Until Irene I’d only read about hurricanes or seen them on television. I come from a country with relatively benign weather patterns and odd winters of rain, where two inches of snow can close the country’s airports, rail and roadways. Initially I felt pretty blasé about the whole Irene thing – just a bit of wind and rain. Then being surrounded by people who had been through earlier storms, listening to their thoughts while watching Irene’s path on the Weather Channel - my Yankee wife monitoring the many websites pumping out even more information - I finally got the message that this was for real.
11:30 p.m., Thursday night, August 25: I high-tailed it out of the house to load up on batteries, water and canned foods. This, because I had just watched the weather report on the 11 o'clock news, which was scary. I had to drive around, though, because so many had beaten me to the stores; at least good old Walgreens helped ease my growing anxiety – I landed back home with a gazillion bottles of water and batteries.
I was up early the next day and along with others continued the rush to get prepared by visiting the local True Value. You know how it is: there are so many things to think of getting but you never remember them all when you’re actually in the store, especially if you don’t really know what you are doing. I think I burned a groove in the blacktop from home to that store and back again --for tarps, a sump pump, tape, flashlights, more batteries, coolers, extension cords and more.
Saturday I went to True Value again, by now more out of habit, and came back with something that might be useful for hurricanes – a big screwdriver. By that time, I had come to expect Irene to pass right over our house, no matter what the Weather Channel said. And then the local fire department was blasting a repeating evacuation alert as they came down our street. An hour later the cops came door to door with a mandatory evacuation notice and left directions to nearby emergency shelters, with recommendations on bringing toilet paper.
“Uh huh….” I thought. “This isn’t good.” Being a relative newcomer to the area, I decided to check what the neighbors were going to do. The majority had decided to stay. Despite the picture of Armageddon in my mind we decided to follow suit and stay put too, thinking ourselves very hearty.
To keep my mind off doomsday scenarios, I decided to get a generator and spent hours Saturday afternoon phoning every Home Depot, Lowe's and True Value store in the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island. I had no luck. The whole East Coast seemed to be out of them; I guess you should expect that when a hurricane is barreling up the coast toward you. However I didn’t realize that Sears sold these things until my wife suggested I try them. They had some coming in that very night! I don’t know what a generator looks like or how to operate the bloody things but I went down to Crystal Mall and pre-bought one blindly. Trouble was they were on their way here from Texas and wouldn’t arrive till late that night or early next morning. With Irene now closing in, we had no choice but to wait.
I woke Sunday morning to see the huge walnut tree in the neighbor’s yard down, but thankfully it had fallen away from his and our house into open yard. We British are known for having a ‘stiff upper lip,’ but I have to admit that I was a quivering wreck as the wind whipped around in powerful gusts. Rain came and scenes of massive flooding overtook my reasoning mind. I watched and waited. I worried that we didn’t have the generator yet. The rain ended. The wind continued. Hours passed. By 3:00 it was all but over. We had lucked out – no power loss, some fence damage, my small crop of tomatoes ruined, a landline wire down. That was it. Phew!
Gradually neighbors came out of their houses looking for others, stopping to share experiences and advice. Impromptu town meetings were held on streets full of leaves and twigs. I now feel that I’m a bona fide member of our local community. Nothing like a shared emergency for pulling people together.
Some days later, with the sun out and a hint of fall in the air, I can look back on those few days as if they didn’t happen. My generator arrived a day after the hurricane passed and is now stored, at the ready for the next BIG ONE. Being a boy, I would like to fire up the engine just for the sake of hearing it growl. Instead, I’ve been doing my bit to help friends and neighbors who were less lucky than us. After all this, I’ve got to hand it to Connecticutians. You’re a gritty lot. And me? Well, I lost my hurricane virginity. What a ride!