Monday, September 24, 2018

Hurricane Florence

I got back just in time from Bouchercon to prepare for Hurricane Florence. I live on Bogue Banks Island in Carteret County, North Carolina. Initially, when I landed in New Bern (which, as I write this, is still struggling with flood waters from the storm), Florence was a Category 3, growing to a Cat 4.

My wife, Cindy, and I have stayed on the island through Category 2 hurricanes, but not a 4. We considered our options, stay or evacuate. We’d make a decision closer to the actual event. On Monday I filled gas cans, filled water bottles, and bought nonperishable food.

On Tuesday, the storm crept closer to land. Even though Florence wasn’t scheduled to make landfall until late Wednesday or sometime on Thursday, evacuations were being called for…mandatory evacuations.

Mandatory evacuation means you really should leave. You can legally stay in place, but if something goes wrong, first responders can’t come help you. You are on your own.

Businesses started closing Tuesday afternoon, boards were going up on windows, more gasoline was being purchased. Bread, milk, and bottled water were in short supply. People were heeding the advice of government officials and leaving the coast for wherever they felt safe.

The problem with that is the interior of the state takes on a lot of flooding. Cindy and I weren’t sure where that safe option might be. We conferred with each other, talked with our neighbors, as well as town and county officials, many of whom were riding the storm out.

On Wednesday, our last day to make a decision and cut and run, the storm took turn to the South and weakened to a Category 2 storm. The prognosis was that it would weaken further to a Cat 1.

Piece of cake.

We were wrong. Florence was a monster in size and was moving lethargically. It would drop 8.1 trillion gallons of water on the region in the form of driving rain. Storm surge was predicted to be between 9 and 13 feet. 110 mile per hour winds tore into our area, dropping trees, damaging buildings, taking roofs off of houses.

Part of our island, where we live, is maritime forest. It’s a mixed blessing because the trees help protect buildings from the vicious wind. But they’re punished for that protection and most lost limbs and leaves and needles. Some were broken in half or pulled out by their roots.

Power went out on Thursday afternoon and didn’t come back on until four days later. What a blessing it was to take a hot shower when we got our electricity back. We had plenty of food, water, and we have a generator. I had a stack of mysteries to read and would work on my own book for short periods of time, charge up the laptop battery when I’d run the generator to juice up the phones and cool the refrigerator.

Every afternoon at five, the group of neighbors who stayed would get together for a happy hour, clustered around an oil lantern, drinking what beverages we had, and sharing snacks. The first few nights, when we showed up, we all were soaked, muddy, and tired. Shared misery builds strong bonds.

A low point came at the height of the storm and we lost cellphone service and couldn’t let our loved ones know were safe. Even now, we don’t have cable, landline phone service, or Internet. To send this blog to Type M for Murder, I had to find a mobile hotspot.

We didn’t ride the storm out on our island without making provisions, planning ahead, knowing our elevation, and letting everyone know where we were, including our town officials. Would we ride out a storm at Category 3 or 4?

Absolutely not.

Oh, and one last comment. Before we lost power, I’d been watching nonstop coverage of the storm on the Weather Channel and some of the other cable stations. I know that writers can sometimes suffer from hyperbola. But at one point, in the town where I work on the mainland, a weather announcer was standing on the waterfront, holding onto a tree.

The storm hadn’t really even hit yet. Puh-leeze.

Oh, and I will be using the hurricane experience in a future book. I’ll make damned sure that my hero isn’t in front of a TV camera hugging a palm tree.

To finish this blog, I'd like to thank all the first responders who did swift boat rescues primarily for homeowners inland. And to all the men and women, from all over the country, who came to North Carolina to help turn the lights on and bring supplies and provisions for people who literally lost everything in this storm.

Cindy and I were lucky. We didn't take any structural damage, had to clean up a minimal amount of storm debris, and we can get our lives back on track quickly. So many people can't say that.


Rick Blechta said...

That must have been something to live through! Glad you and yours are okay.

Rick Blechta said...

And many thanks for making the effort to let us all know how you're doing. I'm sure many of us were thinking of you.

And in other weather-related news, Barbara Fradkin and many Type M friends and readers are struggling to right the ship after severe tornados ripped through Ottawa and the surrounding area on Friday. I'm happy to tell you Barbara is okay, by the way.

Thomas Kies said...

Good to hear about Barbara!!

Sybil Johnson said...

I'm glad you're okay, Thomas, as well as Barbara. I don't know if I could live in an area where hurricanes and tornadoes are common. I prefer earthquake country. Of course, I'd rather not have one of those, either.

Aline Templeton said...

What a horrifying experience! So glad you, and Barbara apparently, are all right. I had thought about friends in the hurricane zone but I hadn't thought of all of you struggling. We go on about our weather here in the UK but this shows how lucky we are with what we miss. Though it was a bit windy last week...

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