My wife, Shirley, and I knew that hurricane Irene was coming our way and had time to either leave and head away from the storm, or get prepared to “ride it out,” which is what we chose to do. We also were aware of how big and how slow moving Irene was, and that it would result in a number of hours of feeling her wrath. What we expected was some possible tree damage and a short loss of electrical power. What we took precautions to avoid as best we could was to not put ourselves in harms way, so we rode out the storm living in the lower level, walkout basement of our home.
Pre-storm preparation for us consisted of securing anything that could become airborne during the storm (i.e. patio furniture, garden tools, potted plants, etc.), getting our picnic coolers out of storage, filling the freezer with ice, buying grocery items that could be heated on our gas stove top, or could be eaten cold, and making sure we had plenty of flashlights and candles ready for use since we don’t own even one kerosene lantern. We also had our handy cell phones nearby to keep us connected to the world once we lost power. By Friday afternoon of August 26, we were in a state of readiness for Irene, who was forecast to start her visit to our community of Williamsburg, Va. early Saturday morning.
Friday was a hot and humid day, with not a whisper of a breeze; the perfect definition of “the calm before the storm.” Late Friday night and into the early hours of Saturday, the winds picked up and the rain started to fall. By early Saturday morning, sustained winds of 30 mph with higher gusts and sideways rain had enveloped our community. We still had power, so our biggest challenge was to get our dog Josie to go outside and “do her thing.” She was stubbornly resisting. Since we live very near the 18th century restored town of Williamsburg, Va., I imagined the residents of those days, under the same stormy circumstances, not wanting to trek to the privy in the backyard, and as a result, the chamber pots got some daytime usage. No chamber pot for Josie. Get out there girl!
Saturday’s weather deteriorated quickly with strong winds, unrelenting rain, and at 2:45 p.m., our power went out. But remember, we were prepared and we hoped our “powerless home and convenient lifestyle” would be quickly restored once Irene moved on up the coast. It turned out that Irene was so big and slow moving that her wind and rain lasted a full 20 hours. In that time, our rain gauge collected 12 inches of rain. Throughout the storm, my wife and I heard numerous “things that go bump in the night.” Not ghosts, but large tree branches hitting the roof of our home on their trip to the ground.
The wind and rain left our community at about 5 a.m. Sunday morning, and to venture out in the morning was to view a neighborhood in disarray. Trees, large tree limbs and vegetation debris of all types scattered everywhere. Our driveway was blocked with the tops of two large trees that had been snapped off during the storm. Literally hundreds of tree branches were scattered everywhere. We, and our immediate neighbors, all had tree losses, some more than others but unbelievably, no property damage to homes. Other friends living in other parts of the community were not as fortunate, sustaining serious damage from trees falling onto their homes.
My wife spent most of Sunday cleaning out the refrigerators, keeping what we could in our ice filled coolers, and throwing out the remainder. An unexpected side benefit of losing electrical power for more than 12 hours is the opportunity to wash down the inside of the refrigerator, getting rid of those crumbs of food and splatters of liquids that have lived so happily in the “fridge” for who knows how long! My day was spent clearing our driveway and cleaning up the “big stuff” from the yard. I found large limbs in our backyard garden that came off trees in the front of our house. I built a small mountain of debris (12 feet long, 6 feet high) at our curbside, which the county hurricane debris collection contractors will eventually haul away.
It is late Monday afternoon as I write this. No power yet in our neighborhood as is the case in most of the Williamsburg area. We are still living out of our coolers, and have none of what we call the modern communication conveniences. No TV, no Internet, and no HVAC. And remember those handy cell phones? Worthless when the cell tower providing the cellular service is inoperable, as mine was. We are sitting on our porch listening to our transistor radio, which is now our connection to world. We are staying in touch with family via use of the old corded telephone, since cordless phones do not work without power. There are 800,000 people without power in all of Virginia, 400,000 in the Hampton Roads area (of which we are a part), 30,000 in our county, and 5,000 with no power in Williamsburg city proper.
Only hospitals, and those few businesses and residents with backup generators are able to “keep the lights on.”
Yes, it is inconvenient to live without the modern conveniences that electricity provides, and which we take for granted every day. But, last night, after dark, when I could no longer easily read, had no TV to watch, and no Internet to surf, I sat by myself on the porch. I was looking out at our totally dark neighborhood and those thousands of stars in the sky, so much more visible in an atmosphere of no streetlights or house lights. There was a slight cooling breeze rustling through the trees, the transistor radio was playing “oldies but goodies,” and I sat contemplating things; nothing specific, just things.
Irene brought chaos, but she also brought quiet serenity, another unexpected benefit. And I hope I was not the only one to experience that benefit.
Craig Stambaugh is the brother of weekly columnist, Bruce Stambaugh. He resides in Williamsburg, Va. with his wife, Shirley.
Published: September 9, 2011