Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Omar Plus Two Weeks

It’s been two weeks since Hurricane Omar blew through here, so if I have anything else to say about it, I guess I’d better get on it before it’s ancient history.


A hurricane has a voice. As Omar came ashore, we heard a rumbling like a freight train. (We used to live about a quarter mile from a train track, so that’s not hyperbole. It sounded like a damn freight train.) And over the rumble was a howl that would occasionally jump a couple of octaves into a scream.

An hour before the storm hit the weather maps online still showed it heading pretty much straight at us on the southwest corner of St. Croix. Then in the last hour it shifted east a little and hit that end of the island hardest. We spent most of the evening out on the front porch (don’t worry, it’s a very well protected area, we had to step down into the car port to get the real effect of the wind.) It was blowing hard and raining like a son of a bitch, but wasn’t really that bad. Actually, it was kind of exhilarating.

The power went out at 8:25 p.m., just 35 minutes before the presidential debates started, so we missed that. We were inside at around 11 p.m. when we heard a snapping sound and went back out front. “Well, the cell phone tower is still standing,” I said, looking out into the dark. “Wait a second,” Tori said. “We can’t see the cell phone tower from here. There’s supposed to be a tree in the way.” She was right. The tree in our neighbor’s front yard had blown down, completely uprooted from the soaked ground by the powerful winds.

The storm raged through the night, and we went to bed around 1 a.m. with the winds still howling. In the morning, the power was still out, and a few trees in the neighborhood were down. But we were pretty lucky. Th sun was out, the wind was still, and there was no damage at all at our house.

It was apparently much worse on the other side of the island, with power poles blown down and roads blocked.

The power stayed out for three days. It was more than a minor inconvenience. We thought we’d been prepared, and mostly we were – flashlights, a radio, plenty of food (although we spent the first day and a half eating our way through the freezer before the food spoiled. Friday night we had frozen waffles, friend on the stove, for dinner.

The biggest inconvenience was flushing the toilets. We had plenty of drinking water, but we hadn’t saved nearly enough for flushing, and when you’re on a pump and there’s no electricity, well, you’ve got a problem. Our house sits on a cistern that holds over 6,000 gallons, but the only way to get at it was to open the top of the cistern and fish the water out bucket by bucket. Then you haul the buckets inside, pour them in the back of the toilet and flush, while filling every container you've got with more for the next time someone has to flush.

It got pretty old.

Maybe the most important supply we laid in was some books we’d bought just a few days before the storm hit. At the thrift store we’d found a 37-volume set of Agatha Christie and by the time the power came back on we could probably have entered an Agatha Christie trivia contest and done pretty well.

Finding ice was also a challenge, figuring out which store nearby had it or when they might get it.

Saturday the current was back on at Salaam’s Mini-Mart, the convenience store just 150 feet away on the corner, but we were still in the dark. By that evening we were all pretty tired of it, so when the WAPA (Water and Power Agency) truck came down the road checking all the lines around 7 p.m., we were pretty excited. Half an hour later, lights suddenly came on all up and down the street, accompanied by the sound from every house of people applauding.

A lot of people are calling Omar “The Landscaper,” since a lot of trees got blown down. But the public works crews have been busy and have the streets open and most of the debris cleared. All but a few isolated spots have the current back on. Life is returning to what we call normal on the island.

A lot of folks here have asked what we thought of our first hurricane. We always say, “Not too bad, kind of exciting.” And they almost invariably say, “Oh, that was nothing. You should have been here for Hugo.” Or Marilyn.

Now, I understand that Hugo was the worst thing to hit St. Croix since Columbus. Lots of homes destroyed, plenty of trees and power poles blown over. Power wasn’t restored for most of the island for three or four months (not days) and some people didn’t get current back for six months. Crews from utilities all over the U.S., even from Guam, were flown in to help rebuild the system. So yeah, Hugo was terrible. Omar was nothing.

But Omar was our first hurricane, and it sort of hurt to have people denigrate the experience. But at the same time they were right. Omar was nothing compared to Hugo and I’m delighted I didn’t have to have something that challenged the big one. So, I didn’t follow through with my plan to have a T-shirt made up. On the front it would say, “Yes. I know. Hugo was MUCH worse.” And on the back, “Marilyn, too.”

Anyway, we made it through and life is pretty much back to where it was. We’ve learned a lot and next time (of course, we’re aware there will be a next time) we’ll be even better prepared.

We also still have several more photos and videos to post online. We’ll get to that within the next day or two, and then let it fade into pat of the memory of how we adjusted to life in the Caribbean.

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