Sunday, October 16, 2016

A Guy With A JEEP And A Chainsaw ... And About 8 Elves PART 2 OF HURRICANE MATTHEW

So, where were we ... oh yes,... I was at Mom's in St. Augustine, the worst part of Hurricane Matthew had just passed and ... the phone rang.

It was my wife, Liz.
She, Emma, and Kyle were on their way south to Tampa. My daughter Katy's blood pressure was 210/114 and she was being admitted into the hospital.
The baby might have to come now ... 7 weeks early.

All my other hurricane plans, staying with Mom for the aftermath and cleanup, helping her get through days without power, helping her neighbors, ... ALL of that crashed to the ground around me.

I got myself together and broke the news to Mom, while apologizing profusely.

She said, "Go! Don't worry about me, Terry will come over."

Everything I had unpacked the day before, was packed up,  tossed into the JEEP, and I was off again.

The view driving out of Mom's neighborhood.

At I-95 and State Road 16, I hesitated.
I-95 traffic or CR-208?
208 is a country road through some pretty low, possibly flooded piney flatwoods.

I chose 208, the road less traveled, and that made all the difference.
The narrow 2-lane road west was clear with puddles and downed trees along the road, but none on it.
A few minutes and I was turning on to 13-A, and in no time I was at Molasses Junction. I continued on 13-A , driving past flooded farm fields that looked like vast shallow lakes.

The JEEP was making good time with nothing more challenging than some road ponding when I came to a bend in the road and the scene below.

Are you kidding me?

A good sized sweetgum tree, multi-trunked, long and lean, lay across the road blocking both lanes.

In my rush, I considered just going around it. I sure as hell did not want to backtrack.  This was a time sensitive mission to get to my daughter ASAP.

That option, going around it, turned out to be NOT an option ... even in a JEEP.
The guardrails that the tree rested on were there for a reason.
Almost directly beneath where the tree lay, a hurricane fueled creek was full and rushing to the nearby St. Johns River.


And then ... it hit me.

In the back of the JEEP sat a Husky chainsaw, oil, and gas. The Husky had sat there all this time, patiently waiting to help in the post-Matthew cleanup.

I'm sure the poor thing thought it had missed its chance to help out, since I was rushing back so unexpectedly.

And yet, Sara N. Dippity had intervened and that Husky was exactly the thing to save the day at this moment.

I shut off the JEEP, got out, put on a pair of work gloves, fueled the Husky, and fired it up.

I began to cut the tree, working down from the smaller canopy branches on the right.
As I sawed in those first few minutes, my plan was to just clear one lane since time was of the essence here.

It was a big tree and I could be here an hour completely clearing it.
I could get through that way and so could other people if they just took turns.

And then ... through the branches, I saw a white van pull up on the other side of the tree. 
Without saying a word, two guys got out and started pulling branches off the road as I cut.

Yeah baby!
I gave them a thumbs up and kept cutting.

I was focused on my cutting as the Husky went through the wood like it was ... well wood. You thought I was going to say "butter", didn't you?

Ever use a chainsaw to cut butter?

Exactly, ... just know that this chainsaw rose to the occasion in high fashion.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw branches moving away to my right, but my two helpers were in plain view to my left.

I glanced behind me and two other cars had stopped to help.
One older guy and a handful of 20-somethings were grabbing branches as fast as I could cut them.

We smiled at each other, but no words were exchanged over the roar of the chainsaw.

I kept an eye on them, but they had the good sense to stay away from the saw zone until I moved on. As soon as I did, that branch went over the guard rail.

It was like a small swarm of ants dissecting a dead grasshopper that was too big to move intact.

", work, work, work, work, work ..."

As I moved down the tree, where the diameter was increasing along with the weight of each piece, I began cutting shorter chunks that could be easily managed by my helper elves.

In 15-20 minutes, we had that entire roadway cleared.
It was a beautiful thing.
The view after our team effort.

After the last cut, I shut off the chainsaw, and we all spoke for the first time.
I thanked the van guys who hopped in their vehicle and drove off with a thumbs up.
The "kids" who had worked so hard were still there and I turned to them and said, "YOU GUYS WERE AWESOME!"

One of them, a redhead with a beard said, "Hey, we came around the corner and there was this guy with a JEEP and a chainsaw, so we had to help!"

With the way now open, we all went back to our vehicles and moved on.

I just couldn't stop smiling.

This simple event, a bunch of strangers helping each other fix one thing in a storm that broke so MANY things, things that will be broken for a long time to come, was just the positive energy I needed to ease the worry for my daughter and unborn grandchild.

I cruised past many downed trees blocking parts of the 2-lane farm roads before I hit Highway 207 with its 4 lanes heading west.

Some of those downed trees were off limits, leaning against power lines, but most were safe for cutting and I yearned to get out and cut them away, but I had to keep moving.

When I arrived home hours later, I unloaded the chainsaw and gas, and grabbed a few hours of sleep. 

Early the next morning, I headed south to St. Joseph's Womens Hospital in Tampa ... where my Katy waited in the Intensive Care part of the maternity unit...

Part Three:

Monday, October 10, 2016

Going To Meet Hurricane Matthew

On Wednesday, October 5 (my anniversary) it was painfully obvious that not only was Hurricane Matthew going to impact St. Augustine, it was going to do so as a powerful 3-4 storm.

I was at work when the cone of uncertainty's newest change answered the question I had been pondering.
Will it miss St. Augustine ... and my Mom. Miss Charlotte the school secretary (and master of pretty much all things) urged me to hurry up and get over there when I let her know a sub would be needed..."You should go now."


I dawdled a little on Thursday morning, but finally got the JEEP loaded with hurricane pre/post items and hit the road.

Let's see, miscellaneous hand tools, work gloves, chainsaw gas, 2-cycle oil for chainsaw, chainsaw bar oil, chainsaw, ryobi drill/driver set, large new tarp just in case a roof issue develops, boots, glocks, regular gas in a 2 gallon can for the JEEP if needed... anticipating shortages, old sneakers, headlamp and flashlight, batteries for same, protein bars, apples, jug of iced tea (unsweetened of course), clothes, etc...and then I left.

Leaving from my house (west coast) and driving to the east coast during the approach of a hurricane and the associated evacuation was interesting. 

The weather was already cloudy and  blustery... you really feel gusts in a Jeep.
By the time I got to Gainesville, signs of gas shortages were pretty common. Many stations had darkened pumps and yellow bags on pump handles.  If a station still had gas, crowds of cars were lined up waiting their turn. 
Some had police officers supervising the scene.
That gas scenario would replay in every town I passed through.

I was glad I had topped my tank off in Chiefland and planned to try to top it off again once it dropped to 3/4 full ... if I could find gas by then.
The 2 gallons in the back (about 40-50 miles in my 4 cylinder JEEP) gave me some comfort.

Gainesville was Gainesville of course, so traffic slowed there. As I left Gatorville, the flow of traffic changed to a pattern that would remain consistent for the rest of the voyage.
The opposing west bound lanes were stacked with cars all evacuating the east coast while my east bound lane was practically empty.

 Here's the view from the crest of the bridge in Palatka. 
The traffic flow seems a little unbalanced.
I'm about 35 miles from St. Augustine at this point.
Closing the hurricane shutters as the rain begins.

I arrived at Mom's around 2:30 pm. When I quizzed her about her supplies,it looked to me like she might need a few more nonperishable items for a post electricity world ... I was sure we would lose power at some point.
So, I dashed to the nearby Publix, hoping it would be open. Everything on the way out was shut down, but Publix came through.

Publix WAS open, but it was also empty of just the sort of items I was after. Long stretches of empty shelves were stark evidence that everyone else had wanted the same items.
Not a single jar of peanut butter or jelly could be found.

Just an observation, but the current "Just in Time" shipping strategy shows it's weakness in times of disaster.
Just sayin'.

The deli was stripped of any easy to transport prepared food like sandwiches and fried chicken.
In the bakery, I grabbed the last two french bread loaves.  My late to the party scavenging yielded some lunchmeat, some Belvita bars, apples, bananas,EXTRA toasty Cheezits, chips etc.

Back at the house, I started folding out the hurricane shutters and locking them down.
The shutters were added about 15 years ago after a bad storm. I remember at the time being amazed that my Dad would spring for such an investment after decades of just toughing it out during blows ...after all, this was a man who, with his buddy Buck Andreu, used a sheet and a bicycle during Hurricane Dora to sail down the street in front of our house.

Those shutters may sit there for years unused, but the ease of activation (compare to cutting and screwing in plywood), and the solid armoring up over the windows made them priceless. 
Mom's 1957 concrete block house, sensibly back from the ocean, with glass windows covered in metal shutters, was ready and felt a little like a fortress... a really dark fortress.
Thanks Dad.

With the house locked and loaded, Mom and I settled down for a sandwich as the winds began to howl.

At 11:30, about the time I went to bed, the wind was a constant howling noise punctuated by knocks and thuds as branches, pine cones, and the neighbors cats blew through the yard.

Friday Morning

In the morning, with the storm center still about 100 miles south, Mom's 60 foot tall 80 year old pines were swaying and swooshing constantly. I didn't really think these taproot anchored titans would fall, but IF they did, they would slice right through the roof.
This was not a gullywasher rain event, at least not in Mom's neighborhood. 
Matthew's rain continued with a steady, light fall that rarely varied all day.
Sometimes it was sideways in the gusts, but it was mostly set on medium flow I guess.
We never saw that thunderous big drop tropical downpour that I love so much.
Just as well, because the Atlantic would soon rise up and pour across the seawalls on both sides of the Bridge of Lions.

St. Augustine was about to get more water than it could handle. Marshland filled in decades ago and now hosting densely built neighborhoods were about to be reclaimed by the sea.

We didn't experience any flooding due to our location up-slope and  about a mile west of the nearest estuary, the San Sebastion River.

Around 10:00 am, the lights flickered during a strong gust, there was a loud bang, and the power went out.
It would not come on again for 3 days.

With the shuttered house now powerless and tomb-like, I suggested we set up two rocking chairs on the back porch and watch the storm as long as it was safe to do so.
Mom was totally game for that.

We spent the day that way, chatting over Cheezits, and ooh-ahhing at the powerful wind gusts like spectators at a Fourth of July fireworks show.
In case you're wondering, not once did we hear thunder or see lightning.

Around 12 noon, I heard a bird chirping so loud that I thought a nest had blown out of a tree and I went out searching for it in the blowing rain.

When I got back to the porch, soaked and windblown, I saw the singer ... a tiny tufted titmouse looking for the missing birdfeeders that should be hanging from the grapefruit tree.

(We took them down for storm prep.)

This bird was HANGRY!
So I dashed out with some bird seed on a tray and set it on the ground.
That's all it took and the missing squirrels and birds, all wet and bedraggled looking, came out of the bushes to feed.

Around 3 pm, the winds, which had been coming from the east all day, switched over to the west, and I knew the storm center was north of us and we would soon be out of the woods.

By five, we knew we had dodged the bullet with no damage to any structures. I was already anticipating the next day's yard cleanup work.

And then the phone rang...