headed home to hit up one of the few stores left open - Walgreens. It was packed with people, most of whom were buying beer. We wanted ice cream but of course, it was all gone. We ended up with 2 large bags of dark chocolate peanut M&Ms, a bag of mint patties, some creme de menthe chocolate bars, and a bag of Twizzlers. Because we'd need the sugar to sustain us.

Before we lost power, we all took a shower. Not together, you pervert. Then I did laundry again so everything would be clean in case it got to the point where eventually we'd have to beat our clothing against rocks. Dinner was a nommy (I hate that mother fucking word) homemade breakfast burrito with a marshmallow. We watched some movies and finally, I was so tired I just had to go to bed after seeing the forecast - I could rest much easier with a Category 1 prediction.

I woke up several times during the night because I could hear the wind and rain. It wasn't heavy at all and it pissed me off because I was in the middle of a great dream (not a sex dream - more like a psychological thriller) with this guy:

Matthew Davis, (Alaric Saltzman on The Vampire Diaries)

I am a tad disturbed because his name in my dream was Barry Fitzgerald, and this is Barry Fitzgerald:

And while I find the ghost hunter attractive, especially with his Irish accent, I would not choose him for a good dream.

Anyway, I woke up just before Matt-Barry was surely about to turn from concerned sexy friend to psycho killer. I was very surprised to still have power. It was flickering though, so I jumped out of bed and quickly made a thermos of coffee before the power went out. When the power hung on, I decided to go ahead and get on the computer while I could. As long as I had power and internet, I wasn't going to settle in with my Kindle. I listened to updates on the local radio station, until they started having problems with their over-the-air stuff and had to listen to it via their web site.

We passed the day by eating M&Ms and catching up on our DVR. Lots of sexy Matt Bomer, and one episode of Ghost Hunters International with the attractive-but-not-sexy-enough-for-dreams Barry Fitzgerald. Occasionally, I'd run outside to see what that noise was. That noise was always another branch falling down.

Remember my comments above about my stick pile not only not blowing away, but growing?

Shortly before the eye passed by, I let my kids play outside for a few minutes. Call CPS! I almost wish we'd gone ahead with our weather reports.

That's our '68 Mustang in the background, the one Sam swore he'd restore. That was before I got pregnant, though.

We'd commented that the worst was behind us and shortly thereafter heard the loudest noise yet. I swam through the driveway to the other side of the house. This was the dark side of the moon, the only side we couldn't see from the "safety" of one of the porches.

There's the Mustang again. Thank goodness I was on the toilet when that branch hit the house and bounced off because I nearly shit myself from the banging and shaking.

On top of the weather and sugar rush, I battled a massive headache all day. I got some relief with a pair of Aleve pills and four kids crossing the county to see a dead body. There were lots of swear words and leeches on balls, but it was good times. 

Much better than the reality of what was happening in Dare County after the eye of the storm passed. The winds shifted and brought all the water that had been blown out of the sounds and canals and rivers back in, plus more. There were reports of terrible flooding - downtown Manteo was under 5 feet of water, Billy's Seafood on Colington Road had 4 feet of water inside, the go kart track where my step-daughter works was under water. My mom's house was starting to flood. Piers further south were completely destroyed. 

There was nothing to do except go to bed. At some point in the night, power went out. Sam started the generator and plugged in the refrigerator, the freezer, and later on, an oscillating fan. I walked to my friend's house down the road to make sure it was okay. It was. There wasn't even any tree debris in her neighborhood. It was just beautiful and green. I took more pictures of our property.

There's not really much to say about the pictures, other than the branches caused absolutely no structural (or even cosmetic) damage to our house. Our crappy fence fell in some places but that really needs to be replaced anyway. So we were very, very lucky. No wind damage and after the eye passed, barely a puddle in my neighborhood.

As is tradition, we headed out to check out the beach and ride down the beach road as far as we could. Surprisingly, the entire beach road was passable all the way through Kitty Hawk. We did stop at our closest beach access for a few pictures. You can see the difference from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning.

We were going to head home and begin clean up, but my brother sent me a text asking if I'd heard from our mother since last night. He was already in a panic last night because she wasn't responding to his texts and he couldn't get down the road to her house because of the flooding. With our big truck, we thought we might be able to get through. We had to lie to the police officer letting traffic for The Woods Road though. My mom lived on the road at the end of that one, well into the flooded area. Eventually, we made it to my mom's house. The water was up to the middle of my shin when I got out of the truck. There were fish swimming in her driveway. We knocked on the door and got no answer. I kept calling out to her and I was really starting to panic. Finally, her husband came to the door and said they were fine, they didn't need anything. My mom didn't come to the door and I knew it was because she was upset about the situation and she didn't want me to see her upset. I didn't push the issue. We left and headed back out to the by-pass to finish our business. When we got to the check point, the county sheriff came up behind us and asked if we'd just come from the Kitty Hawk Road area and when we said yes, he asked if he'd go back and get a county VIP who couldn't get out because the water was too deep. It took us about half hour to get back to him, and he'd just gotten a ride with someone else, but passed us and told us to see the sheriff again before we left. So once again, we headed back out to finish our business, with a quick stop at the sheriff's vehicle. He offered Sam money for his troubles, which Sam turned down. The sheriff gave him a business card and a wink instead. That's more valuable than money.

Here are some pictures from that little trip. It was pretty much water, water, water. I can't imagine living in that flood prone area. As much as I dislike living here in general, I am very fortunate that my neighborhood doesn't see this kind of flooding.

We got back onto the by-pass and saw that Home Depot was open. Sam had mentioned needing a chainsaw to cut those big branches in our yard. I really didn't think anything would be open, but something had told me to bring my wallet (but not my Kindle, which I really could have used on that slow, slow ride down Kitty Hawk Road). We bought a chainsaw, some Diet Cokes, and some candy bars, because none of us had eaten breakfast before what was supposed to be a quick trip down the beach road. 

Finally, we got home. Still no power. We sat around, trying to decide what to do. Sam wanted to play with his chainsaw. I wanted the boards off the windows first because I was tired of trying to pee with a flashlight. Sam decided that once it cooled down, he'd start working on the branches. I tried to read but I couldn't concentrate. I went into the bedroom where it was still a little cool and sort of took a nap. I didn't fully fall asleep but I was definitely drooling. I heard the kids going in and out, and I heard Sebastian say something about his helmet. When I became fully conscious, I found that Sam had changed his mind. They were all bored so they started cleaning up the yard. I was pissed they didn't come get me. Then when I got out there and helped for a while, I was glad I'd missed the first hour. It would have been a lot worse if not for two things - the emergency credit card chainsaw and the four-wheeler we got Sebastian for his birthday.

I don't know why I can't get this stupid thing centered.

This is what's left of that stick pile I've been bitching about for years. It looks like the only thing missing is the tool box. Sam said the wood is starting to break down and would be a pain in the ass to move. So we're going to make that our compost corner.

And that was pretty much it for clean up today. Sam is going to bring in some equipment from work to push the pine straw and pine cones into the small wooded strip between our house and the next. When his dad comes to visit next weekend (as long as he doesn't have jury duty), they are going to chop down a lot of dead branches from the trees. Amazingly, there's one branch that was barely hanging on all through the storm, and that stupid thing is still there, hanging by a thread. Sam calls it a  Widow Maker.

After that exhausting, sweaty task, we came inside to fight over the fan and ice cubes. I managed to read a little but couldn't get comfortable. Call me spoiled, but I was really starting to worry that we'd be without power all night. Sam was hungry so he started the propane grill to boil water for pasta and hot dogs. At some point while he was waiting for the water to boil, the power came on. We decided not to tell him just yet, to see if he'd notice, but after a while of the damn water not boiling, I was getting hungry and told him to do it on the stove. He thought I was messing with him. Fortunately, I was not, and we did have power. That meant internet! Four laptops immediately booted up. We were no longer required to talk to each other. It was blissful.

Oh yeah, and no school Monday, which is a good thing because the inside of my house has a much debris as the outside. But we need to get back soon because there aren't a lot of calendar days open for make ups before the mandatory deadline for the last day of school. We have already lost one day of Thanksgiving break and half a Saturday for make ups. Tomorrow and subsequent closings (if any) may have to come from Christmas break and/or Spring Break. Nasty.

And lastly, if you see any pictures that look like a variation of this and claim to be a hurricane/tropical storm, please school the moron who says so.

That's a shelf cloud, which usually forms in severe thunderstorms or tornadoes. They are not the leading edge of a tropical system. That's not how hurricanes form.

Oh, and a re-tweet from BettyFckinWhite: Hurricane Irene wasn't as bad as they predicted. Maybe now those meteorologists will stick with what they know. You know, meteors

Sunday, August 21, 2011

I regret not saving the hands.

When Sebastian started pre-school, he had a biut of separation anxiety. His teacher suggested I give him something of mine to keep in his cubby or backpack, so he would know I was always near. Sebastian and I couldn't really come up with anything he wanted to take. He just said he wanted to be able to hold my hand. So we traced our hands on construction paper, cut them out, and taped them together like we were shaking hands. Every year on first-day-of-school eve, we'd make a new pair. I thought for sure he would not want to do it this year, but he does. And now I'm sad that I didn't think to save all the paper hands :( That would have been something great to look back on when he graduates from high school :(