Monday, September 5, 2011

Good night Irene

OK, the "storm of the century" has passed (but hey, the century is young). Perhaps some bloggers have come out of the experience with witty life lessons learned that they can impart to all their many readers. I'm just tired. It's been a long and short week. I have no deep thoughts, just an account of where I've been for the past 168 hours or so.

Saturday we were supposed to drive to my sister's for my niece's daughter's first birthday party. However, we canceled the trip due to the impending storm. Now, it may be coincidence, but the last time we were panning to go out there, there was a blizzard. Our track record is not good.

Sunday I was supposed to lector, and we were supposed to cook Sunday dinner for a group of homeless people who were staying at our church for the week. Saturday evening we went to mass just in case, and it was a good thing, because the parish announced that all Sunday masses would be canceled and the homeless people were staying at the shelter they were at until Monday.

We always have non-perishable food in the house, even if it means living on tuna and chunky soup for days, and since we camp with out scout troop a lot we have plenty of flashlights and batteries on hand.

We had already stocked up on drinking water (one gallon/person/day, and we had twelve gallons, which is a three day supply for the four of us). Since we have a well, no power means no water. Period. Now, there are clear guidelines for how much drinking water to have on hand, but none about flushing. I was on my own. They say fill up a bathtub, but our bathtub drain leaks, and while it's OK for a 1/2 hour bath it will not hold water for days. I filled some five gallon pails and rubbermaid containers with about 45 gallons of flushing water, which I estimated was 15 flushes, or a four day supply if we each flushed once/day.

Of course all this was a lark, since we didn't really expect to lose power for that long. In fact, I have a generator, but we've only had to use it once, when we were without power for two days. Usually a power outage is a matter of a couple of hours, and we can ride that out. We were watching storm coverage on TV, and actually enjoying being in our cozy house while the wind whistled and the rain pelted outside.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of Iron Man danced in their heads. [Yes, we had stayed up and watched Iron Man as our family movie™.] And dear wife in her slippers and I went to creep, up to our room for a long summer's sleep. When out in the yard came a FLASH! and a BOOM! The lights were all gone and the night filled the room!

OK, enough poetry. The kitchen was filled with the smell of burning plastic insulation. We grabbed flashlights and went searching about the house for something that might be on fire. Yes, wisdom might say "get out" rather than "search about", but unless the house is actually aflame it's probably safer to be inside than outside in the hurricane. We shut off the main breaker, in case there was some short that might be causing the burning smell.

After we issued the "all clear" the kids had to immediately go to the bathroom, and while they remembered not to flush they washed their hands (amazing!), using the last of the pressurized house water. Nobody wanted to go to sleep, or even up ti their rooms. I took my flashlight up to find the first book I could lay my hands on that might be entertaining, and came down with "The Little World of Don Camillo".

For those who've never heard of him, Don Camillo is a fictional priest in Italy, who regularly has conversations with Christ, usually involving his nemesis, the mayor and head of the communist party, Peppone. Each short story has a lesson, about friendship and love and redemption. The stories are beautifully simple and entertaining. If you want to hear some of them, Fr. Z. has a series of podcasts in which he reads the stories.

After a few Don Camillo stories we all slept in the living room. Sunday was a bit of a disaster. Fortunately, the storm petered out early. I woke to light rain and strong gusty winds and looked out upon the lake that used to be my back yard. I walked out the garage into the stream that used to be my driveway and surveyed the place where wires used to go from my house to the pole. They were laying on the front yard. Not good. My next door neighbor had power and was frantically pumping water out of my basement. Their basement often floods. Ours never, but I went down to check anyway. Splash! An inch or so of water greeted my foot.

I started the generator, ran an extension cord down stairs and the rest of the day was a blur of shop-vacuuming water, carrying it up and out in buckets, and moving stuff that might be damaged by the water. That was a big task. There are nine book cases that all had to have bottom shelves emptied. Some of these are things that can't be replaced, like my complete set of Telescope Making Magazine, which has been out of print for many years, but is a gold mine for anyone in the hobby. The basement became a scene of chaos in the dark, punctuated by unusual commands like of "put the interferometer next to the tents, on top of the catechism" and "Don't let the cerium oxide get wet." Dinner was steaks on the grill - our goal was to eat the most expensive food before it went bad.

Monday very little got done. The power company visited us twice; once to verify that the wires on the front lawn were not "live" and once to cut up the tree that was blocking the road (and access to the power lines). Both crews assured us the power would be fixed "soon". On the phone they told us they would be there "as soon as possible". AT&T came and put up a new phone line to the house (yay). Verizon would not talk to us until we had commercial power restored. Water was still coming in the basement, so there was more vacuuming, but it wasn't as bad and didn't require continuous vacuuming like Sunday.

We had planned a nice Sunday meal for the people at church, and I had purchased $100 worth of rib roast. Rather than watch it rot in the fridge we went down to cook in the church kitchen (our oven is electric). I ran out and bought an extra 100 feet of hose and an adapter to connect our neighbor's garden hose to ours to run water into our house. This was important because we were already low on flushing water. It seems 3 gallons is not enough to effectively flush a toilet that has not been flushed all day.

We quickly discovered that the neighbor's untreated well water is incredibly rusty! The toilets looked like someone had bled into them, but at least they flushed! Of course the generator broke, which involved a trip to the hardware store and some tinkering.

Tuesday was more water vacuuming. We borrowed a carpet cleaner from a neighbor, which was much more effective than the shop vac, but still it was a losing battle. We lost the carpet. In the evening, the power company came with two trucks and said they were going to fix our power, but they had to turn off the power to do it. They drove off and did so, and the all the neighbors were annoyed. An hour later the neighbors' power came back on, and the trucks never came back.

Another neighbor suggested that maybe we needed to call an electrician. We did, on Wednesday, and found out that unlike what we had been told by the power company on the phone, and by their work crews, the power company does not fix the stuff "on the house" and it needs to be replaced and inspected before they will fix it. Thursday the electrician came and replaced the stuff, and also installed a switch so we could run more stuff off the generator. We had lights and a well pump again!

The basement was still wet, and smelled horrible. Coincidentally, the dehumidifier bucket didn't seem to be filling. More disassembly and tinkering, and it was determined that it could not be fixed. The local home center store was out of them.

Friday the inspector came. The garbage truck came and picked up the neighbor's carpet but not ours. The garbage company told us they don't pick that stuff up and it will cost $80 to have them do it. The neighbor told us they will pick up anything he puts out because he tips them well at Christmas, and sure enough they picked up our carpet when we put it with the his garbage.

We found a Home Depot that had a truckload of dehumidifiers, and even though I don't like to patronize them we had to buy one. Saturday evening the power company shows up with three trucks, and put the wires back up. The power cable now crosses the phone cable (and actually lifts up the phone cable, which makes me worry they will rub together and short something out some day), but we had power (yay). We called Verizon.

Sunday morning Verizon shows up just as we're going to 11 AM mass (where I am lectoring and my son is serving). We went while the rest of family stayed home and went to Sunday evening mass. At last we had cable and internet (yay).

My youngest said "when the tree fell I was in the middle of praying that nothing bad would happen to our family." "Nothing bad did happen," I replied, and I meant it. Despite the annoyances, nobody was hurt, and we actually became closer to each other and our neighbors as a result. I'm not saying I want to go through it again, but in retrospect we got what we needed, even if it wasn't what we wanted.


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