Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Our Not-So-Fun Adventure

I wanted to share a few photos so I decided to write some commentary to go along with them. Our “adventure” began two Saturdays ago – October 29th. We had been hearing that a “big” snowstorm was coming to town. Now, when you live in Massachusetts, big snowstorms hardly strike fear into your heart. I mean, last winter we got about 7 BIG snowstorms. Of course none of them came in October though. A big snowstorm in October seemed so unlikely that I even said to my husband “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Famous last words, right? Even if it did snow, we could handle it. We do all the time.

My first clue that something was different should have been Saturday night when we drove home from our church Halloween party. We could hardly get down my son’s friend’s road because so many trees were heavy with snow and leaning over the road. When we got to our own home, we found that a little tree by our front door was so bent over that we had to climb over the flower bed and onto the porch to get in the front door. When we got inside, the power was out. Unpleasant, I thought, but no big deal. We piled blankets on everyone and went to bed. I even made sure all the lights in the house were off so that when the power went on in the middle of the night, it wouldn’t wake anyone up. During the night, I woke several times to hear loud cracking sounds. Once, I took a flashlight and shone it out the back window. I saw a huge tree laying across our back lawn.

When we woke up the next morning, it was about 52 degrees inside the house – and there was still no power. Yuck. There was also no cell phone service. We had never lost cell phone service before. Looking out the window, I saw that we had gotten about a foot of snow. I also saw that the tree I had seen last night was not the only one down in our yard. A huge branch had fallen from higher then our second story ceiling, smashed half of our front fence (that we had just finished repairing and repainting two weeks ago). The branches nearly reached the kitchen window. Another huge tree was blocking our cars from getting out the driveway, one had smashed the back fence, and several more lay across the lawn. Christian (age 2) kept telling me, “Trees in the sky fall down, mom.”

Our house is on a little road (Gulf Road) that connects to Route 9 - one of the most major roads in town (but I live in the country so it’s just a two-land road). We got dressed and headed out to look around. Gulf Road was completely blocked by several huge trees. Our neighbors had a giant tree hanging upside down in their power line. It wasn’t until we turned the corner to Route 9 that we finally really realized how severe this storm had been. The road looked like a tornado had gone through it. Every five feet, a tree was down in the road. Trees lay across power lines, dangled over roads tangled in power lines, and power lines were strewn across lawns and the road everywhere. In several places, cars had been abandoned when huge trees had fallen and smashed them. The fact that it was October and some of the trees still had leaves on them had caused the trees to hold more of the wet, heavy snow – and had caused many to fall.

“We’re not going to have power for a week,” my husband said.

Now, I know this was not hurricane Katrina or anything. But, it was a tiny bit alarming to realize that we were stranded – no phone, no internet, no power, no heat, no water (we have a well so no electricity means no water), and no ability to drive away. Soon individual people were out on the road with their chain saws cutting a few of the major trees – our neighbor cut the one blocking our driveway. By night, I could drive to a gas station down the road (very slowly by driving around trees and on top of electrical wires). I wanted to find cell phone service so I could call my sister-in-law, Cassy, in NYC and see if we could escape to her house. I had no idea how widespread the damage was or if it was even possible to get out of town on the roads. Another problem – the gas station had no gas and we only had a quarter of a tank. A stranger let me borrow his cell phone (that had service – mine still didn’t) and Cassy said we were welcome at their house. We heated up leftovers on our grill for dinner, walked around with flashlights bundled up in coats and hats, dumped our water storage down the toilet to flush it (we tried bringing in some snow in a bin, but by then the house was so cold that the snow wasn’t melting very quickly), and huddled under the blankets. When we woke up, it was 44 degrees in the house. We were all miserable.

The next morning, we drove down the road some more and located a gas station with gas. The few stations that had gas had lines sometimes stretching half a mile. We had to pay in cash because they couldn’t take credit cards. That afternoon, I packed our belongings and headed out of town with the kids (my husband stayed behind). I took these pictures as I drove – all along Route 9 within about three miles from my house. Cars were still smashed under trees two days after the storm and I hadn’t seen one “official-looking” person. The road was an absolute safety hazard and if the town hadn’t been in a crisis, I am sure it would have been closed.

In NYC, I had cell phone service and was able to learn a little more. 100% of my town had lost power, as had many other towns around us. Some were calling it the worst storm in the history of western Massachusetts. (Other states were also hit hard, particularly Connecticut.)

As the days continued, I got periodic updates from friends in Belchertown. Halloween was “canceled.” The high school had been turned into a shelter. School was canceled for the entire week. Some people began getting power back on Tuesday night. Finally on Thursday, I decided to come back home. In the day, we began the work of cleaning up the mess and at night we slept at friend’s house since we still didn’t have power. The first clean-up task was to throw away all the food in the fridge and freezer. Still, I felt relatively calm until Friday afternoon. My husband’s co-worked came over with a chain saw to help us cut some of the largest trees. The one that had smashed half of the front fence was still caught in a branch higher than our house. I watched as he cut it down and it crashed through the remaining fence – the one I had just spent several weekends painting. At that moment, for the first time I felt a lump in my throat.

Sunday at 2:30 p.m. our power came back on – after eight nights. I just got internet access today (but it's only semi-functional).It will take us weeks to clear the trees and repair the damage. I read a newspaper article today that said Belchertown (my town) was the hardest hit community in Massachusetts. Still I know it could have been worse. We are safe, our house or cars were not damaged, we have wonderful family and friends that let us impose on them so we didn’t have to sleep in our freezing house, and we are now back in our house – appreciating the heat, flushing toilet, and lights more than ever before!