Monday, May 2, 2011

After the storm

We spent two hours with the students, without electricity, in the halls under tornado watch last Wednesday. Our school was mentioned by name as the site of a hit that morning, so my cell phone lit up with texts and tweets, but the damage was limited to some smashed safety glass and an detached awning -- entirely superficial. By the time we were released early, I thought the worst of the storms had passed and hurried home.

Dozens of tornadoes went on to hammer the northern part of the state into the night. This Monday is the third of at least four days of school we're out, after the deadly storms which killed a ninth grade girl in our district among more than 200 hundred other people, devastating Tuscaloosa in particular. Lots of people want to know schools they can help. Right now, they are still accounting for people, a task hobbled by lack of electricity. More than a half million homes and businesses in North Alabama lost power when the TVA transmissions lines from Browns Ferry nuclear plant were demolished. TVA and Huntsville Utilities basically had to recreate the power grid from scratch. This morning, they said in the media briefing that about 30 percent of their electricity load was coming through, but that's a lot more than the one percent making it to the hospitals and water treatment plant on Friday morning. We're one of the fortunate households with power.

It was an exercise in patience, but also gratitude. So many people offered me a place to stay. I wanted to be with my home and husband, but I would have been ready to leave town like so many people did if we had lost water. Everyone who stayed was sleeping better without the streetlights and electronic distractions (and the dusk-'til-dawn curfew). I was so grateful not to have significant damage to our house or to have lost family and friends, everything else seemed insignificant. I was also appreciative for all of the people who have ever given me candles (I had some I knew were fifteen years old) because they came in particularly handy. I didn't miss warm water as much as I did cooked food, but I think I was in the minority there.

What would I do differently? Charge up all my electronics. My cell phone battery was less than half-charged when we lost power, and even sending texts required numerous, draining attempts, but at least I had a car charger. And I would fill up my gas tank. I wanted to stop on my way home from school Wednesday, but all the pumps I passed were taken. Lack of gas led my husband and I on an awful trip south Thursday, where he had to abandon his truck in Birmingham. We had to have a friend bring us gas to get home, which was an awful thing to ask under the circumstances. I think charging my devices and keeping the gauge near full will my new compulsions.

So many people around here had generators, and gas or charcoal grills, and ingenuity. I have really been impressed with the community as a whole and the generosity out there. When I went to pharmacy yesterday, to pick up the refills I had called in Wednesday, they were working off generators. It was terrific to see the cashiers I recognized. "Are you making it all right?" one woman asked. I almost cried. And I feel barely affected. I am not sure if we will have to "make up" the days at school, but I can tell you one thing, we are all going to be very happy to see each other.

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