Sunday, August 28, 2011

Preparing for Irene: The chaos before the storm.

Irene swept through last night, drenching us with rain and buffeting us with high winds. Thankfully, very little of the wide-spread doom and disaster we prepared for actually occurred, at least here in my area. There are quite a few wet basements, "hurricane salad" litters many lawns, and more than one community is dealing with flooding or was left without power at some point during the last 24 hours. As the rivers rise, low-lying areas continue to be evacuated. But all-in-all, we got off relatively lightly, and are all very thankful for it.

Preparing for this hurricane is where things really got crazy, almost more so than during the storm itself. The posts on Facebook about people trapped in long grocery store lines, store shelves stripped of every edible item, fights over D batteries and people stockpiling meat and Chef Boy-ar-dee, of all things, were some of the more entertaining status updates I've seen all year. I know a lot of it wasn't intended to be funny, but people tend get a little punchy when they're stressed. Sometimes all you can do is laugh.

Yesterday just happened to also be my nephew's 9th birthday. I joked with him that not every kid gets a hurricane for his birthday, so he should feel special. After spending the morning wrangling lawn furniture into basements, doing laundry while we still could and stockpiling tubs of water for future flushing, the family gathered to have a little birthday cake before returning to our bunkers to hunker-down before the storm.

Prior to the cake Z-man, my nephew, was engrossed in a Lego project in the kitchen, so us grown-ups congregated in the living room around the TV, watching the Weather Channel to see how far the storm had traveled. A wind-buffeted field reporter was on the screen, giving his live report from a downtown intersection somewhere in Virginia. Just as he was emphasizing how dangerous it was to be on the streets in high winds, a young guy clad only in swim trunks lopes past behind him with a football under his arm, and is immediately followed by four or five others, all leaping and cheering. One even paused to moon the camera!

Immediately after the football players, an SUV slowed down right behind the reporter and the passenger was seen taking pictures of him and his camera man. As the reporter tried to salvage his report--while becoming more and more outraged--seven or eight other people randomly streamed into the intersection from all sides. The frustrated reporter finally gave up in a huff, delclared himself speechless, and told the anchors in the studio to take it from there, because he was too disgusted to continue. Watch the Clip by Clicking Here.

We laughed ourselves silly, and enjoyed the clip again later on Youtube, too. It was a much needed moment of levity in what had otherwise been an anxious build up towards a scary and potentially dangerous event. We all put a brave face on things, everyone scurrying around making our preparations, most of us saying we didn't really expect it to be that bad. Yet in the back of every mind I think each of us was secretly worried about how bad it could potentially get. That's a lot of stress to carry around and eventually you reach a point where the only thing left to do really is to just laugh about it all.

Of course, at no time was this hurricane something to take lightly in any way, shape or form. After Katrina, we all know what the worst case scenario looks like. Public officials all up and down the East Coast should be commended for having learned Katrina's lessons well. All the preparation and the precautions were well worth it, and in part the reason why the hurricane turned out not to be the terrifying experience lots of us expected is because of the due diligence done by others.

That's not to say that many people haven't suffered serious property damage, or that the implications of the flooding won't continue to be felt for days, if not weeks, to come. But very few lives were lost, despite the massive amount of ground that this storm covered. All up and down the coast our first responders, public officials and utility workers worked together to keep us all safe, and that is no joke.

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