Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga

Monday, May 2, 2011

Mother Nature Causes Havoc in Alabama

April 27, 2011.  Here in Madison County, the day started ominously.  The weather siren alerted us to possible tornadoes at 6 a.m.  The forecast called for the next round of possible tornadoes to hit late afternoon so the nearby school systems delayed school two hours, thinking that the worst had passed.  Having already sacrificed six days to unusual winter storms, they dreaded losing more. 

Even before the students arrived, the forecast changed.  Bad weather, possibly severe, would strike in early afternoon.  Upon the students’ arrival, administrators sequestered them in the gyms or the hallways until their dismissal at noon.  Bus drivers were not allowed to venture forth in the inclement weather, so parents retrieved their kids if at all possible.  I suspect many students stayed until the end of a parent’s workday.

Although weather forecasters seem overzealous at times, thank goodness for Doppler radar.  Newscasters tracked the storms and provided blow-by-blow accounts of tornado touchdowns.  The tornadoes touched down with regularity from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.  At one point, there were six tornadoes spotted in my vicinity.  On several occasions, I donned my bike helmet; when I sheepishly shared this fact later with friends, six of them admitted to doing the same.  I hung out in my tornado closet—called that because it’s the only interior room in the house that could conceivably save me, not because it is reinforced.  I keep my essentials there—photo albums, blankets, pillows, radio, helmet.  At the first sign of danger, I gather my children’s most valuable pictures and paintings and store them there as well.   

At roughly 5:10 p.m., I cowered in my closet, helmet in place, husband keeping watch.  We may have heard a faint roar if we had not been listening to both the TV and radio.  That’s when the power went out. With candles in the house, working flashlights, and a 10 pound bag of ice in the freezer, we needed little more for the duration.  Putting all the frozen food in a cooler, we felt we had things under control as best we could.  We had no way of learning if or where a tornado had hit.  At 8 p.m., the wind and rain died down enough for us to venture out, but lightning chased us back inside.  Throughout our brief walk, the constant hum of a neighbor’s generator broke the silence. 

April 28, 2011.  I predict awards for The Huntsville Times’ gallant efforts in keeping the public aware.   We received a thin paper mid-morning. Impressively, HT used a power source from an RV to put together the news.  From there, it went to Birmingham for printing.  We learned of Alabama’s widespread damage with an initial reported loss of 238 lives.  Nine of those were in our county.  The photos alone revealed a state full of sadness and devastation. 

A friend came over to check on us and encountered problems getting into our neighborhood.  This was the first time we realized that a tornado had touched down a quarter mile from us.

No electricity meant no work.  Few businesses opened.  Several radio stations encouraged people to call in with stories of opened gas stations and grocery stores.  A friend tried to get from Madison to Nashville three separate occasions, only to realize that the normal 25-minute drive to I-65 would take 4 hours. 

Daytime found us outside doing chores; our yard has never received such a concentrated amount of effort in such a short amount of time—especially from me.  I normally leave the yard work to my husband.  What stood out that day was the gorgeous weather and the number of kids playing outside.  Not held hostage by video games or television, they numbered far higher than on any other beautiful spring day in the history of the neighborhood. 

Driving without stoplights is dangerous.  People are supposed to treat them as four-way stops but don’t always remember.  For that reason and the fact the previous night saw an increase in burglaries, a pedestrian/car 8 p.m.-5:30 a.m. curfew was imposed.  Anyone on the streets between those hours would be arrested unless they had work-related business, in which case they had to provide a paystub to prove legitimacy.

April 29, 2011.  I turned on the radio at 6 a.m. and discovered where to get gas.  We wouldn’t normally drive 25 minutes, but we weren’t at all sure when we’d have another opportunity.  Probably because we were early, we only suffered a ten-minute wait.  Because her gas tank was nearly empty, my friend purchased her gas locally; she waited two hours.  

The Huntsville Times informed us that a million residents in the TVA-powered area had lost power.  We were not alone.  HT also provided a list of the hardest hit areas, one of them being an area that housed two family friends.  After contacting one of the families, we found that  their house suffered minimal damage, despite the many mature trees that had fallen.  My husband grabbed a chainsaw and I a lopper and we went to lend a helping hand.  On the way there, we witnessed a number of gigantic trees that had become uprooted but, in the doing, fell away, instead of toward, the houses.   

In the backyard, we found evidence of all the destruction of nearby homes—parts of roofs, shingles, a wedding picture; we could see firsthand the missing rooftops of the neighboring subdivision.  Our friends were very lucky, and that’s what a lot of people could say.  While many suffered serious property damage in this area—perhaps as many as 300-400 homes were destroyed—a relative few lost their lives.  I can’t begin to comprehend the horror their families must endure.  It could have been so much worse for so many more.

While my husband and I lived without electricity, the neighborhood buzzed with generators.  As more and more neighbors obtained them, I complained to my husband about the noise, yet appreciated an opportunity to charge our phones.  Verizon’s Droid became our only way to keep in touch with the outside world. 

April 30, 2011.  More of the same.  Since the kids have left, I don’t usually keep a lot of food in the refrigerator/freezer.  Wouldn’t you know that I had just gone shopping?  In my freezer were steaks, chicken, fish, pork roasts, lunch meat, bacon, and lots of vegetables. I will never buy in advance like that again.  Even though I normally love it when my husband grills out, I began to tire of meat.   Vegetarianism began to sound better and better. 

Gas and ice became more easily obtainable. 

May 1, 2011.  More of the same, but reports of thousands of volunteers—so many, in fact, that they had to be turned away.  Restaurants provided free food.  Sites were announced as accepting donations of nonperishable food items and the sundry other things people need just to make life a little more comfortable:  shampoo, diapers, paper plates.  Most of the grocery stores and gas stations and a few restaurants opened on generator power.  Because of poor reception, we chose not to listen to radio.  We were living in our own little world and didn’t hear about Osama bin Laden until the next day.

May 2, 2011.  Four and one-sixth days.  One hundred hours.  One thousand four hundred and forty minutes.  That’s how long my husband and I lived without electricity.  It was doable.  Early to bed, early to rise.  We played Scrabble, Bananagrams, and did crossword puzzles by candlelight.  We read by flashlight.  We shared food with friends.  When the power went out, they took advantage of a gas grill and gas-powered water heater.  When the power went out, we used a charcoal grill and took cold showers. 

We went to bed without power and woke up with it.  It wasn’t until much later in the day that our service provider was up and running—meaning TV, internet, and land lines.  Gotta love electricity! 

The curfew may be lifted soon.  That’s good news for some women, I think.  While the number of burglaries decreased with the curfew, the number of domestic violence incidents increased. 

The tornadoes brought with them lovely spring days, but now we again face the threat of storms.   With possessions lying in heaps and gaping holes yet to be covered, it seems yet another cruel act of Mother Nature. 

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