The Damage of Hurricane Irene

How to prepare for a hurricane

At least a week before Hurricane Irene hit the East coast, residents and vacationers were made aware of the potential magnitude of its force. Days prior to its actual touchdown people inland were preparing by storing supplies: water, batteries, canned goods, and generators; while those directly along the coast were directed to relocate.


The emotional effects of an impending storm

I was scheduled to work at a major hospital one hour drive from my home that Saturday, August 27, 2011, and was concerned that I would not be able to make it in. Although I had lived in North Carolina for five years I did not recall a hurricane that came as close to my town of residence before. More than that, I worried I would be trapped on the road following my shift and shared this with a friend of mine.

“What if a tree falls on the road in front of me?” I asked in all seriousness.

“Just turn around and go another way,” was his logical response.

“I know that…I’m just anxious that I am going to have one tree fall in front of me and one behind!”

“You mean like box you in? The chances of that happening are slim to none.”

I wasn’t reassured. I had a restless sleep that night and woke around midnight to silence. Peering out the front door I did not see one drop of rain and felt reassured, but later discovered this was a false sense of security because the hurricane had not advanced far enough north at that time.

I woke once more at 4:30 a.m. to hit the road fifteen minutes later for work. My shift started at 6:30 a.m. and I felt I had given myself plenty of time to arrive before the storm. In case I hadn’t I was prepared: I packed my raincoat, flashlight, extra clothes, food and water. By the time I hit Pitt County the rain had turned from a light, steady drizzle to a harsh downpour. I realized then what I was getting into and wished I had called out as so many of my friends had suggested, reminding me that I was still in orientation and not really counted as staff at this point.


The Rage of Hurricane Irene

Changing into my dry uniform I stepped into report only to be greeted by, “what are you doing here? I wouldn’t have come in if I was in orientation.” That didn’t resonate well with me. I felt turmoil in my gut and with each new report felt it constrict tightly. I finally had to beg for mercy and avoid all t.v.’s and windows.

It was impossible not to notice the damage the gusts of wind and rain had on outdoor furniture and building structures on my walk to the cafeteria. Large picture windows covered one wall of the building revealing the usually serene courtyard. In this scene everything had gone haywire overturning chairs and tables and tearing down the awning from one roof.

Again, I felt the trepidation I had experienced earlier noticing that as the afternoon wore on my fears and anxiety increased. Soon, I found myself querying whether I could leave early, only wanting to be safe at home with family. Little did I realize that we were in the midst of the height of the storm-definitely not the time to go anywhere. No one but me seemed alarmed by the weather conditions, since they were all familiar with hurricanes, and several co-workers began to suggest that I stay at the hospital overnight to avoid the perilous drive home.

Convinced that as soon as the storm let up a bit it would be safe to drive home, I adamantly refused to stay despite their solicitation. Having had no previous experience to compare this to, it was the thought of sleeping in my own bed, not a patient recliner, that drove me back out in the storm after my shift had ended.


Driving hazards: Hydroplaning

Now, instead of dry clothes to change in I was sitting in my car soaked to the skin just from the simple task of running to my car and fighting against the wind to get the door open. I sat for a moment taking in the gravity of the situation. In one hour it would be dark and I would be travelling down back country roads in pitch black-could I make it back to town in time? I was willing to give it a shot.

I started out on a positive note and again, falsely began to feel confident that, “this really isn't so bad.” But, then I hit the first downed wire, next came flooded side roads that made homeowners appear as if they were living on the water, and finally I ran full speed into a dip in the road that had been covered by about three feet of water.

As water sprayed off to the side I saw a farmer’s field under water and prayed fervently that I would not hydroplane. “Please, God,” I begged silently, “Please don’t let me land in that field or I will never make it home tonight.”

God was benevolent. As I clung tightly to the steering wheel, letting up on the accelerator, I moved steadily through the flood waters and to drier road. “I promise to take it easy the rest of the way,” was my grateful thanksgiving prayer.

Slowly now, I traversed the winding curves, past fallen branches and around flooded roadways. My headlights were on high beam as I approached a town that I had navigated through many times and I immediately sensed something amiss.


The end of the road for me the night of Hurricane Irene

I could only go as far as where the truck is seen on the road during the hurricane, because a tree had fallen and blocked both lanes.
I could only go as far as where the truck is seen on the road during the hurricane, because a tree had fallen and blocked both lanes. | Source

Being in the elements at nighttime

“Too dark,” I thought as I stopped at an intersection that usually had a three signal traffic light, “power outage.” I glanced to the right where the Hess gas station, normally a busy hangout for the local townspeople, stood closed.

By this time my awareness was on full alert and I maneuvered the car carefully through the intersection while giving myself a silent pep talk, “You’ll be okay-you’ve driven through here so many times you know these roads like the back of your hand.”

But, it was unnerving to say the least, to be in the middle of the storm activity and still at least 45 minutes drive left to go. And, as I slowly drove across the next bridge the headlights glared on a confusing scene.

I stopped the car and stared ahead until the confusion cleared; it was surreal. Just like the Allstate commercial on television I had seen so many times of the stormy weather and the fallen tree, fallen across the road blocking my path was the largest tree trunk I had ever seen from this angle. I was stunned into immobility, but what seemed like minutes must have been only seconds before I began to assess my options.

1. Attempt to go around the tree-I cancelled that one out immediately, as I noticed there was no shoulder and deep tire tracks were left in the mud. I also knew that there was a swamp on the other side of those tracks and did not relish the idea of sliding into water.

2. Try to turn around there on the bridge-however, I could not remember how wide the bridge was.

3. Back up off of the bridge and turn around where the road had a side shoulder.


Revisiting the place of terror

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Some of what remains of the tree that blocked the road I was on once it was cleared.The gas station shelter I stayed in overnight until the hurricane passed through and the roads were clear.
Some of what remains of the tree that blocked the road I was on once it was cleared.
Some of what remains of the tree that blocked the road I was on once it was cleared. | Source
The gas station shelter I stayed in overnight until the hurricane passed through and the roads were clear.
The gas station shelter I stayed in overnight until the hurricane passed through and the roads were clear. | Source

Shelter from the Storm

I chose number three and, glancing into my rear view mirror, noticed another vehicle in sight. If I could swing my car around before it got close enough behind me I could avoid a pile up and save the next person the trouble of going any further.

When I pulled under the roof of the gas station moments later, the first thing I noticed was the quiet from the lack of rain beating on the roof of the car. Yes, it still raged around me, but I could at least step out into a dry area and stretch my legs and think.

The other driver, another employee of the hospital, had pulled in next to me and together we compared notes. She had already travelled both side roads and they were also blocked by fallen trees. I immediately recalled my previous fears about being trapped by trees and wondered if it had been some kind of premonition. Regardless, I needed to find a way home.

I could have returned to Greenville, but by this time it was 8:00 pm, pitch black, and I was hungry and exhausted. I decided to sit out the storm right there, but not too long after I dozed off I noticed the other woman had started to move away. It turned out there was another car that had approached and just sat there with its lights beaming into her car. I began to feel nervous and vulnerable. One thing I did not have was any kind of weapon.

As the unknown vehicle crept forward I saw that it was indeed a man-but a sheriff of that county. Relieved, we both stepped from our cars to talk with him and get updated information. He rerouted my comrade to a direction that would get her home and suggested I head down to Williamston to the local shelter. I was unwilling to give up my ‘sanctuary’ of my car for a loud, overcrowded gym. I got permission from him to stay there and he promised to swing back around at 2:00 a.m. when he was getting off of his shift to check on me.


Nietzsche Quote

You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star. Friedrich Nietzsche.


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Terror and what followed next...

Suddenly, I felt even more alone and vulnerable. I was sitting in the middle of a gas station, praying that the roof I was under was strong enough to hold in this storm…or that no electrical pole would crash down onto it.

Even more frightening was when I heard another car pull up on the side of me, but not far enough for me to see who was in it, and stop. I had already reclined the seat back and lay still, frozen in fear as images of looters with guns breaking into the gas station played in my head.

“So, this is what terror feels like,” I thought in reflection, attempting to find a way to calm my nerves.

With eyes closed I ‘saw’ a dark hole pulling me down-like Alice’s rabbit hole, and as I slid I recognized that I was in the open mouth of a scream, probably my own terrified scream. I could not hear any sound, but the terror was as if there was a loud, shrill shriek. Next, the image of a of an old man, golden and cracked; an ancient mosaic profile came into view.

As I stayed with this experience I was aware of questions arising from some place in my mind: what is terror? Where does it originate? How does it disguise itself? Where does it go? How does it replay?

And then, a feeling of love, like the comfort of a warm, blanket enveloping me-unfolding; pulsating; holding support, strength and knowing that all is well; that I am safe. I drifted to sleep and when I awoke it was 4:00 a.m. The rain had stopped and the sky was cloudless. A blanket of stars shone brightly from the heavens. I sat up and breathed deeply. It was a beautiful night following the terror of the storm and I was grateful I had not missed it.

Damages

Sunday morning broke bright, clear and sunny. It was amazing at the pristine feeling that was left while driving back home or walking through the neighborhood. My home suffered when shingles were torn off and the roof leaked rain into the bedrooms, which I found out when I arrived.

As I approached the house the number of tree branches on the lawn was amazing. What was even more astounding was to find a deck chair wedged precariously between the boards like a giant had pushed a thumb tack into a board. All around our house people were busy cleaning up. And, the corner house had the worse damage-a large oak had uprooted and smashed into their house. They had to cover the gap as best they could and relocate. I felt very blessed that I had arrived safely back home.

Should I face another hurricane I will not hesitate to take the invitation to stay put in the safety of the hospital.

Local Damage from Hurricane Irene

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The local baseball net was lifted and thrown against the fence.A local business shack was tipped over on its side.This sign post crumbled into a heap from the hurricane.This road was typical after the storm subsided.  Many areas were flooded.
The local baseball net was lifted and thrown against the fence.
The local baseball net was lifted and thrown against the fence. | Source
A local business shack was tipped over on its side.
A local business shack was tipped over on its side. | Source
This sign post crumbled into a heap from the hurricane.
This sign post crumbled into a heap from the hurricane. | Source
This road was typical after the storm subsided.  Many areas were flooded.
This road was typical after the storm subsided. Many areas were flooded. | Source

Damages from Hurricane Irene

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Damages to a neighbor's houseThe size of the tree that fell on the neighbor's house.
Damages to a neighbor's house
Damages to a neighbor's house | Source
The size of the tree that fell on the neighbor's house.
The size of the tree that fell on the neighbor's house. | Source

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Comments 34 comments

Danette Watt profile image

Danette Watt 5 years ago from Illinois

I can appreciate your concern about the downed trees. Tornadoes are our dangerous weather here and my worry is not just trees but also downed power lines. It sounds like it was a very frightening experience and I'm glad you got home safely. :)


SimeyC profile image

SimeyC 5 years ago from NJ, USA

Wow - I was lucky that I was able to stay home during the storm - it was scary sure - but no where near as scary as you must have encountered - glad you came out safe.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

The urge to get home must be overcome by common sense. I once had that urge during an Iowa blizzard, and it could have cost me my life, except for sheet luck.

Use your head, not your emotions.

Great Hub.


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina Author

Hi Danette-having grown up in Michigan I am very well aware of the tornado factor in the Midwest. Thank goodness for basements!

Hi SimeyC-thanks for reading and commenting. It was frightening.

Will-you are absolutely right. As I stated in my hub early in the article, having had no previous experience to base this decision on I went by what I could visibly see in front of me, never considering the other factors, like flooding and downed trees. Now, having had this experience (school of hard knocks), there would be no better place than to hole up right there at a functioning facility that had all that you could ask for including nice toilets and food and water, LOL Thanks for your feedback.


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 5 years ago from USA

Your account of the hurricane was riveting, Denise! How frightening it must have been to try to navigate the storm alone at night and then to have to stay put in a place you weren't sure was safe! I'm glad you made it home safely, and that you'll be much wiser next time. We were lucky to be out of state when Irene struck, though we did worry about damage to our house on the coast. Luckily, the house was fine and everything was intact when we finally made it home. Voted up and awesome!


writer20 profile image

writer20 5 years ago from Southern Nevada

This was one of the reasons I wrote a poem called Mighty winds, seeing all the devastation the wind and waters do.


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina Author

Stephanie-thanks for your comments. You indeed were lucky to have your home and everything else intact when you arrived back. Thanks for the votes.

Hi writer20-oh my--Might Winds indeed. I will be sure to read it. Thanks for reading and commenting.


VioletSun profile image

VioletSun 5 years ago from Oregon/ Name: Marie

Denise, Being from New York now living in a semi rural town, I got lost a couple of times in the evening when I first moved here, because the streets where without street lights, and I lost my sense of orientation in the dark, which is not very good anyway. What an experience! I almost could feel your emotions. Glad you made it safely!


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina Author

Hi Marie, Thanks for reading and commenting. I agree, it is a difficult transition from the city to a rural area. One of the jobs that I had briefly considered was a home care hospice. I realized I could not do it effectively because it terrified me to think of driving in the dark in bad weather to try and find someone's home.

This was an experience I will not soon forget.


always exploring profile image

always exploring 5 years ago from Southern Illinois

This had to be a most terrifying experience for you, just reading your account had me on the edge of my seat. Happy you are ok. Thank you for sharing...


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina Author

Hi Ruby--it was quite an experience...thanks for reading and commenting.


Happyboomernurse profile image

Happyboomernurse 5 years ago from South Carolina

OMG Denise, I could barely read this all the way through because my heart was pounding so fast! I think God definitely was with you at the height of your terror.

Unless one has tried to drive during that kind of storm it is hard to imagine how scary it is and how easy it is to get swept away, stranded or crushed by a falling tree, especially if it is dark outside. I evacuated my house in NY once when a nearby creek flooded at night and water was starting to surround my house and rapidly flood the basement. Made it to a friend's house about a mile away with my son (hubby was away) but saw downed trees a flooded bridge and stranded cars along the way. Next day I didn't know what I'd find back at our house. We were fortunate in that the water stopped just short of the floor board rafters of the main floor but the basement looked like a 7 foot deep pool and 3/4 of the outside of the house was surrounded by 3 feet of water.

But we were safe and that's what mattered and friends were incredibly kind.

So glad you're okay and that next time you will stay put at the hospital if the weather turns unsafe for you to attempt returning home.


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina Author

HI Gail-I read your account of what happened so I know you do understand the depth of the terror. I'm not sure where my head was that night-I probably should have called in to begin with. But, man did I get the scolding from my kids! I have learned my lesson. Thanks for reading.


Erin Boggs1 profile image

Erin Boggs1 5 years ago from Western Maryland

That sounds so terrifying, I am glad that you made it home safe. We were at my best-friends bridal shower when it hit...


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina Author

Hi Erin-it wasn't one of my most pleasant moments in life, that's for sure. I'm glad everything turned out fine for the shower-at least it wasn't the wedding!!!


freecampingaussie profile image

freecampingaussie 5 years ago from Southern Spain

Hi ! What a story , i have been driving in very heavy rain & had to pull over as I couldn't see anything . It is scary being alone in a situation like that so I am glad it ended ok for you.


Aceblogs profile image

Aceblogs 5 years ago from India

I am glad you came out safe and with us all writing your experience. I too had got stuck in floods once here when i was on tour and it a very bad bad day which i can never forget. Still it haunts me sometimes when i am asleep


CASE1WORKER profile image

CASE1WORKER 5 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM

My eldest and her boyfriend were in New York when it struck and although not too bad, I told them not to leave the hotel- that is the problem with weather- an easy journey can become a nightmare- distances seem greater, roads slippier and very scary- don't blame you thinking that next time you will stay with the patients n hospital. Very glad that you are OK


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina Author

freecampingaussie-Back in '03 I was travelling in that same area when a summer storm hit. I ended up pulling over until it stopped b/c it came down so hard it was difficult to see. This rain wasn't as bad, but the roads were much worse. Quite the experience-thanks for commenting.

Hi aceblogs-sorry to read that you are still plagued by nightmares of the situation. I hope you recover soon. Thanks for reading.

Case1worker-thanks for your comments. It is amazing how different everything can look depending on the time of day or the condition of the weather! Mind boggling actually. Now I drive those roads and see how the terrain has changed and I can only imagine what it did to the actual coastline. Thanks for stopping by.


PhoenixV profile image

PhoenixV 5 years ago from USA

I have never been in a hurricane but have been in a tornado or two. Hurricanes sound like they last a lot longer, yikes!


Phoebe Pike 5 years ago

A powerful hub, I know exactly how you feel. I got to meet Irene myself... my road is still badly damaged because the town hasn't managed to fix it yet.


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina Author

PhoenixV-I've been in both-not sure one is any better or worse than the other. The thing about hurricanes is that you know they are coming so the anticipatory anxiety can be worse. Yes, they do last longer to move through but the damage is bad with either one. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Hi Phoebe-I'm so sorry to read that your town has not yet fixed the damaged road. May I ask which area you are in? I just read someone's comment recently from Winston-Salem. It's nice to meet other NC writers. Thank you for your comments.


Glenn Stok profile image

Glenn Stok 5 years ago from Long Island, NY

It's good you documented this and you did a great job doing it too. Storms like Irene show us how vulnerable we are to nature. I live on Long Island and we lost power for almost two days when Irene hit. But it was nothing here like what you experienced. I'm glad you came out of it alright.


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina Author

Hi Glenn, I appreciate you sharing your experience here. It was a powerful storm that swept up the coast the way it did and affected so many states, including N.Y. Thanks so much for reading and commenting.


mary615 profile image

mary615 4 years ago from Florida

Oh, my, Denise! What a terrifying experience for you! I remember Irene well. I had gone to Highpoint N.C. with a friend to spend a week. Irene came barreling through. A tree fell on top of the house we were staying, narrowly missing my friend. We had no power, no nothing for 4 days! Trees were down on the road just like you described.

I live in S. Florida and I am so fearful of a hurricane coming again here.

I have my little dog and couldn't go to a shelter.

Great Hub, good telling of your experience, I voted this UP, etc.tc. and will share. Mary


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 4 years ago from North Carolina Author

As hurricane season approaches I am finding myself getting more and more nervous, b/c I travel back and forth from work, driving an hour. It is all country roads. I didn't realize it, but I told my daughter I think I have a little PTSD going on. I guess it was more upsetting than I knew.

My experience doesn't sound nearly as bad as yours! A tree hitting the house and narrowly missing your friend! oh my gosh...all we had in our house was water leakage from the ceiling and deck chairs blown all over the yard. I'm glad you're ok.

This year I'm packing a bag and staying put at the hospital! Thanks for reading and sharing. :)


janshares profile image

janshares 4 years ago from Washington, DC

Your hub about Irene caught my eye in the midst of Sandy. What a story. As I was reading, I kept thinking, "she's still here, able to write about it." I experienced the tail end of Irene, the gentle side when she became a tropical storm. I put it in a hub, too. See you around, Denise.


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 4 years ago from North Carolina Author

Good deduction Jan, haha. Yes...and with both hands and all fingers to type! LOL Oh, what an experience...and, do you know that I ended up with an episode of PTSD when the beginning of hurricane season started? It was strange...I kept getting this odd anxiety. I finally was able to figure it out and it passed. Glad you were also unscathed.


janshares profile image

janshares 4 years ago from Washington, DC

Yes, very traumatic event for you. Glad you got passed the PTSD. Thanks, Denise.


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 4 years ago from North Carolina Author

Hi Jan, nice to see you stopped by here. I was just talking to someone today who mentioned the same thing from Irene. Thanks for your comment.


vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 3 years ago from Nashville Tn.

I know some of what you were feeling. Pure fear!

I lived through Hurricane Iwa while living in Hawaii on the Island of Kauai. The grand piano I performed on each night at the Sheraton Hotel was carried out to sea. So glad you got through this and sorry you had such a frightening experience.

We humans think we're powerful until living through one of these! ~ Hugs, Audrey


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

If anyone is going to be filled with support, compassion and understanding, Audrey, it will be you. Thank you. Hugs, and have a good w/e.


Outbound Dan profile image

Outbound Dan 3 years ago from Niagara Falls, NY

For the last couple of years since Hurricane Irene, even the landscape of New York's Adirondacks has changed. The sheer amount of water and wind caused new landslides and modified the trails and routes we all loved.

Apparently, hurricanes can move mountains... and at the time it was "only" a tropical storm. On the plus side, we have new ways to explore the outdoors.

Great Hub with good advice letting people know what to expect when disaster hits.


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 3 years ago from North Carolina Author

Hi Dan-thanks for sharing your experience with Irene's lasting effects. Without a doubt, the ferocity of Irene had the power to destroy and permanently change the environment, as you have stated. I'm glad that you were unharmed, despite the changes in the landscape, and you've found something positive to enjoy in the aftermath.

As for me, I've learned my lesson not to take the path of the hurricane lightly. I keep a much more watchful eye out during hurricane season, and, in the future, will stay in a safe place if one should travel inland.

Thanks for your comments. :)

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