Monday, August 29, 2011

Natural Disaster #2: Goodnight, Irene.

What a week it has been here in the DC/Baltimore area, folks.  And damn, I should really be careful about wishing for experiences.

Just as we were all coming off of the collective "phew" from the earthquake that caused very little damage and even fewer casualties, the weatherpersons started to project a path of doom for the Hurricane Irene creeping up the east coast to finally hit North Carolina on Saturday, pounding the crap out of most of the eastern sea board up into Canada.

We don't often get hurricanes in this area--they usually fizzle out to minorly annoying tropical storms before they even cause us any rain--so we aren't particularly equipped to handle them well.  The last serious hurricane here was when Hurricane Isabel found her way up the Chesapeake Bay eight years ago.  I was in college down in St. Mary's, which is a low-lying area surrounded by water.  I hunkered down for the storm a bit more inland (with my friend Amy, who is--interestingly enough--expecting her first child about a week after mine) and remember that the main effects were a loss of power lasting an average of 8-72 hours for most people, major flooding (I know some people who lost homes in Georgetown from that), and downed trees becoming projectile missiles that destroyed parts of homes, cars, and anything else they fancied smashing into.

The nice thing about a hurricane (and just about the ONLY "nice" thing about a hurricane) is that you usually have plenty of time to prepare for the doom. Which is great (because you can prevent a lot of casualties and some more severe property loss), but also sucks because you feel obligated to do a whole lot of things to prepare that may prove unnecessary because the path of the storm alters.

With the memory of Isabel in mind, after working my 8 hour shift at the crisis hotline on Friday (with lots of people calling to ask for info about the storm), I slept only a few hours and spent all morning Saturday prepping my folks' house for the storm and making some foods that wouldn't require the use of electricity to eat (pasta salad, anyone?).  Since my parents are doing a lot of home repairs at the moment, by the time I finished, I was dripping with sweat and the garage was bursting with renovation supplies, trash cans, plastic bins, and assorted lawn things.   Then it was time to shower and head back in to work.

The worst bit of the storm was predicted for this area between 10pm Saturday and 3am Sunday.  Well... I work 4pm-12am on Saturday, so I just packed up the blow up camping bed, an overnight bag, plenty of food, and headed in figuring that I would wait to leave until after things had calmed down.  I crashed in a co-worker's office after my shift ended and woke up around 7:30 am.  We only lost power twice during the storm, and it came back quickly (within 5 minutes) both times.

As my drive home (and Sunday evening shift at work with many, many calls from people in crisis because of the storm) proved, we were very lucky.  Every other neighborhood I drove through seemed to have some major property damage/power loss.  The ones between were completely untouched.  I'm grateful that my family's house was spared, but I know others, like Amanda, dealt with some major damage and long-term outages.  School openings were delayed in Southern Maryland.  People in Baltimore are still without power.  The news is saying the property damage is reaching record highs and at least 31 deaths have been attributed to the storm.

My husband found the whole thing exhilarating, but he was definitely anxious.  Korea is not a country that gets much in the way of earthquakes, thunderstorms (which DC has had plenty of in late summer), or hurricanes, so it was all new for him.  He worried himself sick about me, even though he knew exactly where I was and that I wasn't doing stupid things like driving home in the middle of the storm.

Generally, the people who analyze this sort of thing (like my friend Sam who works on NOAA's latest hurricane weather computer modeling) say that the DC metro area got off pretty light, and I tend to agree.  Although that doesn't really help the people who did lose a lot.  (Side note--I'm really going to have to have a rant one of these days about how not opening storm shelters until after the storm is well under way in a county that has a significant homeless population living out of cars and under bridges and bleachers is unacceptable.  Telling them to "stay in the basement" doesn't help, morons.)

Let's hope that was the last bit of "excitement" on the mother nature front for at least... say... the next three months.  At which point I'm sure that the labor and delivery of my feisty child will be about all the "natural" and "disaster" I can tolerate.

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