Destruction-Devastation, Fear-Terror, Frustration-Boredom, and Being Human…
For us Florence began to get our attention Thursday afternoon around two o’clock, the wind had picked up and was waving trees around and rain was beginning to be significant, the splatter of rain against the windows would only grow stronger with the wind. By Thursday night chaos reigned, the street lamps revealed tree limbs blowing down the street and power lines whipping back and forth while the rain was coming down much faster than it could drain away.
Soon the power began to cut on and off and it began to take longer to boot back up than the power lasted once you had the computer running. Due to power fluctuations watching TV was no longer possible either, and begrudgingly I went around the house unplugging all the electronics in preparation for losing power. Finally, tired of seeing the lights blink on and off I went to bed hoping that by morning the storm would be declining in strength and maybe the power would be on and steady… my hope was unfounded to say the least.
Friday morning was hot, humid, and almost suffocating. No power greeted me as my eyes opened, the ceiling fan was still, my clock radio was silent, and no bright red time numerals glared out of its’ face. Both my basset hounds looked at me accusingly as though the hot still air was my fault and I should do something about the rain and wind that was beating the windows. Neither dog wanted to go out in the storm, but I insisted and the quickest urination on record was accomplished and back up into the house they scuttled.
I opened the curtains on my front window and was immediately confronted with a tree that shouldn’t be there, the yard next door had gifted me a giant downed tree smashed up against my house. More than 3 feet thick and 75 feet tall, the Long Leaf Pine had given up its fight against gravity, later I would find out a tornado had gone down our street and wiped out the electric transmission poles, wires, transformers, not to mention several huge long needle pine trees like the one now laying in my yard. These trees hadn’t been broken off or blown over they were twisted up and yanked out of the ground leaving giant holes behind.
My neighbors were all in as bad or even worse shape than me and the storm was still getting stronger the worse was still to come. The wind and rain were far too bad to ignore, and the sounds of trees being destroyed feed a constant fear that prevented any real rest, only the radio continued to be an oasis, a wellspring of information little to none of it good at this point. The constant indoor heat, humidity, and total lack of air movement resulted in streamers of constant sweat, running and dripping, wetting all clothing within minutes of changing so that soon all our clothing was soaked. Sleep was no longer possible, night time was just as hot and humid as day, tempers began to flare. The floors which had been cool when the AC was working now gleamed with condensation and refused to dry, everything was wet and slippery.
I thought I had seen rain in my life, I’ve been through several hurricanes, nor’easters, severe week-long rain events, here on the coast rain is a constant, but Saturday morning about 3am rain took on a new meaning. Rain is usually measured in inches a year or maybe, in a really bad rain storm, several inches an hour in the course of about 30 minutes it must have rained at a rate of several inches a minute. I think a person could have drowned just walking around outside! My entire neighborhood was underwater. Not just a few inches ponding up but in places more than two feet deep, no land was visible, my carport was inundated about 12” and my deck was under a couple inches. The water ran under my house but missed getting inside by maybe 4”. The stark terror of looking out to see water creeping up the side of my house was something I hope to never see again. Later I realized just how lucky I was as the local river crested at record levels above flood stage and swamped much of downtown and out lying areas resulting in more than 3700 people having to be rescued by boat and helicopter. My entire city/county was cut off from the outside world, as of Saturday 9/22/18 access to this area is still iffy. Supplies are still being flown in by helicopter.
All day Saturday the wind and rain raged while everyone just sat and sweated, more than 48 hours had passed, and Florence couldn’t see she had worn out her welcome and continued to very slowly spin over us as she moved at less than a crawl on her journey inland. The wind and rain continued but my wife and I decided to cook all the food that was thawing in our refrigerators and give it away to the neighbors and workers who were even then braving the storm to fix the devastated infrastructure. We made a huge pot of stew, 25 pounds or more of meat and three times that much in frozen and fresh vegetables, almost 10 gallons were passed out to people hadn’t seen a hot meal in days and the storm continued!
Reports of large snakes in yards and gators wandering around the streets are coming in, the flood waters were causing wild animals to act strangely, I guess they don’t like Florence any better than we do. Domestic animals are taking a hit as well, drowning chickens, horses and pigs out of their barns and pens. Hog waste ponds are being flushed into the rivers by the rising rivers as well as coal ash storage areas being breached and washed into the rivers contributing to the pollution burden already soaring due to Florence.
By Sunday frustration at not being able to get clean or dry gave way to boredom, not being able to do anything but listen to the radio, no clean or even dry clothes, the smell of molding dirty clothes and refrigerated food going bad was maddening. The wind and rain were too bad to get out and do yard work, that would come later, but the hot, wet, dirty, and stinky seemed to taunt us, holding us hostage to the storm.
Monday morning there was this strange ball of orange light in the sky later identified as the sun. The sun didn’t last long and gave way to more rain and wind, my neighbor and I struck out to find ice and we found a line of people several blocks long the head of which was said to be an ice factory. Ice! The very idea was as alluring as water to a man caught in the desert. At least 400 people were ahead of me when I stepped in line and the first thing that caught my eye was the people, all kinds, all shapes, sizes, colors, financial standing, religions, genders, ages, it was evident that Florence was an equal opportunity disaster. We stood in line two hours, we got rained on, at times a hard driving rain but ice was at the end of our wait. $8 for 40# of ice, to drink cold water was glorious, iced sweet tea divine! The ice made the sweltering heat almost bearable!
You would have thought that two hours in line in the heat, humidity, and rain would have made people cranky, but the mood was one of almost celebration as we moved forward. People with umbrellas helping to shelter those without from the rain, the young helping the old carry their coolers and everyone laughing and joking. It was a very enjoyable way to spend two hours.
The spirit of humanity came out during this event, people helping people, the sharing of food, water, and ice, neighbors getting to know each other, and hardship melded us together.
We spent the next 6 days chasing ice, food, water, and batteries but we did it together each of us making sure others were taken care of. Yes some people did questionable things, several people were killed, many others injured, property destroyed and maybe some developers found out why much of the county hadn’t been built on until quite recently but for a short while we become a community of human beings instead of lots of small groups in opposition to each other over matters that for a time weren’t as important as was thought.
Damage was widespread, most streets were blocked by dozens of giant pine trees, their corpses now lying in state, mute testimony to the wind and rain and how those two work together to allow a giant to be brought down. Besides the longleaf pines, which had lost many of the patriarchs of their community, were pecan trees and oak trees, often giants in their own right, now lying in state, victims of soft ground and high winds. Many would be a wood worker delight if there was someway to get the huge, often filled with burls and other beauty marks, trunks to a saw.
For a week the night sky was often lit up by the explosion of transformers as though some Decepticons had managed to sneak in with the shipments of Transformers from inland storage sites. Thousands of Linemen and fleets of trucks from all over the USA and Canada poured in to help rebuild the power grid, often working for days with no sleep. My hat is off to those wonderful folks and I hope they enjoyed southern hospitality to it’s fullest.
Churches, civic groups, and even the government stepped up to the plate and made sure people had what we needed to survive but I think the individuals who came forward and allowed the needs of others to supersede their own, if only for a time, showed us all what it means to be human…