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
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 terrorClick thumbnail to view full-size
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.
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.
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.