Monday, November 07, 2011

Disaster, day by day - journal of a winter storm

On October 29th, a snowstorm hit my area and caused a massive power outage. This follows a record snowfall from January to April 2011, a tornado on June 1st that killed several people and destroyed homes, two tropical storms, and a "microburst" that caused further damage. We thought we were in for a quiet autumn...

Saturday, Oct 29th, 1:30 pm. I dress up the kids and they head outside, and I'm astonished. Outside, it's snowing. Sure, all the local stations had forecast a Nor'easter storm with 6-10 inches of snow, but it's still incredible: white powder blanketing orange and brass-colored autumn leaves, which still haven't finished falling.

4:30 pm. The snow is starting to pile up, and I look outside at the leafy trees. If any branches fall, we will definitely lose power. I decide to put dinner on early so that the oven heats up the house and we have a hot meal.

5:30 pm. The lights have been flickering. Then everything electronic halts at once, and the house goes dark.

7 pm. It's still snowing and the roads are impassible. We light candles, and everyone goes off to bed early, accompanied by blankets. We hope for power sometime the next day. I write in my journal: "It's October, and it's snowing. Not just snowing--one of those all-out New England blizzards that grinds traffic to a halt and washes the world out into a mist of snow and ice, the trees and ground glistening white, the sky a pale gray. [...] Lightning streaks the sky, but there is no thunder--the overburdening feeling, aside from the low rumble of snow tumbling off the trees, is silence."

The trees are bent over and twisted with snow, and look like Dr. Seuss creations. I put on mittens and a hat and go back to bed, my chances at sleep interrupted by the slow ker-ack of trees snapping and the low rumble of snow tumbling onto snow.

Sunday, October 30th. Total snowfall: 14 inches. Trees are down everywhere, and many roads are blocked. Power lines are snapped and lying in the streets. But the day is otherwise uneventful: we shovel the driveway, I bundle up the kids to play in the snow, and we read the newspaper to glean when power might return. School is cancelled for the week, and shelters are set up for people with no power. People text or call to check in on us. We decide to stay home: it's cold, but we still have water.

Monday, October 31st. The mayor sends out an automated call to most homes in the city, announcing that Halloween has been postponed until the following Saturday night. This devastates the young ones around the house. But with no street lights and wires and entire trees down, it's far too dangerous for kids to be trekking out in the dark.

My youngest brother, who has autism, stares at the computer gloomily. "No power?" he says.

Tuesday, November 1st. We go to the mall, which is still powered and open, to have a hot meal and see if I can connect my laptop to the wifi for my brother. No luck. The bookstore is packed with people on laptops. One of my younger brothers, who yesterday was devastated by no Halloween, is now happy. "This is such an adventure!" he says, repeating what I said over the past few days.

Even the heat in the car is dizzying, and when we get back home, the temperature is a chilly 51 degrees. We walk around in coats and gloves.

8 pm. At night, the stars are beautiful, and I've never seen so many. But I hear lots of faint police sirens and ambulance wails. So far two people have died, electrocuted by downed wires, and more have been injured by carbon monoxide (in desperate attempts to heat their homes, they brought outdoor grills inside--dangerous!). There have also been fires, mostly attributed to candles.

The air is icy cold, and when I can no longer read with my dying flashlight or by candles (after a few days of testing, I have decided Yankee candles smell terrible, and Glades are far superior), I trudge off to bed. I remember I set up Twitter for my phone, and sent out a quick update: "On day 4 of no power and Internet. I hate snow." But I'm unable to check for any replies.

Wednesday, November 2nd. I'd received a call saying power had been restored to my college, so I drove off--only to find many of the roads still blocked by crews removing trees. I go in to work, happy to find they have heat and lights.

Thursday, November 3rd. Power returns at night for us, but many are still without it. The first thing I do is order a new flashlight. Industrial strength, waterproof, floating--I think the next disaster will be a flood.

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