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 Home > News  > Power is Out: The Long Dark Wait (September 25, 2003)


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Power Is Out: The Long, Dark Wait
We monitored Isabel for nearly two weeks before she made landfall on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We knew we were at risk from flooding, storm surge, downed trees, blocked roads, and power outages.

We applied the Rules of Adverse Assumptions to our situation (i.e., assume things will go seriously wrong; people you relied upon cannot help; you must take steps to protect yourself and your family).

Wednesday, September 17

The mast is down on Camelot, the O'day MarinerGiven the likelihood of serious damage from flooding, we spent days clearing everything from the Eagle Point home site. We put 2 Lasers, 4 windsurfers, masts, sails, etc on a boat trailer and took the trailer to the mini storage - it fit with about 2 inches to spare.

We took the mast down on Camelot, the O'day Mariner. Pete put an extra anchor out and lengthened the anchor lines. That's all we could do to protect her.

Next, we
our attention to the cottage. Pete bought the last few sheets of plywood in southeastern Virginia. We boarded up the windows and glass doors that faced the water and stowed yard furniture in the boat garage.

Pete & Pam's cottage boarded up ready for IsableAfter the sun set, we walked down to the Bay. The wind was howling, waves were breaking over bulkheads and riprap. The full force of the storm would not arrive until tomorrow night. This did not look good.

A rescue squad vehicle drove down our road. The driver and a deputy sheriff told residents that we were under a mandatory evacuation and should leave by 9 am tomorrow morning. Only two families remained on Stingray Point by then - our neighbors and us.

Emergency shelters were open. We were advised that people in shelters were not guests, they were refuges. The word "refugees" echoed in our minds for days.

Thursday, September 18

Forecasters predicted that a 6-8 foot storm surge in the Chesapeake Bay would cause massive flooding in low areas. If they were correct, Stingray Point would be an island by this afternoon. Our living room would be chest-deep in water tonight.

We decided to ride out the storm in our office in Deltaville. The office is two stories and on higher ground.

Then Pete's sister Allegra invited us to stay with her in West Virginia. Since we had a conference in Pittsburgh in two days, she offered to take care of our dogs. We were increasingly concerned that the only road out of our county would soon be blocked by falling trees during the storm. We took Allegra up on her offer.

The wind picked up. It was raining hard. We took electronic stuff to the office - stereo, CD player, monitor, printers. We put things that would be damaged by water high up. There was only so much we could do.

We were running out of time.
We had to leave or it would be too late.

As we drove away from our cottage, we took inventory - three dogs, dog crates, beds and bowls. Two laptops, one printer. Two small bags.

We were refugees.

We had been listening to the weather for days - suddenly we had no information about the storm. I called Debra and Tracy. Debra was without power. Since she was prepared for this, she had supplies to last her family several days. I called Tracy - her power went out as we were talking.

We have all been without power since last Thursday.

Friday, September 19

Two cedar tress laying on our officeOn Friday afternoon, Debra drove to the office and our cottage.

Two trees were leaning against the office but did not puncture the roof.

 

Tree almost his the Miata - Yikes!

 

Fallen trees were everywhere.

Pete parked his beloved Miata in an open field behind the office. The Miata narrowly escaped being hit by a tree.

Saturday, September 20

We talked to Debra and Tracy again. No power, no ice, no water. Grocery stores were closed. Gas was being rationed.

The National Guard was helping to clean up, cutting trees, putting tarps on roofs. Most cleanup work is being done by the community. Thank goodness most folks have chain saws!

As we drove back from Pittsburgh on Saturday night, we called Cindy Gwinn of TAP-VA about the conference scheduled for Tuesday.

Northern Virginia Community College had no power. Cindy, who lives in Richmond, had no power. Many people who live in Northern Virginia, including our sons and their families, had no power. We agreed to postpone the conference - people need showers more than information right now.

We posted a notice on the Wrightslaw site, advising people that the conference has been postponed because of power outages.

Sunday, September 21

We collected the dogs from Allegra and re-packed the car. We were anxious to get home.

Monday, September 22

Pete and Pam's yard after IsableWe arrived home after midnight so did not have a clear idea of the damage until Monday morning.

Several huge branches from the tupelo tree, as large in diameter as trees, fell against the house and roof. Amazingly, they did not puncture the roof!

Bundles tangled wires were hanging a few feet from the front door - electric lines, cable, etc.

The storm surge came into the yard but not into the cottage.

Inside the cottage, everything was sandy, salty, sticky. The windows looked like they have not been washed in years. We have 10 gallons of good water. We can put a bucket in the well for more water. The well water is probably contaminated.
Downed trees nearby
We walked around Stingray Point. All the docks are gone. Lumber and pilings are laying in yards. Roads are washed out. We were stunned by the number of fallen trees.

Nearly half the trees on Eagle Point are down. Some snapped a few feet above ground, others blew down with rootballs attached. More trees are leaning - they will fall in the next storm or this winter during nor'easters.

Pete spent hours clearing timber from around the cottage. On Monday, power was restored at the office - we can get showers!

We are no longer refugees - we are home.

Tuesday, September 23

Power was out at the office again. Later, we learned that tornadoes hit Virginia just before dawn, knocking out power again for tens of thousands of people.

Pete tried to start the generator - no luck. He took the generator apart twice and finally got it running. The water pump seized up, no water. We are back to using the bucket in the well.

We ran out of ice. We learned that a convenience store ten miles up the road had ice - one bag per customer. As I drove to the store for one bag of ice, I marveled at the time spent dealing with water and ice every day.

Wednesday, September 24

We left for for an advocacy training program in Charlotte on Friday, September 26.

Workers clearing roadsAs we drove through Virginia, we were shocked by the devastation. Damage to the power infrastructure is described as "catastrophic."

Eight days after Hurricane Isabel, 500,000 families are still in the dark. All the Wrightslaw staff - Pete & Pam, Debra and Tracy - are still in the dark.

The power company says it will take a month or more to restore power to customers. We will keep you posted.

(To be continued)


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