I was up very early on Saturday the 26th checking the Weather Underground Radar. There it was, swirling just off Cape Hatteras. A big Orange churning blob with a clearly defined center and huge rain bands extending out hundreds of miles. It was at that moment that I knew even though Irene was a Category One Storm, It packed an enormous amount of energy. The lights flickered slightly. Then did so again. It was enough to trigger the restart on my desktop computer. By the time the screen had come back up and refreshed, It looked as though the storm was coming ashore right at the Cape and was following a North West track moving at about 14 miles an hour. It would take a long time for the storm to exit our area. The lights flickered again and again the computer restarted. I went outside to check my preparations around the farm. Everything was buttoned up as tightly as possible. I had even taken a few hours and cleared out one of the key drainage ditches to ensure the runoff from the torrential rain which was sure to come would drain and hopefully not flood any homes here on the farm.
I got back to the house just as the wind was really starting to gust. Maybe 40 miles an hour. The rain started with huge blotches of drops. As I entered the library the lights flickered again. The lights came up quickly. Not enough to trigger a restart on the computer but I knew we were going to lose power. I shut the computer down but not before a last look. The rain bands were starting to reach us. It wasn’t five minutes later that the lights flickered for the last time and lights went out. It would not be until much later that I saw what had knocked us out.
The young lob lolly pine has bowed to the ever increasing wind and gently laid down right across the main power line into the farm. It was just enough to short out the transformer and trip the breaker that sent the farm into darkness. It would remain dark for the next five days. I headed out to start the generators. We had gassed them all up the day before and laid in stocks of extra fuel. Past experience told me gasoline would be hard to come by once the tourists evacuating Emerald Isle and the Southern Outer Banks started first west then after the storm, returning to their vacation rentals. If there was anything to return to. The rain was now torrential and the wind picked up to gusts around 70 miles an hour. There were sounds of trees popping. It sounded like fire crackers going off. I heard the tin roof on one of the old barns crinkle as it peeled off. Hours passed and the storm just seemed to intensify. I heard a huge crack. It seemed to come from my sister in law’s yard. It had. Two huge old oaks had fallen. From my vantage point, It looked as though the trees may have fallen on the house. Jerri, my wife, made a quick call with her cell phone. They were okay. The trees had fallen in the backyard taking out a wrought iron trellis on their patio and falling so close to the back of the house they could not open their door to the patio. It was an incredibly close call.
Finally, in the late afternoon, the storm began to ease up. The interval between the bands of rain and gusts of wind lengthened. The wind gusts abated ever so slightly. By nightfall, the worst seemed to be over. We had set up shop in our Library where I had lights and fans on courtesy of the generator which hummed on in the garage. At 11 oclock, we shut down the generator for the night. Neither of us could sleep. Finally I dozed off around 1AM. I had set my alarm for 3 in order to restart the generator. We could not leave it off more than 4 hours or the food in the Refrigerator would spoil. That would be the pattern for the next four days.
Sunday Morning, the wind had died enough to warrant a look around. It became obvious we would have to cut our way out of the farm. That became the goal of the day because we were starting to run low on gasoline to power the generators. We got enough downed trees cleared to clear one path off the farm by mid afternoon. I set out in my truck with a load of gas cans in search of more fuel. There were gas lines everywhere along Route 70. I wound up driving about 14 miles before I found a gas station with power to pump and something to pump. It took me two and a half hours to make my way back to the farm. Such was the evacuation traffic on US Route 70.
We finally found a radio station that was reporting conditions. I was shocked to find most stations were simply playing rock and roll or country music. Information was hard to come by. I heard that the electric grid in nearby Kinston had been decimated. When I heard that, I knew we were in for a long siege. It appeared the Northern Outer Banks had been spared major damage. The Southern Banks from Hatteras southward had been hard hit. Pamlico, Carteret, Onslow and other southern counties had sustained substantial damage. Hundreds of thousands had lost power. Several people had been killed. We were lucky. There was much to clean up and it would take days if not weeks to recover but we were all safe.
The heat returned Monday. I had forgotten what it was like to try to sleep in a 90 degree room with 70 percent humidity. Fans don’t help much. Thunderstorms moved into the area from the west. Lightening strikes forced uitility crews to retrace their steps in restoring power. A trek up to the highway revealed that most of the houses I could see had had power restored. Not us. We soldiered on through Tuesday. Wednesday morning, a power crew from High Point rolled into the farm. Within 30 minutes we had power again. The lights were on. The generators were turned off. I fired up the computer to notify relatives and friends via email that we we all right. Alas, there was no cable TV meaning there was no internet. We wouldn’t get that back until later that afternoon. It had been a long ordeal. We all agreed Irene was probably the worst storm we have had here since Fran and Floyd years ago. It was over. Until the next one. See you soon on most of this same blog.