It was May 27, 2018 at 4:00 PM. The weather was hot, normal for St. Louis that time of year, but the sky held no foreboding warnings. We were returning from seeing our daughter’s new house, about 2-3 miles from our home, when it began raining, drizzling would be a better description.
At the half way point of being home we started experiencing the rat tat tat of hail striking the truck. Rebel, our coon dog who is fearless, brave or stupid, not sure, began to whimper and cower in the back seat.
I was more concerned about the damage the hail was causing, but had to stuff that worry as the rain turned into a downpour. Making driving difficult. We maneuvered around stalled vehicles, vehicles pulled to the side of the road to wait the storm out and emergency vehicles cress crossing the intersections.
We finally made a right turn into our subdivision, the safety of home was only 20 or so houses down the two lane street, when …. it’s hard to explain what happened. The explosion shook the truck, I could feel the vibration tremble through the steering wheel. What the hell had just happened? A lightening strike within a few feet? An explosion?
The rain became a torrential sheet of water rendering my super duper Rainx wiper blades useless. I navigated by watching for gray objects, indicating parked cars, as I inched home. Reaching home my wife jumped out of the truck and made a mad dash to the garage, where our other two dogs had been left and without a doubt were going ballistic with fear.
I parked in front of the house, grabbed a few items to carry inside and began to open the door. The wind ripped the door from my grasp, I honestly believe if it hadn’t been a stout Dodge Ram it would have ripped the door off, or at least sprung the hinges. The rain was blowing sideways, something I’d only seen on the weather channel or the evening news, and was blinding.
I’m not totally sure if it was because the rain was falling in such a torrent, or because my brain was having trouble understanding sideways rain vs falling straight down rain, but visibility was nearly zero. The force of the rain striking my bare arms was quite uncomfortable, but the liquid darts striking my face were painful and I feared for the vulnerability of my eyes.
I opened the rear truck door and tried to reach Rebel leash to pull her out, but she wasn’t in favor of that and slid to the opposite side of the seat. “Piss on her,” I thought, she’s safe, and raced to the front door of the house. I fulfilled the adage “looking like a drowned rat” by the time I got inside. I was completely drenched, no different than I would have plunged into the deep end of the public pool.
I stupidly stood in from of the large living room window and watched the wind swept rain and other debris fly by, left to right. It reminded me of the Wizard of Oz. Crazy how the mind works in times of distress. I felt guilty about leaving the dog in the truck, which was probably stupid as she was safer than I was standing in front of a large pane of glass, but I felt like I abandoned her.
“No man … or dog left behind,” I opened the storm door and started out, but was meant with withering enemy fire, in the form of rain darts. I retreated, paused, gathered courage and went again. Throwing open the door as I reached the truck, the dog retreated to the other side away from me, but this time I could grab her leash. “Come on you S.O.B.!” I yelled “We’re under fire.” Seemed like a long way back to the house but we made it and Rebel was greeted by our other two dogs as a hero. Me … not so much so.
The cloud burst, tornado, thunder of Thor’s hammer, whatever it was ended at 3:30 PM CST. Identical to a tornado, damage ranged fro little of nothing to pretty devastating. One neighbor had a huge tree uprooted, which sent his back deck and hot tub soaring through the air, complete devastation but no structural damage. All in all for a violent storm we were spared what could have been.
Neighbors congregated in the streets swapping what news they had along with the rumors. According to one neighbor who had contacted the electric company there were 9 houses in the subdivision without electrical power, ours of course being one. We all surmised the uprooted tree had torn down the electrical lines, therefore repairing the break should not take too long. I’ve experienced situations where there was much more devastation and repairs took no longer than an hour. 9 houses. Probably a half hour or less.
Other than cleaning up storm damage, downed tree limbs, turned over flower pots, etc, which I wasn’t in the mood to do, there wasn’t much to do etc wait. I sat in my rocking chair in the great room and slowly rocked. I felt like a little kid on Christmas Eve night wanting to go to sleep so Christmas morning would come real fast. I wanted to doze off and be awaken by the blare of the television or sound of the fans suddenly coming back to life.
5:00 PM. It had been an hour and a half with no signs of progress. Additional reports from neighbors returning home indicated it had hardly rained a half mile away from us, and was still sunny and clear all around us outside of a mile circumference. The power outage was contained within a very small area, 9 houses, one block of the neighborhood. Hour and a half and still no response. Frustration was beginning to seep in. I tried to sleep. No luck.
My wife was scurrying about collecting candles, flashlights whatever in preparation for a dark night. I kept telling her not to worry about it. She kept shooting me the evil eye, the one that says “shut up.” I have to admit she is one creative woman. She brought the outside solar lights inside, strategically placing them, making walking around perfectly safe. God love her.
7:30 PM four hours since the power outage and we see no actively what’s so ever from the utility company. I’d have felt better if they were standing around their company trucks drinking coffee, at least I knew they were in the area and thinking about repairing something.
9:30 PM. It had been 6 hours since the power outage to 9 homes with no help arriving. By now my patience was exhausted, the nerve pill I had taken did little to calm. To be blunt… I was really pissed. There should be no reason for this type of delay.
9:50 PM the power came back on. Nearly 6 ½ hours of no electric. But the anger quickly turned to relief as the air conditioner roared back to life in order to address the 88F temperature the interior of the house had reached.
10:00 PM. We have no cable television or internet connection. Text our neighbors. “You have cable or internet?” … “No.” Spectrum told them since there was only 9 houses without service and it was a holiday, they would not dispense an emergency team for repairs. It’d be a day or two before they could address it.
I felt anger, frustration, abandonment, loneliness, a whole variety of human emotions that one may not associate with being without power, internet or television. Silly actually. But … being forced to be by myself without outside interference did result in a sort of awakening, one I’m not sure I like.
I went absolutely ballistic because it took 6-7 hours to restore our electrical power. We never lost our water or sanitation processes. Clean & safe drinking water and no risk of disease from unsanitary conditions. If I really was desperate to watch cable sports I could travel a mile down the road to the bar which has 24 TVs hanging on all the walls. Internet … No doubt it’ll do me good to not hear a day of Donald Trumps bullshit and lies.
Then it hit me. My God what was it like for Puerto Rico? How did those people feel?
I knew whatever the problem I was experiencing, or the utility company was experiencing, was in a very small segment of the power grid. What if the entire city of St. Louis had been wiped off the grid? Nobody had power.
In Puerto Rico the entire country was plunged into a blackout due to the hurricane produced devastation. The only power was being produced by generators, but they were gas or diesel powered and fuel supplies were not infinite.
Luckily there are no injuries, other than a few scratches and cuts, in the village I am in, but it still feels surreal, like this is not really happening … is it? I take stock of supplies, not really that good. We have a few flashlights, candles, canned foods, but the brunt of our food supply is refrigerated and that will quickly spoil without electricity. Food will become a real issue within a week, but we should be back up and running before then.
Water! We’ll need water. I grab a near empty milk carton off the kitchen table intent on rinsing it and filling it with water. I turn the faucet on, but nothing happens. In the country side water is supplied by wells with pumps, and in the city, a water treatment plant treats and dispenses the water through pumps. No electricity … no operating pumps … no water.
Thank God there is only minor damage in the village. Sure the sheet metal fences are torn down and scattered around, crude furniture used for outside sitting lays scattered and broken along with glass and occasional roofing materials. In all honesty it’s not much more of a debris scattered slum than before the hurricane, with one huge exception, the surrounding jungle had been devastated. This would create a dangerous problem of uprooted jungle animals infiltrating the village as their habitat has been drastically altered and the imaginary barrier between jungle and village has become blurred.
Poisonous snakes and spiders are the worse because of their ability to disappear into any environment, but fire-ants, wasps, hornets, are no welcome guest. An occasional jaguar, the ones that supposedly don’t live on the island, will claim a cat or dog when convenient, but haven’t approached humans.
I know we are isolated and help could be weeks in arriving. I must travel to the city and get a sense of how the rescue is being organized, how to obtain my part of the supplies, (I have no idea how I’ll carry them back) and estimate how long before rescue will arrive.
I walk the crowded five miles to the nearest city. It is hot and humid, I have no water so I no longer sweat, only large white salt stains cover my shirt. I enter a city in absolute chaos. People seem to be aimlessly wandering about, although I may be wrong, there my be a method to their madness, official looking trucks, mostly labeled utility or power grid repair, set empty along the streets and in parking lots. “Why aren’t they out working?” I wonder. “What’s going on?”
I see a vendor selling bottled water. I have no money so against my normal morals I steal a bottle. I only take one for my burning thirst, as if that makes it less of a crime. I really have no idea what or who I’m looking for, I figure I’ll know it when I see it. The heat and humidity are oppressive as if conspiring with the electricity that was off, except for the sporadic government building or wealthy residence which ran off generators.
I finally reach the ocean and few hundred yards from the concrete pier which extends a good ½ miles if not farther into the bay. People relax in the water, but not as tourist, but as a victim seeking refuge from the deadly heat, old and young alike are constantly watched by mothers to insure their safety. The fathers are not around, probably toiling to clear the wreckage. I see a ship, maybe a 1000 yards off shore, but I can clearly see the Red Cross insignia and marking it was a US Naval vessel. My heart soars as I tangibly see that help is arriving.
I spot a man in a uniform standing on the pier and scurry up to talk to him, as he’ll have information.
“Good day,” I say as I approach.
“Halt! No one is allowed on the pier,” he barks.
My smart-ass side wants to answer “then what about you asshole?” but I don’t. “Just looking for some info,” I say “ I’m from the hills.”
His face softens realizing I’m no tourist. “That’s a hospital ship out there,” he points “Hear tell it can treat a 1000 people at one time.”
“Guess it’s full,” I say.
I’m met with a loud sarcastic laugh. “Yeah, full of doctors, nurses and about 20 patients.”
“What, why only 20? I’ve seen hundreds of injured and I’ve only been here a few hours.”
“Don’t know why. It just sits out all alone.”
“We’re an American territory, they must help us.”
“ The new president … frump, trump, something like that came down and threw paper towels to a crowd of people.”
I couldn’t muster a reply to that statement.
It’s been nearly 1 year since the hurricane that devastated Puerto Rico roared through. Electrical power has still not been returned to the entire island and many parts that had been repaired are now off line again for one of numerous reasons. People have been forced to drink not only contaminated water, but water contaminated with radioactive particles. The death rate from this storm will skyrocket in the next 20 to 30 years with nuclear waste induced pollution, but the powers to be with argue there is no concrete proof of that. Agent Orange didn’t have any long term effects either.
To date 4600 people have died, 95% of those from not being able to receive medical care in time, remember the Navy hospital ship anchored off the coast but not taking on any injured. What the hell happened? Other than Trump.
I guess what I’m trying to convey is when something goes wrong for you, try and take it in context, which is very hard to do. Try to think, no matter how lousy my day is, someone else s day may be months or years. It would do good for all our politicians, from asshole trump down, to go a week without power, internet and cable television. It may change our world forever.