I’m back! (Did you miss me?)

- May 03, 2011

Hi there – I’m sorry to have dropped out of the loop recently – it wasn’t that I’d forgotten about you or that I’d stopped caring – it’s just that we’ve been without power and cut off from the Internet due to the storms last week.

As you may or may not be aware, I’m based in Huntsville, Alabama. I moved here from England twenty-one years ago for the nightlife (that’s a little Alabama joke). I remember when I arrived in Huntsville being told that, twice a day, nothing happened, whether it needed to or not (grin).

Anyway, last Wednesday I was working away in my office, mind-locked with my computer, totally unaware of what was going on around me. Then Bob from the office next door stuck his head through the door and said “There’s a tornado headed this way, we’re all moving to the safe room downstairs.”

While I was down there, my wife (Gina The Gorgeous) called me to say that a storm cell had just passed right over our house and the power was out and she was not happy – so as soon as the rain subsided to only a torrential downpour I made a break for my car and raced home.

Gina and I spent much of the rest of the afternoon and evening with our son Joseph and the two stupid dogs and two stupid cats camped out in our laundry room with flashlights and a radio.

The next day the power was still out. It’s not uncommon to lose power for a couple of hours in a storm, but they usually get it up and running fairly quickly so I was surprised to that things were taking so long. And then I listened to the radio to discover that – in addition to numerous power lines being down – the main feeds coming out of the local Browns Ferry power plant had been wiped out and much of North Alabama was without power.

You don’t realize how vulnerable and exposed and generally unprepared you are until something like this happens. On the one hand we had lots of canned / dried food and flashlights and radios and “stuff” – also we had a couple of full propane gas cylinders and a gas barbeque and a gas camping stove that puts out 50,000 BTUs and could feed a troupe of scouts.

On the other hand we had hardly any batteries for the flashlights and only 1/4 of a tank of gas in one of the cars. The “empty” light had come on when I was on my way home and I thought to myself “I’ll fill up tomorrow,” not realizing that the power would be out and that the gas stations couldn’t pump gas without power. (I felt like a fool … but where were we going to find one at that time of the day? [grin])

One organization I would really like to acknowledge is the Publix supermarket chain. Almost unbelievably, all of their stores in the area were up and running on Thursday – the morning after the storm. Someone told me that soon after reports started coming in on Wednesday about how bad the damage was, Publix had a convoy of tractor trailers loaded with generators on the road. They drove through the night to get their stores powered up by the morning. This was closely followed by other convoys of food, ice, and so forth.

This strikes me as organization of the highest level. Following earlier disasters the folks in charge of Publix have obviously put a lot of planning (and money) into all of this so as to be prepared. Also Home Depot was back in action really quickly. There were a couple of others, but these two companies really were on the ball and I will be giving them a lot of my business in the future.

There are all sorts of things you have to learn to live with as the days go by. For example, we’ve been under a “dusk-to-dawn curfew” since the storms hit. The police take this very seriously. If you are found driving out and about after dusk, the least you can expect is a very hefty fine (if they don’t like the way you look you may well spend the night in jail).

It’s very dark at night. If you go outside you can see a panorama of stars (they are usually blocked by light from the city reflected of moisture vapor in the air. I can’t believe that after days and days without power, I still turn the light on when I walk into a room and then pause to wonder why the light didn’t go on before slapping myself on the forehead and saying “Duh!” Also I think I’ve had just about as much fun as one can get out of having ice-cold showers.

By now you may well be saying to yourself: “Just a moment, how are you posting this blog is you have no power or Internet access.” Ah, well. At first we had no cell phone contact at all – I hear that a lot of towers were blown down, but some temporary ones have been set up and we can now call the outside world. My wife was chatting to her mother (who lives in Louisiana) and she mentioned that some areas of a nearby town called Athens had power, and her mom immediately said “Max should check to see if the Athens Library is open.” So I called and they were and they had power and a wireless Internet connection … which is why you find me sitting in the kids section of the Athens-Limestone Public Library as I pen these words.

The storms hit on Wednesday, April 27 – it’s now almost a week later on Tuesday, May 3. We’ve been very lucky. There are areas only a few miles from our home – like Anderson Hills – that were totally devastated. Our neighborhood lost a huge number of trees and many of our neighbors’ houses suffered damage, but we came through unscathed. Also, unlike areas in Tuscaloosa that were cut off from fresh water, our water supply held up. The weather has been very clement hovering around the 70s, so with food and water, gas to cook with, and a roof over our heads, we class ourselves amongst the really lucky ones.

Now I have to run because I have literally hundreds of emails to wade through, plus apologies to make for all of the meetings and conference calls I’ve missed, plus Product and News items to post…

I tell you, it’s wonderful to be “back on the net” and in touch with what’s going on…