Thursday, September 4, 2008
Well, look what the wind blew in!
I'm still here . . . somewhat battered, rather wet, but here! It's been quite a ride.
Soon after my last post on Monday, the telephone line went dead, and within half an hour the power followed suit. That set the scene for a wild night. The wind picked up to sustained tropical storm force over the next hour, and stayed that way right through until Tuesday morning. The rain came in fits and starts. One moment there'd be nothing but a few isolated drops: the next, a curtain would fall over the scene, so that I couldn't see the road less than a hundred yards from my front door.
I was as well prepared as possible. I'd tied down my portable garden building, put plywood over the windows of my garden shed, cleared away any debris that could blow around, and so I sat back, made a nice mug of tea on my gas stove, and prepared to wait out the storm. I moved into my living-room, which is at the center of the house, and furthest away from the trees at either end.
I didn't sleep at all that night. It was far too noisy for a start, and I didn't want to be lying down in case something landed on the house. Turns out something did! The oak tree by the corner of my carport split in two at about 2 a.m., and the half facing away from the house did a neat pirouette in the storm wind and clobbered my roof. The bang was immense, certainly loud enough to have definitively cured any lingering problems I might have had with constipation. (Fortunately, I wasn't suffering from such a malady, otherwise things might have gotten messy!)
I didn't bother going outside, with the wind and rain howling around, but I nipped up into the attic to make sure that nothing was leaking. Fortunately, my house was built about 60 years ago, with larger, stronger timbers than are used today, so it absorbed the impact with relatively minor damage. Nevertheless, the impact was strong enough to shake the whole structure, and it brought down a number of ceiling tiles in my kitchen. I took this photograph just afterwards. Clickit to biggit.
I made some more tea, and settled down to wait out the hours of darkness. Fortunately, Gustav had brought cooler temperatures with him, so despite being without air-conditioning in Louisiana's hottest and most humid month of the year, things were bearable. When dawn broke (later than usual, thanks to the low, dark clouds blocking the light) I went outside to take a look around. The wind and rain had lessened enough to make that possible by then.
The fallen half of the tree was a good fifty to sixty feet long. It lay on the ground in front of my carport, extending all the way along my front porch up to my bedroom bay window. It had obviously caromed off the lower part of the roof, ripping the gutter loose in its fall, before landing next to the house. Here you can see the lower front roof, looking a little buckled, and in the second picture, a close-up of the gutted gutter.
The chimney in the center of the roof, which runs down to my wood stove, also took a hammering. Some of its anti-insect panels are gone, and it's leaning ominously (not very clear in the picture below). I guess it'll have to be re-mounted.
By 9 a.m. some local folks were helping all and sundry cut up the fallen trees and branches, sufficient to get their vehicles and themselves in and out. The roar of the wind and the rain had been replaced by the urgent whine of chainsaw motors, all over the neighborhood. Some helpers were rather too enthusiastic . . . we'd had at least a foot and a half of rain by then, and even though our area's well drained, the ground was so sodden that I couldn't walk on the grass without sinking ankle-deep in mud. A visiting tree surgeon tried to drive his truck over to my worst-damaged tree . . . with this result.
He had to be hauled out by others, to his embarrassment.
Everyone had lost power and phones, and to our dismay, the local cellphone towers also went out. To get a signal, I had to drive about five miles towards Alexandria, where a tower was still operating. With no traffic lights and the roads covered in leaves, branches and fallen power lines, that was interesting! Still, I was able to get messages out. Many thanks to Lawdog, Phlegm, JPG and Holly for putting the word up on their blogs that I was still OK.
The rain began to get heavier again, and most of us returned to our homes. For the next few hours we had a number of really heavy downpours as the back side of Gustav went overhead. I'm sure that the cumulative total of rainfall had to have been two feet or more. By mid-afternoon things began to lighten up a bit, although rain continued intermittently through Tuesday night as well.
By now I was really tired, not having slept at all since Gustav arrived. I collapsed early on Tuesday evening and slept in fits and starts through the night, being woken up frequently by torrential rain, gusts of wind, and thunder rolling overhead.
On Wednesday the big clean-up began. Crews from utility companies in many other States had been arriving in droves, and they set to work with extraordinary efficiency. It's the difference between night and day to see them working now, and think of what things were like after Katrina and Rita in 2005. Governor Jindal and his staff have done a superb job of mobilizing resources and planning ahead, with the result that things are being fixed much, much faster than before. For example, after Rita it took me three and a half days to get power and telephone service restored. I had power yesterday afternoon, less than two days after it went out, and my phone (and DSL Internet connection) came back on this evening. Much better! The technicians also got a local cellphone tower working this morning, so we were able to communicate more easily while waiting for landlines to be reconnected.
I'm enormously impressed by the scale of the organization that's gone into this recovery effort. I spoke with a utility crew from Minnesota, who'd left on Thursday night. They told me that every arriving crew and convoy was met at the borders of Louisiana by State police, waiting at the various welcome centers. They were in satellite communication with a central command post, and could instantly tell each new arrival, "OK, you're going there, to do that; you'll be billeted here; these are your contact numbers; here's a detailed map of how to get there, including flooded roads to avoid; and you'll be joining a convoy escorted by some of our guys to make sure you get through." Very efficient and well co-ordinated. The utility crew were most impressed. They said they'd worked through their fair share of natural disasters like this, and Gustav was being handled better than anything they'd ever seen before.
Gustav's hit Louisiana very hard indeed. The damage in this area is much worse than after Katrina and Rita, but it's being handled so well that one hardly notices. Still, there's free-flowing water blocking many minor roads. Driving to the post office yesterday to pick up mail (which is still being delivered to P. O. boxes, if not to homes), I had to drive through hubcap-deep water at least six times in two miles. Those in smaller cars were stuck. I drive a pickup, so that much water doesn't bother me. Still, it'll be days before some roads are clear, and then they've got to be inspected, have loose power lines cleared up, trees removed, and so on. There's a lot of work ahead.
As I mentioned earlier, I'm part of a relief group involving several different churches and denominations. The group is active, but the temporary headquarters is operating out of Shreveport at the moment, as it was spared most of the damage that the rest of the State took. I'm out of the loop at present, and I must admit, I'm not sorry! I've got more than enough to cope with as it is. My prayers and good wishes go out to those taking up the load for the rest of us. I'll get more involved next week.
I walked around my property this morning, taking pictures for insurance purposes. My garden shed had corrugated iron siding on three sides before Gustav arrived. It now has it on only one side - the other two have been neatly stripped bare!
The screws and nails that held the iron sheets to the wood backing are still there, although the picture doesn't show them clearly. Where the sheets of corrugated iron went is anyone's guess. I can't see them in or near my garden, that's for sure! On the other hand, I do have part of someone's roof lying near my house. If anyone reading this recognizes it, feel free to come and get it!
I've now lodged a second insurance claim (somewhat to the dismay of the nice lady at Louisiana Farm Bureau, who was rather taken aback that two weeks after a fire, I'd had a tree hit the house! She was very nice about it.) The big problem is, my checks for the earlier damage are going to be delayed, thanks to power being out at Farm Bureau's head offices down in Baton Rouge. I need to get workers moving ASAP, but without money, that's not going to happen. Of course, they have plenty to do anyway - there's enough storm damage out there to keep every contractor in the region busy for the next six months without stopping for breath!
I'm going to have a quick fire-sale of some guns and other things, to raise enough to get the most urgent work done, and I'll go on with the rest once the checks arrive.
Speaking of guns, there have been lots of them in evidence after Gustav's departure. Most of us remembered the trouble we'd experienced with ill-mannered visitors from New Orleans after Katrina, and we were (and are) determined that any recurrence will be nipped in the bud before it has a chance to grow. So far there hasn't been much of a problem, I'm pleased to say. The sight of so many armed and clearly determined residents, keeping a friendly eye on each others' homes and neighborhoods, appears to have had a dramatic effect on the lowlifes among us. They're laying very low at present. The few con artists who always pop up after something like Gustav, offering "cheap" repairs and trying to loot what they can while doing them, are being met by welcoming committees of residents, backed up by local and State police, who are not very polite and even less patient with them. They're vanishing even faster than they emerge!
I'm very tired at present. I haven't slept properly since Monday, catching a few Z's whenever time allowed, so I hope I'll be able to get a good night's sleep tonight. Hopefully blogging will be back to normal tomorrow.
Thanks very much to everyone who sent kind words, thoughts and prayers. They're all greatly appreciated. I think the good Lord was looking out for us during Gustav. It could have been a whole lot worse! Governor Jindal and his team did a fine, fine job getting people out in good time, and they're performing minor miracles every day in getting the recovery under way. It's good to see - particularly in comparison to the shambles that we saw post-Katrina and post-Rita under our previous administration.
Sleep well, friends. I'm off to do just that myself!