Catastrophic Weather and Survival
The Power of Nature
There are events that occur in our lives that test the strength of the human spirit. Weather events may top the list as we are rarely prepared for the devastating effects. Sometimes it takes a severe weather event to put you in your place. Nature certainly has the power to do it. It can strip away your ego and remind you that in the big scheme of things, you are very, very small.
At 9:00 P.M. on June 29, 2012, the forces of nature spoke loud and clear in Central Virginia. NOAA Weather had warned of a severe thunderstorm.that could produce high winds and hail. I secured my patio furniture, unplugged my appliances, and readied myself to sit back and enjoy the show. I've always loved storms so I was feeling my typical anticipation. And then I heard it, a sound like none I've heard in my lifetime. It came roaring from the northeast corner of my home and grew louder and louder. Then, I heard my patio furniture go sliding across the concrete and UFO's (real unidentified flying objects) began slamming against the exterior walls. That roar was...THE WIND.
Such a small word, "wind". But what a force it is. When I said I loved storms, it's true. I love the rumble of thunder and the defiance of lightning. I do not love wind. Wind has a power beyond my understanding. It can sneak up on you because it is "invisible". For those of us who are not meteorologists, wind is unpredictable and somewhat mystical. Unlike lightening and thunder, wind can be a blessing. Who among us isn't grateful for a gentle breeze on a hot summer day? And then that same force of nature, the wind, can be a curse. So it was here only four days ago when the wind came down screaming "I am the power. Get out of my way or be destroyed."
For hours I walked from window to window peering out at a world I no longer recognized. For the first time in a very long time I felt real fear. My fear was not so much for myself but more for loved ones who live in surrounding areas. And then the power went out. This wind was relentless. In the dark there was nothing to do but listen. Now and then I would feel myself take a deep breath of relief that it was over and then it would return, louder than before, gusting longer than before, and reminding me once again that it was "the power" of nature.
So now what? It is 1 A.M. and the power is out. It gets very dark in the city when there is no power. I grew up in the country, where there were no street lights and I loved it. Not so much here in the city. Darkness is different in the city. There are moving shadows and sounds that you know are not your neighbor. But what are they? Who are they? I guess it's only natural to feel some fear of the unknown. I wanted to walk outside, to see what havoc the wind has brought to my part of the city but I found myself afraid of the darkness. This was a new reality for me.
I needed to check on family so I grabbed the cell phone and started calling. Everyone in my family was a victim of this storm and none of them had electricity or land-line phones. Reality check number two: none of us had a full charge on our cell phones. If we were going to stay in touch, I would have to go outside and plug my phone into the car charger. Sitting in the car in the dark, doors locked, wind still gusting, I was alone with my thoughts and my fear. My thoughts turned only slightly to gratitude. At least we did have cell phones.
Once the phone was charged, I raced back inside to the safety of my locked doors and windows. And then reality check number three slammed me. It's still 80 degrees outside and if I don't want to suffocate, I have to open the windows. I am reminded of my life in the country again. We never locked our doors and windows. Didn't need to. We looked out for our neighbors and they looked out for us. We didn't live in fear, There was no reason to. City life is quite different and I am all too aware of that now that I have to choose between surviving the heat and compromising the security of my home.
Needless to say, it was a sleepless night. Would daylight ever come? I tossed and turned, partly because it was hot and partly because I was restless and wondering what destruction I would discover when the first light of day arrives.
Morning arrived and proved that my concern was justified. Much of my city looks like a war zone. About 70% of the city is without electricity. Roads are blocked by trees and dangling power lines. Businesses are closed and the real kicker is that NOAA weather is predicting temperatures near 100 with a heat index of 105-110 degrees. This could be very bad.
It's time to start planning. Although there are things about city life that I do not enjoy, on this morning I am grateful to be on a city water system. I am not dependent on a well for water so I can hydrate with ease. It may not taste great but it will do the job. I can also flush the toilet which is another benefit. I make myself a checklist of things I have to do first.
- fill the car up with gas
- get ice for coolers to keep my perishable foods safe to eat
- evaluate my food stores and stock up on non-perishable sources of protein
- check my battery stores and replenish if needed
It sounded simple enough but when I left home I was totally unprepared for what I witnessed.
- gas stations closed, out of gas, or lines wrapping like ribbon around the station
- grocery stores closed
- fast food businesses closed
- downed power lines and trees blocking primary and secondary roadways
- traffic lights out causing traffic chaos
My survival mode plans changed. Getting gas for the car would be the priority so that I could keep the phone charged, cool off it necessary, and get to my family if they needed me. Ice would be nice but it's only food and if I lose it, I lose it. I can survive on some canned goods in my pantry. Batteries, well, cross my fingers, say a prayer, and believe that what I have will last. So I get in line at the gas station and an hour later my tank is full and I'm headed to check on my elderly relatives.
Fast Forward Four Days
It is now four days after the storm. I am alive. I am safe. I am comfortable. My electrical service was restored 36 hours after the storm because I live very close to a hospital. Yes, I lost all the food in my refrigerator and freezer but food can be replaced. My family is safe although my brother's family still has no electricity but they are safe. My elderly relatives now have their electricity back on and I am feeling extremely grateful for the hard work of our utility company, city workers, local businesses, and neighbors who who are working around the clock to keep everyone safe and healthy. We have a long ways to go in this city of mine. There are still approximately 25,000 people without power and the majority of businesses are still closed. Grocery stores have lost all their perishable goods and many gas stations have run out of fuel. Generators don't exist for purchase and the city is literally out of ice. But I am constantly reminded that it could be worse.
Lessons From "The Power of Nature"
I ask myself - what have I learned from this experience? The lessons are many and I am sure will continue to attack my brain in the days to come. But I have learned a lot.
- We are complacent. It can't happen to us. It happens other places. We suffer from NIMBY syndrome (not in my back yard). We are so wrong. I am no geophysicist but I cannot help but believe that if we do not stop raping this earth of it's natural resources and disturbing the natural balance of things, we will continue to suffer from our greed.
- In general, we are lazy. Our dependency on perishable food is absurd. Our ancestors canned food for a reason. They did not have the luxury of refrigeration and fed large families on produce and protein that was canned. Most men today know little of growing or hunting their own food and women do not know how to can and safely put food away.
- We are apathetic and take our conveniences for granted. How often do we get ice from our freezer and never think about how easy it is or appreciate how it cools us on a hot day or makes our beverage just a little better?
- We are overly stimulated by technology. The silence was almost deafening when the power went out. We live with so much white noise that it is difficult to be comfortable in the silence or darkness. And yet it is in the silence that we often learn the most about ourselves.
These are all things that we can overcome, if we choose to. In fact, it would be much healthier for us and our planet if we did. Severe or catastrophic weather is tragic and the losses suffered can be life-changing. And although we have evolved to become a generation of technical dependents and comfort addicts, there is one thing that has not retreated. It is the human spirit.
Stories of Extraordinary People
- Social Issues: Real Life Tragedy and Survival
With so much tragedy all around me in our society today, it is hard to focus and so I turn to my place of comfort - gratitude for my own life. It inspires me to do something to help our planet and, the real people in this world.
- Jesse's Story - A Tragic Story of Forced Sterilization and Eugenics in Virginia
This is the story of Jesse, a victim of eugenics in the Commonwealth of Virginia. It is a story of tragedy and hope. It is a story you will not forget.
People Helping People
Though this weather event has made life less than comfortable, it has also been inspirational. I am so proud of my community and the way that organizations, businesses, and individuals have reached out to help each other. I've seen neighbors arriving with chain saws to help clear roadways. The National Guard volunteered to come hand out free ice and promised to stay around the clock as long as there was ice to hand out. Churches and schools that had electricity opened their doors as cooling stations and provided free meals, health care, and shelter. Nursing homes offered the rare empty bed for those needing a cool place to sleep. Neighbors checked on the elderly and offered whatever help was needed. This is what makes us "human". This is what gives us the courage to face the next challenge.
The power of nature is magnificent and can destroy everything we hold dear. When it strikes at the heart of our lives and we feel helpless and hopeless, the human spirit rises to the occasion and shows itself to be an equally powerful force. It is indomitable!
© 2012 Linda Crist, All rights reserved.
© 2012 Linda Crist, All rights reserved.