After the storm: the worst is over

Sandy knocks trees down on our house.

From my various logs, as things happened (with an afterword):

October 29, 2012 3:45 PM

Almost worse than loss of power is being without water. I remember Hurricane Irene, just a year ago.

Unfinished tasks (repeats from Irene): scrub the upstairs tub, fill with water as the wind starts. Move stuff from the back patio to the garage – we don’t need it flying around. Prepare to keep the storm drain grate free of debris.

It is an eerie feeling. All the maps show the eye will go over our house (assuming the hurricane’s track stays as predicted). Hope DH’s school cancels early enough so he doesn’t drive 45 min tomorrow.

And wondering what I will be writing about if we lose power, in longhand.

October 29, 2012 7:34 PM

I write by candlelight – have to find the keyboard somehow. I haven’t used the built-in MacBook keyboard by touch in so long it feels odd. The flashlight is at hand for when I need a mini spotlight. The screen provides enough light to type.

We lost power around 4pm. It is an odd feeling, especially when you know you probably won’t get it back for days.

I have a charged MacBook – good for a couple of hours – but no internet – wonder when that will return.

Immediately went into Scout mode: conserve energy, batteries, refrigerator coldness, heat. Think ahead before opening the refrigerator door – every time you open the door, some of your cold air falls out. It’s a conundrum: if you don’t open the door, you don’t get to eat any of the food you’re trying to preserve; but if you open the door, it may not survive to be eaten.

As the kids say, First World problem. The storm will pass. Crews will work round the clock on fallen poles. We will have cleared roads, access to stores, and eventually the power will come back. Most places. Usually our little area is safe – we didn’t even lose power last year to Irene.

False sense of security: there’s no reason it couldn’t happen, it’s just statistically less likely to happen.

Powerful winds, driving rain. A neighbor’s tree already fell on the house, on our north side. Fortunately, the trees which used to be around the front, south side of the house had to be removed so they wouldn’t interfere with the sunlight hitting the solar panels – so that side is safe unless the gigantic oak across the street comes down. We didn’t even know the tree behind us was unsafe until the neighbor on that side called to tell us that with every gust, the tree’s roots were coming up out of the soil, and the only question was whether, when it came down, it would take out the fence or hit our house. It did both, falling almost perpendicular to the property line.

Am I mean to be happy the cleanup will be the neighbor’s? It is his tree, his fence. And it will be his insurance company’s problem to take care of any siding the tree damaged on our house. Or at least I hope so – and I’m not worrying about it now. [Note: Apparently it is OUR problem, but OUR insurance company only pays for damage to OUR house, not trees.]

The State of NJ has asked people not to go outside, to stay away from fallen trees and possibly wires (though our wires are buried). It is good to comply. At least the tree didn’t take out any windows, so there is no break to be taken care of. The tree isn’t all the way down – and it is interwoven with two of our trees – the wind will have a very hard time moving the trio, and so the problem is secured by default. Will it have weakened the root system of our trees? Probably – but I doubt anything will happen tonight.

Lack of electric light brings languor, a dreamlike state where it is too much work to do anything, since it will be harder in the dark, and will be easier if we just wait a day or so.

I can write, or read on the Kindle for Mac. Cleaning out candlesticks, and making the flashlights actually work, has been done; the tub upstairs is full (in case we also lose water); and all that remains is to play a bit with the chinchilla and make sure she has food – this is her kind of world, dim, crepuscular, except that she hides at the slightest sound, and the constant wind is like a freight train going by but never ending. She may not even come out.

The Mac is already down to 78% power, so that will probably provide the limit to my entertainment. I can set it up to charge from the car battery overnight, but I’m not going out there to read.

The urge to write, to record as it happens, when possible, is strong. But there is nothing I can or should do right now. I don’t usually go to bed until well after midnight, and it’s only 8pm. Those of our friends and neighbors who have switched to phone over internet also have no phone service beyond their cells; we still have a hard-wired Verizon line. I can’t remember when we have received so many unnecessary and accidental phone calls.

I will post this when we have service again, but it is odd to have time and no drive.

No lack of topics, just lack of will to write in the semi-dark. I record what occurs to me in a desultory fashion – it seems important at the time, but there was so much noise. I can’t live through it, unrecorded, can I?

October 30, 2012 3:44 PM

The power is back, Lord be praised! No TV, no internet – and friend says Optimum was snarly when she called – no info on what the problem is or when it will be over.

When I went to the store, I used my knowledge of the neighborhood to make mostly right turns, and to avoid the intersections with the dead traffic lights where bunches of non-locals mess up the crossings. At Rt. 33, I watched for a gap, bulled my way through; I had been prepared to go right, and then make a left from the center two-way turn lane, but I saw the chance and crossed directly while a bunch of other drivers hesitated. I waved thanks. By the time I was back on the local main drive, I knew power was either already back, or close for us: a single house had an outdoor porch light. I was right – electricity was on – on this side of the road. I chatted with the woman next door who was on her way to a sale at Kohl’s. Curious how quickly we go back to normal.

We have heat, light, water – and we still complain.

The in-laws [northern NJ] didn’t even lose power – while 2.7 million households (?) did, and most are still without.

The sun has broken out, and, in the aftermath of the storm, the sunlight hurts my eyes. I went to the store, got cookies, carrot cake, another fire-starter, and bananas. No milk, because I didn’t know we had power to keep it cold. Now I don’t know how much to get, since we leave soon on a vacation that will be oddly affected by the school calendar: NJ requires 180 days in the school year, but we don’t know where they will make them up, as, for some reason, they aren’t allowed to go past June 30.

I called daughter from the supermarket (they had cell bars, we didn’t). Texted the boys. H doesn’t know about school tomorrow yet – no phone call yet.

It is all very routine, very trivial – unless you don’t have it. We have been fortunate – we could have been days without power, now it’s a minor annoyance. Millions of people in NJ don’t have power, won’t have power for days. The other neighbor is already out there with the industrial-strength (and noise) leaf blower.

I’m going for a nap again. With earplugs. Being in a hurricane is exhausting, especially for one with CFS: worrying, not daring to use up the batteries (8 D-cells!) for the portable boom-box radio. The supposed emergency-radio bought at a Christmas, and first tried out for Irene was total cheap made-in-China useless junk – no sound at all; I tossed it last year; somehow never thought we’d need a replacement – hurricanes don’t hit NJ two years in a row, do they? By the time I thought of it, there wasn’t a one to be had.

Now, with the computer charged, my brain decides to wrestle with learning the parts of Dragon Dictate I don’t know. Which keeps it occupied for long past midnight: the lowering of stress has let the exhaustion dominate – and I can’t make the decision to go to bed.

October 30, 2012 5:46 PM

Outside the light is starting to fade. The appearance of sunlight was brief – we’re back to overcast. The rain has stopped, even the light rain we had a few hours ago.

Except for the oddness in the back – where two huge downed trees lean on our trees and touch our back windows, roof, and siding – it could almost be any Fall afternoon. Next door neighbor’s blown some leaves, the across-the-court men were out with rakes. Curiously, even though Fall has begun, the trees did not let go of all their leaves: you can literally not tell that anything out of the ordinary has happened.

October 30, 2012 8:45 PM

The day is mostly lost; the frantic pace of preparing for the storm – things carried and moved like we were preparing for siege; filling the tub with clean water; worrying and planning as well as possible, not knowing what would be the weak point – they all took their toll. Even trying to write by candlelight.

There is a lassitude that wasn’t helped by escaping momentarily to the store, where I couldn’t count on a cart being charged, so I took a regular push cart – and then had to stand in a long line to check out. Some raking. Rearranging food. Worrying about flooding and electricity from the car and not knowing what, if anything, we should have planned.

Definitely, for the future: far more D cells for the radio and the big flashlights.

The phone call came: H doesn’t have to go in tomorrow. How it will affect the end of school, we don’t know – but it means he doesn’t have to worry about roadblocks, problems at school, flooding. He’s lost 3 instructional days – they will have to be repaid at the end of the school year. At the end, they aren’t useful for all the things they have to do during the year, such as AP tests in May, and Science League. He needs the internet to write recommendations, another job he has taken on. Has to take on.

The library is open; and has power and internet access; H makes plans to camp out there for a while.

October 31, 2012 2:45 PM

Suddenly DH appears: he has been checking, and suddenly we are connected to the world – the internet is back.

We have cable again – a TV connection. We watch the governor answer questions – telling people it is more important to have waste-water treatment plants up and running than to worry about next Tuesday’s election, at least for today – and he is right: water, power, food are all more important today. The reporter is annoying even the other reporters by asking; the governor refuses to get pulled into a debate. He looks tired.

And I am unutterably grateful to be in the first wave of people getting back to ‘normal’ – but still not making very good use of time. I take a huge number of photographs of the fallen trees – but can’t get hold of the neighbor whose trees fell on us. It seems odd of them not to contact us – if it had been us, we would have been over there, making plans for cleanup. But I will make no judgments at this point: no data. They have kids, family – I don’t even know where they are.

Afterword (November 1, 2012 12:19 AM)

Hundred of problems, mostly small, that were not even on the to do list a week ago – and now have to be dealt with. This is the kind of thing that is so hard for people with CFS: the energy goes quickly, the decisions take energy I don’t have, the body requires a lot of extra rest – at exactly the same time there are more and more tasks to do.

Lessons learned? You do what you can to prepare for the big ones – and the little details will eat you up. You can never have enough D-cells. Natural light is not really good enough to grade papers by, nor is candlelight – we need a much better source of light for emergencies. Laptop batteries don’t last long enough. Water, clean water for drinking, and water for other tasks, MUST be secured before it’s needed. Take a shower before the storm, enjoy the hot water, and hope you get another one soon – cleanup is dirty work.

Make your own big blocks of ice in your freezer as soon as you know it might be needed: DH was proactive. Big chunks melt slowly, keeping everything in the refrigerator cold enough. With ice, the refrigerator is a giant cooler. Ice was out at the supermarket by the time I got there – I saw a woman carrying what must have been the last three bags.

If you survive, all is good. Governments learned from the disaster of Katrina, from Irene: the NE is NOT immune.

And we are incredibly spoiled and lucky most of the time.

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