Thursday, April 28, 2011

The morning after, and the days that followed

The next morning we rose in the dark, got Karen's things together by flashlight, and headed out to the airport. We didn't know for sure whether her flight would still be going, but it appeared that the airport was up and operating on generator power. We also hadn't had any contact with the other two ladies who were traveling with her, so we had no idea if they would show up. Cell phone service was all we had, but it was spotty and getting worse as time went on. Texting was the main source of communication.

Both ladies did show up, and amazingly the flight was still on, though an earlier flight had been cancelled. Secure in the knowledge that she was OK, I left Karen and headed back home through a eerily dark city. By the next day, when I was supposed to get Karen's call saying they had arrived at their destination, the only way I could get a signal was to drive out to the highway and park in the median. Once she called, I called everyone to let them know the team was safe then headed home.

The next five days were spent with Philip and me "baching-it", essentially camping out in our house, listening to the radio for information, and making daily treks to find gasoline and supplies. We traveled as far as we needed to each day to find towns with electricity. While there was gasoline in the ground at all the stations, without electricity they couldn't pump it out. There were so many power lines destroyed by the tornadoes that most of north Alabama was without power, and it wasn't going to get fixed anytime soon.

Each radio broadcast brought more information about the damage across the south. Each trek took us through areas of mind boggling devastation. Each day we pieced together a few more creature comforts.

Keeping our cell phones charged was the initial challenge, since they provided our only means of communication. Before long we remembered we had power inverters for the car that plugged into the lighter and provided 110v outlets. But that also meant we had to run the car to keep the battery from dying, which meant more gas we had to keep on hand.

Early on we wrestled through the crowds at Publix to buy a whole bag of batteries so we could keep the flashlights and radio operating. Publix stores all had generators, and amazingly their card readers were operating too, so we didn't have to use our precious cash.

We also made great use of our little solar accent lights from around the house. Each day I would stick them in a bucket in the morning sun, then move the bucket to follow the sun as the day went on so they would get a maximum charge. By the time night rolled around we had several excellent light sources that lasted through the night without using a single battery!

But the real coup came when Philip's lifelong friend Adam came over and invited us to dinner one night. It had been nearly 48 hours since the power went out, and the stuff Karen had left in the refrigerator to sustain us while she was gone wasn't going to last much longer.

It turned out that the Middletons had been supplied with two generators, but their reason for needing the second had disappeared. They offered it to us and we jumped at the opportunity! After a delicious meal, we hauled the generator home and fired it up. First to get connected was the fridge. Though the ice from the ice maker had melted all over the kitchen floor, it appeared that the food was going to be alright.

Next we ran extension cords upstairs to run fans in the bedrooms. The weather after the tornadoes had been mercifully kind, but the house was still stuffy after being without air conditioning for two days.

As the days went on, we added more and more things to the generator, always listening to see if it sounded overburdened.

We hooked up some lamps in the living area so our evenings were more cheery. Then we decided it couldn't hurt to try plugging in the computer and cable modem. The generator held just fine and amazingly, we had internet!

Emboldened by our success, we decided that if the internet was coming through the cable...maybe TV channels were as well. We plugged in the TV and DVR and sure enough! We had TV! Roughing it wasn't so bad after all!

With the TV came our first chance to see pictures of the devastation. It was mind boggling. Especially Tuscaloosa, and smaller towns like Phil Campbell that had basically been erased from the map.

Each passing day brought news of power returning to more of the state, and finally to sections of Huntsville. When the power finally came on at our house there was even a sense of loss. Despite all the devastation around us, our family was safe, and the time spent living through the hardships (such as they were) will always be a special memory.

Lines down just North of Arab.

Working with the chainsaw crew to clear trees.

With the Marines, clearing trees.

Gas station destroyed just North of Arab.

Trees snapped, houses destroyed.

Lines down over a destroyed house.

Shelves at WalMart in Athens were cleaned out.

Working the chain saws.

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