Hurricane Update

It’s now Saturday, and it’s been over a week since Frances hit. We got power back THIS MORNING, so I’ve been living at Danielle’s again, sleeping wherever, eating out every day, and coming back to Deltona only to find a hot, slightly-moldy place and the incessant hum of generators.

After another night of poor quality sleep in someone else’s bed, I’m exhausted. The hurricanes bring a strange air about – the frenzy and stress, sure. The rush to gather water, canned goods, bleach, generators, plywood, drill bits, all that stuff, sure. The people waiting in 1970’s style lines for gasoline, sure. And strangely, a weird mix of fear, excitement, and antici……pation.

Watching people prep for Frances was an amazing experience. You get to see real community – community at best and worst. For days, it was hurricane-mania here. It was the topic of every conversation in every restaurant, it was what strangers chatted about on the sidewalk as they waited for the bus, and it was doubtlessly what the county cleanup crews swore up and down at as they continued to remove debris that was leftover from Charley.

For us it was different, unlike anything I’d ever seen. The prep work began days in advance, and it was left up to me how to prepare our IT equipment. I chose a pretty conservative route this time – our remote offices would break down their machines, wrap them in plastic bags, and secure them anywhere raised off of the ground. In the corporate office, the same. Everyone would disconnect everything and wrap it. I would break down the server room, completely disassembling the Massey backbone for the fourth time since I took the job last May. Then I backups, one set of which I’d take with me. Classic overprotection.

Since plywood was pretty much unavailable, BJ and I set off on a deep cover mission to score plywood. Wednesday just after midnight we scoped out some local construction sites. Some bastard ass dog decided not only to bark, and quite loudly at that, but also to follow us all the way there and back. He managed not only to piss us off to the point of considering “pupicide,” but also wake up every dog in a 3 mile radius. So we scrapped the retrieval portion of the mission.

Thursday we continued where we left off, though, this time just after 9 PM. It was a no-BS mission. We prepared for every contingency – we had a story for the cops, a line for the neighbors, etc. Then, with Navy Seal like precision, we executed – the mark, 3 nice big sheets of plywood! Mission: Success.

Work was dead Friday, except for me, since I had to be there while the payroll peeps finished up. While most were off or out early on Friday, I was there til after 8. I left midday to deal with the plywood. About 3 screws in, BJ’s concrete drill bit went sour, and we needed a new one. Our neighbor’s bit was worn out too, so we went to Home Depot. They were closed. Closed! Panic was setting in across the state, and everything was closing down. Lowe’s had bits, but no concrete ones. We bought a Titanium bit, which we’d later find was able to drill exactly ZERO holes successfully into the block. So BJ’s dad brought out his bit, and we got the plywood up. Finally, prepped as best as we could be, we packed up and headed out.

Unlike Charley, who kicked our collective ass over the course of two hours or so, Frances was the most boring let down ever. Deltona, with its 1950s above ground power structure was a sure shot to lose power, so we huffed it to Danielle’s after jam-packing everything we owned into the garage (BJ’s bike was in the kitchen covered in flannel sheets). I stole a power supply from work that is made to keep our servers running, figuring if it got bad, we’d have light, a fan, and maybe a radio or small TV. Then the fun began.

Grandpa Al called to tell me he lost power at 7:30 AM on Saturday. “Damn,” says I, “it’s-a comin’ this a-way!” But alas, all that came this way was rain. By Saturday afternoon it was breezy enough, I suppose, but nothing notable. The news told us that Frances had slowed to 2 miles per hour. Bad news, as that meant it would just dump rain all over us for hours. New forecast: 9 to 12 inches. 9 to 12 inches!? (I’ll skip the obvious jokes.) The fact remains that 9-12 inches is a ridiculous amount of rain, and there’s simply no way for Central FL to absorb that much rain without flooding everything, everywhere. As Frances inched closer, seemingly by the nanometer, we saw our first gusts of strong wind. The mandatory curfews kicked in. Everything had closed down. Shelters closed their gates. We were officially LOCKED IN.

Part II: The Storm

So there we were: BJ, Danielle, Danielle’s Mom, Dad and twin brothers, Keely and I. We watched movies. We played poker. We drank beer. Danielle’s mom made ribs and potatoes. It was kind of exciting. We watched the weather over and over and over and over and got more and more worried about what was coming. The storm stretched out about 360 miles, and there just didn’t seem to be a way it couldn’t hit us. I plugged in the power supply, preparing to ration the little power we’d have once the lines snapped.

Finally, even as Frances got dangerously close, we still only saw semi-strong gusts. Sunday night after midnight the winds picked up. I’d estimate that the winds reached maybe 50 mph or so. It was consistently blowing 30-35 or so, which is only notable during a
hurricane. The rest of the time, it’s what’s called a “windy day.” By this time, having been cooped up for some time, we started getting stir crazy. Several movies in and it became more convenient to sleep longer, since there was nothing to do. We all agreed that perhaps a tree smashing through the window would at least validate all the work and prep and stress that went into this.

Fast forward to the end of our lock up, no real damage and no real excitement. What a bust.

Part III: The Aftermath

Upon return to Deltona, we found a different scene. Again, no power, even along the major intersections. This time, again, tree after tree tossed about like broccoli spears on a plate. Without fail, we were powerless, and this time, there was some damage. Shingles everywhere, all but ensuring that the roof would need replacement. With the 5 day forecast calling for thundershowers everyday, we needed to cover it. So we hopped up on the roof with some visqueen and a huge tarp. Right on cue, the black clouds rolled in and dumped bucketfuls of water onto us as we squeaked across the roof with our staple guns and hammers. We rushed to finish the temporary patch job before the lightning of the after-storm began.

Then came the all too familiar next step – the emptying of the fridge and freezer. Since we had prepared for this and taken our ice cream, as well as buckled for the task much sooner than last time, we went in face first. It was easy this time. We packed up cold stuff, ditched the stuff we wouldn’t eat, and ran with it.

The cleanup sucked – there was a lot to be done, and unfortunately, too few people to do it. Arriving at work, I found no phones, no
internet. As Bell South and Sprint and the other telcos worked to get 911 and other emergency services back online, we sat patiently. Finally phones came back up, and then our frame relay lines, but still no e-mail, at work or at home. All week long power was coming online, schools were reopening, and things were getting back to normal. News came that Deltona had lost something like 22 or it’s 25 power feeder lines, which didn’t bode well. Yesterday I worked 14 1/2 hours, staying late until almost 10 PM with the Sprint guys trying to figure out why our internet connection wouldn’t work. When we got it back up, I checked my e-mail for the first time in what felt like ages and had an ungodly amount of e-mail. Our website was down just over a week, our e-mail was down long enough to let the usual timeout period on e-mails expire… thrice over.

Tonight I’ll get to sleep in my bed, thank God, and I can finally watch TV with TiVO again, thank God (live TV is for suckers!). The windows are still boarded up just in case Ivan does come through.

By the way – check out the hurricane name list. Gaston? Ivan? Karl? Isis? Javier? So damn PC. Can’t we go back to good old American names? Must we give the storms that rip America apart the names of immigrants? Is that helping to quell the rampant xenophobia in post-Iraq occupation America? Whatever.

Anyway, all is safe and well here. We’re mostly back to normal and… alive.