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©October 2003

Carol Jane Remsburg




Aftermath of the Storm





Hurricane Isabel arrived into town on September 18th, 2003.  Almost comically, it was also my 22nd wedding anniversary.  The storm had made landfall near Cape Hatteras, NC and turned north.  As we were to suffer the backside of the storm, we knew it could get bad.  Just how bad we couldn't know or project.  And while we weren't in line for a direct hit, an evil wind brewed.


Just a few days prior, we had been under the gun as a likely candidate for landfall for this storm.  Once we were out from under that prediction many relaxed.  Schools did close along with the government buildings and many businesses simply took the precaution to close as they knew business likely wouldn't be hopping that day anyway—unless it was a convenience store for the bread, the milk, the batteries, bottled water—AND the beer. 


That Thursday morning I went to work as usual hoping it wouldn't be so bad and that all would be well at home when I got back there.  My daughter was home from school and hubby was going to be home by 10 AM with the worst effects coming after that.  I had held hopes that perhaps, with the storm still strong, a half-day at work wouldn't be out of the question for myself.  That didn't happen.


The morning dawned squally with showers and breezes.  The day wasn't quite belligerent initially but it got that way in a hurry.  By that 10 AM mark, the wind was blowing strong with gusts over 45 mph along with thunder and lightning and heavy downpours of rain. 


The windows of our building were considered "hurricane-proof" but even with then, after they were taped, those windows shuddered loudly.  Sitting only about 10 feet from a wall of those windows, the noise was incredible and my nervousness grew.  My customers called in less and less frequently, many commenting upon their own worries over the outcome of the storm.  Others had quite pointed concerns about their billing or repairs or whatever.  I'll be honest, it was very hard to concentrate and give my best while the wind howled and the thunder roared and we were all frightened over the possibility of hurricane-spawned tornadoes. 


Funny thing, we worry less about ourselves than we do about our families we cannot be with.


Hours passed and the clock ticked.  About all I wanted was to be home.  My worries and fears grew larger in my mind simply because I wasn't at home where I thought I should be.  It was as if my presence at home could forestall anything truly horrible from happening to my husband and my daughter and to our home.  Our little human minds tend to think that way.


By 1:40 PM, when the wind gusts had reached 60 mph with sustained winds at just over 40 mph, an internal IM message came through our group that a tornado had touched down—about 11 miles away—in the very tiny rural town I live in.  I was on the phone with a customer who was giving me huge grief over the .04 cent tax hike instituted by his city on his bill—as if I could actually do something about it.  That was okay, he wanted to vent his anger thus I was the most likely target for it.  He kept telling me how unsettled he was about the fluctuation in his bill.  After 15 minutes along this same vein, I finally had to speak up and tell him that I, too, was unsettled because I was scared of the storm and that a tornado had touched down in my small town of less than 1,000 and I didn't know how my family was.  My voice cracked then and I was near tears.  The man actually heard me and shut up.  He made his apologies and hung up.


A few minutes after that, I was allowed to call home to see if everything was all right.  It was.  Funny thing was, no tornado had touched down, it had simply been the strong winds and swirling winds—along with much damage.  The winds were still rising.


My relief over my family's safety washed over me but I still felt weak.  I was exhausted after such an adrenaline rush—fear does that to you.  I was shaky for more than an hour afterwards and giddy too.  Outside it still thundered and lightning still flashed, the wind-driven rains pelted the windows with such force it was hard to hear anything else—like my customers. 


Most of us, those who were still there after others had been called away due to their homes being evacuated, tried laughing and joking.  None of us wanted to be where we were.  The state police had called their own emergency and required everyone off the roads.  We had been advised the day before to bring a "pillow and blanket" with us just in case we couldn't leave—right!


When I had scoffed at this the evening before, my hubby had advised if the winds and the storm were pushing those 70 mph sustained winds I should stay put, that I would be insane to try to drive home in that.  I laughed at him.  There was NO WAY I was staying there overnight. 


I did learn another lesson that Thursday the 18th of September.  Sometimes, even after 22 years of marriage, my husband IS right.


By 3 PM, they had closed the roads to all but emergency traffic.  The light was going and the rain and the wind kept building and growing, becoming something like Frankenstein's monster, something alive.


My workday was to end by 4 PM, for others it would be 6 PM, but at 3:30PM, we closed.  The announcement was made quickly and quietly as supervisors walked through the floor telling us to finish our calls and close and leave as quickly as possible.  I was out the door fast and amid another furious rain squall which soaked me from head to toe and there wasn't anything on me that wasn't wet.  I was just glad to be released to try to get home.


Further I was glad I wasn't driving a car anymore, not a little car with no weight.  I was driving a pickup, not a BIG pickup, but one large enough so that it would still stay on the road.  I got in, belted up, and started the truck.  I called home on the cell to say I was coming.  Hubby was cautionary, even more than he normally is.  He told me to take it slow and be watchful.  I wasn't sure exactly what he meant by that but I found out very quickly.  Route 50 East was nearly deserted, I only saw two other vehicles on my way home and I'm sure both were fellow employees also trying to get home. 


The wind wasn't just strong, it was malicious and hateful.  It took both lanes of the highway to stay on the roadway.  I didn't realize that while I was in a truck, the profile was high and violent winds punish it, pushing not just in one direction but in all ways.  I'm not sure if it was a blessing or not, but I could actually see the worse gusts before they hit me, swirling so like the funnel clouds bouncing from one side of the road and back and then with head on winds as well. 


Normally with a bad snow situation I turn off the radio and focus my attention to the road.  This time, I had all the visuals I needed and the wind was screaming with the 70 mph gusts.  This time I turned ON the radio for some rock'n'roll to soothe my nerves just a bit.  The drive home was bumpy, thumpy, and filled with the thrill of adventure I could have lived without.  Had I been 20 or 25 or even 30, the excitement would have been wild.  All I wanted at this point was to get home and find my loved ones safe and my home still standing.  The tree worried me at this point.


The tree that enveloped my house, a towering silver maple of indeterminate age, at least 75 or more years—about 30 feet or so in circumference and about 80-100 feet tall with branches that reach in all directions.  When my daughter was little, she named her "Shade."  The idea of what "Shade" might bring to us could be very bad indeed.


With end of the ride over, and pulling into the opposite driveway than I normally do 'just in case' any of the trees did decide to fall, I felt better.  All looked intact for the moment.  It was another wild run into the house just to further soak my already very wet person. 


Once inside, I found the power still on, my family safe, but the tree was screaming along with the wind.  This was NOT a happy thought.


The winds and gusts had ceased to build but rather now kept steady.  I hugged my family, changed into dry clothes and settled into my recliner with rapt attention upon the news of the moment, Isabel's track and all the storm updates.  For hours we watched and for hours we cringed over the noise outside—hubby and me that is.  Our teen had long ago gotten bored with all the noise and dedicated herself to her computer and a hot Sims game.


By 7 PM the winds peaked or seemed to.  During that moment, there was a very loud and audible 'crack'.  From window to window we went.  We couldn't see what it was but Shade was still standing.  We knew something had broken from her but didn't see the fallout nor did we hear the expected thud on our rooftop.  It was a shoe that hadn't dropped yet.


By midnight we lost electricity.  We'd already found the comfort of sleep by then in our beds even though we knew when it went, we just hoped it would be short-lived.  By morning, we knew it wasn't short-lived.  There was no clock blaring the alarm nor did the air conditioner hum.  All we could hear was that the wind was still blowing, not howling now, but blowing just the same.


There was no hot water for showers.  Hubby, needing his coffee fix REALLY bad, ran out to the garage and pulled out the little generator.  It was enough to power the fridge, the lights, the TV, the kid's computer—AND the coffee maker. 


Once he went outside and got it all hooked up and running he happened to look up, we both did—the little genny took both of us to ready.  What we saw was that a large-type branch had snapped falling upon another lower, but also large-type branch—overhanging the porch about 30 feet up. 


Initially we thought that with ladders and ropes and maybe some help, we could power that down and away from the house.  About an hour or so later we realized we couldn't.  The weight of this branch had split the big branch just below it that was attempting to carry its load.  This wasn't going to be a job for DYI.  This would take professionals. 


By then, I'd already called into work telling them I couldn't come.  No shower—no workee—I just cannot work that way.  Besides, I had hoped that we could clear the tree matter on our own.


Meanwhile, we ran a line over to the neighbor's who had gasoline (in a hand-crank tank) so they could run the necessities, like the fridge and lights.  Sharing with your neighbor's is all important.


Still I thought that power would be back by maybe 10 AM to maybe like noon.  It didn't happen.  It didn't happen by 3 PM or 6 PM or 8 PM or 10 PM.  Many folks worried over their phones, I didn't.  I wanted my ELECTRICITY back in ways I could really use.  Like with the air conditioning (I'm spoiled and OLD now, I need it), and hot water for bathing, and well, I wanted my computer back too.


I won't tell you that I checked for the little light on the transfer switch every 10-15 minutes, but for the truth, I did. 


The television told us of the flooding and wind damage and the general devastation others suffered—and they did.  We'd been SO lucky, I felt blessed.  The house was still whole, the freeze held up in the garage, and I had coffee and lights.  What more could I ask for?  Umm, I STILL wanted my air conditioning.  It was hot and humid and I couldn't take my mind off the situation by vacuuming or washing laundry or whatever.


I finally gave up and went to bed at 11 PM that night feeling grungy without my hot shower, that sink bath did NOTHING for me.


Listening to the little genny hum outside the open windows that hubby promised to shut down at midnight finally started to put me to sleep.  At 11:34 PM, the power came back on.  23 ½ hours later we had power, we could have cheered, and we  all did.  Kid was asleep by then and it woke her up too.


What we didn't realize was that others wouldn't have power not just the next day or the one after that, it would be a week or more for them.  Others had been flooded out of their homes—some for good. 


Isabel may not have made a direct hit upon The Shore but like Gloria in '85 she made her presence felt.  We've called several tree services who are stacked to the max with calls.  Meanwhile, we're put on hold until we can get someone who we can trust to bring down the damage to Shade without crushing the porch roof. 


I'm just grateful we weathered the storm so well. 


Isabel will spawn a thousand or more stories, I hope most of them turn out as well as ours, a little discomfort, a good deal of drama, and no tragic losses.


To all others who lived through Isabel, my best blessings to you.  Keep safe and dry.



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