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14 hours in Hell, 4 days to Home

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posted on May, 1 2011 @ 03:01 PM
Wednesday, April 27, 2011

At 5:45 AM, the alarm clock went off to remind me that I had to take my son to school. He was scheduled to attend State Competitions in Precision Machining, meaning that for the next two days he would be in Birmingham. Since it was a special event for a chosen few, I had to provide transportation to the school so he could leave out from there. I managed to drag myself out of bed and staggered into the living room where he was already getting his suitcase together. Thirty minutes later, we were en route.

I was proud of the boy. He had worked hard for this honor, and was finally showing some real maturity. He looked less like a boy than he did a man as he loaded the car. Of course, it was also a reminder that he would be on his own someday soon, leaving this nest empty. But this morning, I wasn't going to allow those thoughts to interrupt my pride in him.

As we drove, I had the Chattanooga classic country station playing in the car as usual. As we neared the school, a report came on about the severe weather heading our way. I hadn't heard anything about severe weather; I only knew that thunderstorms were forecast. As we waited in the car for his instructor to arrive, the winds began to pick up. Nothing terrible, but a stiff gale that foretold of approaching severity.

The instructor arrived in the rented minivan and after making sure my boy had everything, I headed back home to finish sleeping. As I got about halfway there, I realized I hadn't given him the $20 spending money I had intended to. In the hope that they were running behind schedule, I spun the car around and raced back to the school.

His instructor was standing outside the main hallway when I pulled up, so I jumped out of the car and headed over to him. I jokingly said "It's a good thing you're slow this morning" and he replied that they couldn't leave: the school director had told them not to. I asked why and he said it was because of the tornado.

The tornado.

I dropped off the spending money and headed back home. As I pulled into the yard, raindrops started falling from the sky. I took a moment to look closely at the clouds that were now racing south to north above me. I ran to my shop and shut down all the computer equipment and unplugged everything just in case of a power surge. Inside the house, I turned the TV to the local channels and immediately realized there was a problem; all regular programming was being interrupted on all four local channels for continuous weather updates. I tabbed over to on my laptop to get a good radar shot, but before it could load the TV announced a tornado heading my way.

Now, we have tornadoes all the time. I jokingly refer to them as mini-Al-Gores: big chunks of spinning hot air that just ride whatever winds there are and destroy everything they touch. My trailer is positioned right up against a forested mountainside, facing east... that was done on purpose, since anything EF-3 or lower will 'jump' across a ridge and anything much higher it doesn't matter anyway. Since tornadoes typically move southwest to northeast, they just can't normally get to me here. I have had a tornado spin right up the little road I live on, traveling right up to my place and then skipping across the mountain before touching down a quarter mile away and continuing its feeding frenzy. I feel safe here; the mountain protects me. This time would be no different. I watched the reports to make sure no one I knew needed help.

The rain got harder, so hard that at one time I couldn't see more than 5 feet outside the window. The wind picked up so that when I could see, I was seeing trees, massive trees, some hundreds of years old, bending double. It was loud enough to wake my wife, who joined me just as the sound of hail began to echo off the metal skin that surrounded us. I cracked the front door open slightly and sure enough, pea-sized hail was raining down by the bucket-full. Then the weather siren in Scottsboro went off.

By now we had lost TV due to the downpour, but I still had the 'Net. I kept the weather updated until it appeared things had died down and the TV came back to confirm that. It was over as fast as it had begun. It was maybe another 30 minutes before the sun was shining brightly.

Around here, high winds and hail equals check the place out as soon as it is over, so I did. I walked out to the car and my old pickup; no hail damage. There were leaves and twigs scattered across the whole place indicating the severity of what had occurred, but nothing damaging or even out of the ordinary for such an event. Just be sure, I walked out to my shop. Water was dripping everywhere and I could hear the creek underneath it roaring at full velocity. The ladder is still leaning beside it; the outdoor furnishings I am making for sale were still standing in the front of it; the roof was covered in leaves and twigs like everything else. But then I looked over the roof at the mountain behind it and my heart literally stopped for several beats.

Back behind my shop are two huge hickory trees, each one over 2 feet thick, that grew from a single root. They have been there as long as I have been alive, and were big trees the first time a little redneck ever saw them. But now, instead of rising vertically toward the sun, one is lying sideways above my shop. I ran to the back and looked up. It had broken about 25 feet up and toppled, with the top resting in another huge tree beside my shop. All I could think of was "What if"... what if it were to break off completely, sending this multi-ton baseball bat crashing into the side of my shop? What if the top isn't lodged well and the next wind releases this thing from its perch? The damage to the shop would be bad enough, but a damaged roof in rainy weather over some of the stuff I have inside would be disastrous. My wife walked out as I stood there, commenting on how little damage there was until she saw the tree as well.

I needed to think about how to remove this monster without destroying my shop. So I went inside the shop to think. It appeared to be stable for now anyway, and I needed to take stock of the possibilities. I powered the computers back up and started trying to think of what I would need to remove the thing. I stayed out there for a few hours, alternating between surfing the 'Net and sketching up pulley and bracing systems to remove a tree. Then I ran my cursor over the AccuWeather plug-in I use on that machine and saw a storm cell heading directly toward Scottsboro from the south. It wasn't the normal yellow and red of the cells I normally see... this one was solid purple.

I shut the machines down and vacated the shop, pausing only long enough to look up at the threat overhead and say a quick prayer. It was starting to rain when I headed back to the house. The sirens in Scottsboro went off again.

The weathermen on TV were talking about the super-cell I had seen on radar when I walked in. It had tornadoes indicated inside it, rain-wrapped and estimated to be EF-4 or higher. It was bearing directly down on Scottsboro and the path would also lead it right across me. I couldn't stop thinking about that tree over my shop... would it hold? Would years of work and research be lost in the next few minutes? I could see the trees in the mountain bending again outside the back window. I kept praying; there was nothing else I could do. I watched the names of communities around me pop up on the displays, and listened to the weathermen demanding that everyone in these communities get to safety now. I also listened to their forecasts of how this was far from over; the area was in a high probability of severe weather, something that they said was extremely unusual. The actual front responsible for all this was still hundreds of miles away and moving slowly. Cullman was mentioned, as was Arab, Madison. and Guntersville.

The cell tracked across us and things outside cleared, although there was no sunshine this time. Amid all the reports I couldn't tell if it was really over or not otherwise, so I ventured outside to check the sky and my shop. The tree was still hanging in the air above the shop so I walked to the road to get a good view of the sky. The clouds were still racing south to north, angry, low, dark clouds. But no rain and no twisters. The wind as well was a stiff gale from the south, but I decided this second wave had passed us. My shop was still there; I breathed a sign of relief and walked back toward the house.

As I walked across the yard I happened to glance up toward my wife's rabbit hutch. Now, she loves her animals dearly, and had just gotten out of the hospital for a stroke a few weeks ago. So I was horrified again when instead of a blue tarp covering her precious babies, I saw a brush pile. I remember hearing the word "NO!" come out of my mouth as I ran toward it; the last thing she needed right now was such a loss. But the answer was yes, not no. Lying across a flattened hutch, as dead center as if someone had aimed it with a laser, was what I thought was a tree 16 inches through. The hutch was flattened to the ground, with the concreted 4x4's that supported it twisted and jerked loose. I checked the front cage; Midnight was still there. Around back I had to dig through several layers of covering she used to keep them dry. Iris was there, scared but unhurt. In the next cage, I could see Flopsy, sitting dead still. I reached inside and she jumped; she was alive. In the last cage though, pressed to the ground, I couldn't find Thumper. I peeled open what remained of the cage door and reached in; there he was, underneath the tree. In a panic I started digging as hard as I could, trying to get to him to get him loose. As I shoved handfuls of grass out of the way, I felt him breathing. I still thought he was probably hurt, but at least he was alive for now. I had to get that tree off them!

I raced back inside and told my wife, reassuring her that the rabbits were alive. I grabbed my phone and called a friend up the road, who I had helped many times. He didn't answer. My wife called another friend on the land line, and handed me the phone. I quickly told him what had happened and asked him if he could get here to help; there was no way I could move that much wood by myself. He said he would be up as soon as the weather around him subsided. He was getting battered as we spoke.

I grabbed the chainsaw and cut the top of the tree away fro the hutch to relieve some pressure, then started to cut the bottom loose. As I did it started to slip and pinch; it was placing more stress on the hutch. The rain and wind started again, so I stopped and recovered the cages to go back inside. As I walked in, the cell was ringing; it was the guy I had called earlier. I opened the phone and heard him say "Are you OK?" and all I could say was "Help". As I recanted the problem, he assured me he would be right up, just as soon as the next super-cell moved through.

The next super-cell? We already had two... how many were there?

As soon as that one passed, my wife helped me move some concrete blocks underneath the base of the tree to support it while I tried to cut the part across the hutch loose. Using a 2x4, I managed to get it lifted up a couple inches and went back to cutting. No good; the thing was trying to roll onto the rabbits. I could either keep it from rolling with the 2x4 lever or cut the log; I couldn't do both at the same time. My wife was in tears; she couldn't help. All I could do was wait helplessly for help... but help did arrive after a few more minutes in the form of the guy I called. He pulled up, climbed out of his truck with a 24" chainsaw and headed for the hutch. As I held the log, he cut as much of it away as he could until we could roll it off in a safe direction. We checked the critters again and they were somehow all OK. He had to go help someone else who needed him, so we managed to raise the cages back up a little and pull enough wire back out to give them some room to move.

I headed back toward my shop; the tree was still in the air. Relieved, I went back inside to check the weather. I had no idea how many more waves were coming through, how strong they were, which direction they were coming from (the last ones had started coming more form the southwest instead of the south), etc. But as I walked in, the TV was silent. Power was out.

I did still have cell service somehow. My daughter called in to say she was OK and my son called from Birmingham to say they had severe weather, but still had power and he was OK. My parents live right next to me; I knew they were OK.

Power outages are pretty much normal around here, but they rarely last more than an hour or two. I have to brag and say we have some of the best repairmen around; they will work on a power line in the middle of a tornado and make it carry juice. I expected the same thing to happen this time; the power would be back on soon, but in the meantime I have no idea what to expect. All I can do is sit, hope, and pray. That was really the worst part: the not knowing. All I knew was what I had heard during the day; the threat would last until 9:00 PM. So from that point on until 9:00 PM, I sat huddled in the dark with my wife, watching Mother Nature throw all the fury she felt like at my little mountain. Every crash of thunder, every streak of lightning, every shake from the ferocious winds was a new imagined terror. I kept listening for the sound of cracking and crashing that would signify the end of my hard work. My wife, I know, was thinking of her animals.

About 8:00 that evening my cell phone rang. I had been trying to get in touch all day with my sister and brother-in-law, as they were directly in the path of several super-cells as well earlier. It was him; they had spent the day huddled in a neighbor's storm shelter. He told me they were finally in the clear and at home; he was looking at stars overhead. That was the first ray of hope I had that day. They live two counties west of me, and if they were clear, we would be soon too. And most importantly, my family was all fine; their house was still intact, although their yard was littered with debris from other homes.

About 9:00, we looked outside. Everything was dark, but to the east we could see lightning and hear thunder. Above our heads though, seemingly as if someone had sliced through the sky with surgical precision, there was nothing but clear bright twinkling stars. It was over. It had been 14 hours since it all began. 14 hours of Hell.

The power never came back on that night. As we use a private well for water, losing power means losing water as well. I wasn't really worried about that, as I expected the power to be back on in the morning. My biggest worry then was what had happened in other areas around us; I knew there had been several tornadoes and a lot of damage.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

I awoke to no power. My wife woke shortly thereafter and went to feed and check on her animals. Neither of us had been to the barn so we had no idea what had become of our goats and her pet sheep. Somehow they survived, and the barn was undamaged. The rabbits were still fine, and both dogs were playing outside in puddles of water. I spent a little while rolling cigarettes and pulled out the chainsaw again to try and clear her a path to her rabbit hutch. As I cut, I realized that this was no tree; there were no roots at the base of it. Instead, it was splintered and broken. I looked overhead and saw where it had come from: 30 feet above me was matching splinters where the 'tree' had once been a limb off one of our ancient, massive oaks. Looking around, I could see where other limbs had been removed as well, creating a mass of tangled wood across my mother's back yard. One of the smaller limbs, maybe 8 inches through, had fallen atop the well-house; I checked and luckily there was no real damage outside of some cracking at the soffit. I cut wood until the chainsaw ran out of gas and grabbed some trash.

When I went back inside the power was still off. This was beginning to worry me; never had the power been off for more than 24 hours, and we were well over half that already. My son called again to check on us, but I couldn't talk long as the battery on my cell phone was getting low and I had no way to charge it. I never got a car charger for it; never needed one. It uses a USB cable to charge, and there were always computers around to charge it from.

This would have normally been a school day, but the automated message service had called the previous evening to inform me that classes were canceled for today. I was curious as to how this delay would affect finals, since many of my classes were running a tight schedule already. I kept wishing I could contact the school, but I knew that tornadoes had been through Rainsville and Fyffe and there was probably damage at the school.

My daughter called to check on us just before noon. They were still fine, although no one around them, no one in Scottsboro even, had any power. At least they had water from the city. Just as we were saying goodbye, I heard the battery alarm beep on my cell phone. I looked and sure enough, the battery was gone. My son would be returning sometime that night, and he would be trying to call me to tell me when he would be in. I had no power, no land line; I needed that phone working! I opened the laptop back up, quickly closed everything I had running, and set the power mode to maximum battery life. I then drained everything I could from the laptop battery into the cell phone and shut down the laptop with less than 5% battery remaining. I had three out of four bars of power.

When my wife came back in, she was carrying some debris she had found in our hay field. She had some styrofoam sheathing, roofing felt, a page out of a coloring book, and an invoice receipt from Arab High School. Arab is at least 50 miles away and was one of the harder-hit areas. Since then, we have found a white dress shirt, my stepfather found a new jacket in his pond, and my wife found what appeared to have once been a car fender, mangled beyond assured identification. The debris cloud, an effect that rarely happens here, had to have passed right over us.

I needed something to do, something to take my mind off what had happened. I had plenty going on, but everything, and I do mean everything, required some power or water. I had neither. I hadn't been able to get any more gas out of the container for the chainsaw, and according to rumor, there were no gas stations open; no one had power to run the pumps. So I busied myself with rolling cigarettes. I was still expecting the power to be back on any time.

As the day dragged on, I went out to check on my mother and stepfather. They were of course out of power as well, but were handling things pretty good. My mother was upset about not having any news and she had gotten pretty cold that morning (they use an electric heat pump); she has a circulation problem in her hands and just had a gangrenous finger removed days earlier. Cold hurts her. There was one great piece of news: she had ordered some extra cell phone batteries I found on sale a couple weeks ago, including one for me. I had actually forgotten about it, but when I mentioned cell power, she reminded me by handing me a brand new battery. I figured it wasn't fully charged, but probably had some power in it. I had a back-up now for my only communications link with the outside world.

About 4:30 my son called. They were returning early. So my wife and I drove down to the school. We saw sheets of tin lying in fields, trees hundreds of years old toppled, roofs damaged, and roads so covered in brush debris that I was wishing for a four-wheel-drive vehicle. All within 5 miles of my home.

The competition had been cut short because of the devastation. There had been no awards made; my son didn't know if he had won or not. He expected the results to be posted on the Internet within a few days. Apparently, someone had the brilliant idea of sending everyone home and canceling the awards, the primary reason most of the kids went there, so they could all go back to fresh devastation. My son was angry; his instructor was livid. No one had asked for nor wanted this action. All of the kids had felt that they should have been home to help when the storms were hitting, not taken away at the worst time only to have their purpose for going canceled too late to be of any help. I have to admit, though, when my wife and I were sitting huddled in the dark, I was very happy he wasn't there. I knew he was safer than we were.

He also told me of what he had seen: entire towns leveled, stores with their contents strewn across parking lots, trees across roads being removed. The fact that they had waited those few minutes before leaving out Wednesday morning had probably saved their lives. He had driven right past my school, and he said there were ancient majestic trees lying like so many toothpicks.

Once home he wanted to see the damage. We walked out to the rabbit hutch and looked things over again. We walked out to the shop and looked at the living rafter across the top of the canopy. That's when we noticed that it hadn't simply broken off; it had been twisted around until it broke. A small tornado had apparently dropped down on top of my shop and quickly dissipated. The top was also not simply lodged in the other tree; it was locked into place into two different trees. It's stable as long as the break doesn't give way. We were very very very lucky.

News trickles in, even in such a complete blackout. Arab is gone. Harvest is no more. One entire subdivision in Rainsville is erased from existence: 34 dead, many of them recovered from the tops of trees. Rosalie and Flat Rock are disaster areas. Cullman is trashed. Tuscaloosa is a mangled mess. Pleasant Grove is scattered like dust across the countryside. Madison is in ruins. Huntsville is still digging out. Pieces of Bridgeport are missing. Large areas are dead with not a single watt of electricity. Curfews from dusk to dawn are being implemented across the state. And we hear that Brown's Ferry nuclear plant has lost transmission lines. Estimated time to repair: 6-10 days.

So for the second night in a row, we sit around a kerosene lamp and talk until we go to sleep in pitch darkness.


Friday, April 29, 2011

We all awoke to the same old story: no power. I spent the morning rolling more cigarettes and taking calls from people checking on us. No one had any power, but in Scottsboro some people were reporting getting power on and off. My first battery died fairly early that morning, so I switched to the spare; it had three of four bars of power. But still, the phone kept ringing off the hook; it wouldn't last forever.

I managed at one point to call the power company to try and get some news. I was expecting a runaround, but instead the girl politely explained the situation to me as she knew it: Guntersville, Wheeler, and Nickajack dams were running, but they were overloaded and couldn't spare the first watt for us. Widows Creek Steam Plant took a direct hit; all transmission lines were down and she thought there were 20 towers flattened. She even mentioned they might decommission the old reliable plant after this since the damage was so severe and the plant was so old. Watts Bar nuclear plant was down for required maintenance. Brown's Ferry nuclear plant had taken a hit; it was OK, but there was major damage to the transmission lines, causing a scram. TVA was officially estimating 6-9 days to completion of their repairs. Sequoyah nuclear plant was managing to supply some power, but not much; they had managed to get Stevenson back on power but weren't sure for how long as Sequoyah was being stretched thin. The rumors about Scottsboro having sporadic power were true; they were using emergency municipal generators to work 2-hour shifts between different neighborhoods.

It sounded like this could be a long, long wait. So I began thinking about longer-term needs. We couldn't get water directly, but we weren't hurting in that department yet. We had some food, although what was in the refrigerator was rapidly spoiling. But the immediate need was for communication.

I scrounged around and found some old busted power inverters I had used and worn out when truck driving. After a short period of disassembly and cutting and splicing wires, I thought I had one that might work at least temporarily. I plugged it up in the car and it did indeed work; I now had a charger for my phone... actually I had a charger for several people's phones when they found out. The inverter was too small to do much of anything else, but it could charge cell phones.

While charging the phones, I would crank the car occasionally to keep the battery charged, and during those times I had radio. I found out that different churches and charities were organizing hot food stations around the county. They were giving the locations in Scottsboro that would be receiving power during the next cycle. They were giving news about what areas were hardest hit, and where people could find gas and food for sale. Some businesses had private generators hooked up to provide essentials. One guy even used his personal generator to run the gas station next to his house for several days, providing the only source of gasoline for 20 miles.

Thinking about the hot food made me realize how old those sandwiches were getting (not to mention we were getting low on bread and meats). I knew we had some hot dogs in the freezer that would be gone soon, so we cleaned out my old burning pit and piled up some brush to burn. My wife brought out the weenies and we all sat around burning weenies and enjoying the first hot food in a few days.

A neighborhood boy came by and ate some with us. He was scared; he had no idea what to do. He asked me what we were doing for water, and I replied, matter-of-factly, "We're not. There's nothing we can do right now." He looked amazed. How did we shower? We didn't. How did we flush the bathrooms? We flushed once per day, relying for now on the pressure stored in the well pump. How did we cook? We didn't, except for roasting hot dogs. He just couldn't seem to understand that all the things he had known in his life were gone. I met a lot of people like that.

Then my friend from the rabbit hutch ordeal showed up. He said he was burning some old wood he had lying around and asked me if I wanted to come up and spend a little quiet time around a campfire. He drinks a bit and I don't, so I think he was surprised when I asked if he had any beer. After my wife's stroke, a wave of terrible financial news, and now this, I needed a drink.

Of course, he drinks that cheap wanna-be light stuff, so we rode up to Stevenson to get some real beer. The gas lines were stretching around the parking lot, but things were moving pretty good inside. The curfew apparently wasn't being strictly enforced in that area, because it was after dark when we got back to his place.

I needed that night. Just sitting around talking with him (and a few neighbors who stopped by), reminiscing, laughing, and being friends. I need to do that more often.


Saturday, April 30, 2011

Power is still out when I wake up. Damn.

My friend calls and mentions he is going to smoke some of his meat before it ruins. He wants to know if we have anything to smoke or grill, We don't; all that is left is hot dogs and a couple packs of ground deer, but my mother does. He says he'll call us when they get the grill ready to cook and we'll have us a feast before everything ruins. The guy does magic with meat and fire, so I was more than happy to take him up on the offer.

A little later he drives up in his pickup. He needs help getting a gas generator he has borrowed form a friend of his! Yes, I'll help! My son and I jump in the truck and off we go. It was my first view of Scottsboro since the storms. There was a lot of tree damage, but little structural damage. Almost all stores were closed, although a few were open. We get to his friend's house and he rolls out a 5550 watt generator. As we're looking it over, he mentions he doesn't have the plug for the 220V outlet, but says WalMart and Home Depot are both open. That's all I need to hear! Get me the plugs and I'll adapt to anything. So off we go with a generator to Home Depot.

As I walk in, I see an amazing sight. Apparently they just got in a load of generators. They are being loaded on the large material buggys at the back of the store and as the line is pushed forward customers are carrying them to the checkout. It's an assembly line, and an efficient one at that. I almost bought one myself, but I really couldn't afford the $$$ and I had one to use in the back of the truck.

They had the same 220V adaption problem that we had: the generators come equipped with a 20-amp Twist-Lok connector. The problem is they had completely sold out of 20-amp Twist-Lok connector plugs. My friend needed 220V for his well, so I finally suggested buying two 120V grounded plugs. I knew the thing was producing both phases of standard dual-phase household current internally to get the 220V, and that meant I could tap into both phases with 120V plugs. Of course, as usually happens, he didn't want to listen to me. We went to WalMart. WalMart didn't even know what a Twist-Lok was, so after spending several minutes looking around in vain, we went back to Home Depot to find they were now sold out of 120V plugs too. There wasn't even any heavy duty extension cords left. We now had no possible way to get 220V out of the generator, although he did find and buy one 120V plug he found that was misplaced..

Back at his house, my friend hooked up his freezer and fridge to let them cool down while we all ate and talked. That's when we noticed that we were having trouble getting cell signal. I still don't know what was going on, but I had to walk around his place (and later around mine) to try and get enough signal to check voicemail... making a call was ridiculous and getting one was impossible.

When his freezer got down to where he wanted it, we loaded the generator up and brought it to my house. We hooked up my mother's freezer and fridge while I reset my well pump to 120V and installed the one 120V plug he had found onto the pigtail. I plugged it in and it powered on while he stood there looking dumbfounded at how I managed to make a 120V generator run a 220V well pump. If only he had listened to me in the first place he would have had the same...

He headed back to finish smoking some roasts while we sprang into action. Every toilet got flushed, and we filled up 35 2-liter bottles with general purpose (cleaning) water. We also washed out and filled 2 1/2 gallons of bottle for drinking water. My wife washed the dishes and we all took showers (and I hereby state I hate cold showers!).

We needed to get some food, and with the curfew approaching fast, I headed back to my friend's house to see if we had time before he needed the generator back. As it happened, he was on his way to get it, so while he carried some smoked roasts to my mother, I cycled the pump one more time to make sure we had the full 60 psi in the tank. We loaded up the generator and thanked him.

In town, at WalMart, all perishable foods, meats, produce, frozen, were gone. All had been thrown out after the store had sat powerless for so long. We managed to get some bread and canned sandwich meats, along with a few vienna sausages, and some soft drinks. Everything was overpriced. On the way out, I noticed they had ice... a nonexistent commodity since the storm. We grabbed a bag.

Back home, we have cell signal again. My mother invites us out to help them eat the roasts, and we have some deer burgers we cooked earlier at my friend's house. It's a quiet night, dark, still with only the light of candles and kerosene lamps, but it's a hopeful night. We are all counting our blessings.

At 11:00 PM, just as we are thinking about calling it a day, every light in the place flashes on, the microwaves gives the familiar beep it makes when power is applied, and the TV receiver stats searching for satellite signal. We have power! We all look at each other, stunned, unable to believe it, then everyone starts checking everything out. My son runs to his room and turns on his light and fan; my wife is setting the time on the clocks, and I am checking out the TV functions... then it blinks twice and dies. We are again in the dark.

It doesn't matter: for 2 whole minutes, we had power. We are happy.

My son gets a forwarded text on his phone that they blew a transformer because everyone had their lights on when they energized. I didn't believe it, but just in case we turned all the lights off except one. At 11:30 it came back on, and has stayed on until now.

The phone line was working. I tried calling it from my cell and the base unit rang; the handsets were all dead, however, and we couldn't actually use the land line until the handsets charged. The Internet was out; after some checking with a tech on the cell phone, we realized that the gateway server wasn't responding. They said they would have someone out to fix it Monday morning. Normally, I would have been a little upset at having to wait that long, but this time I was happy. I had power and would have access. That was enough.


Sunday, May 1, 2011 (today)

I rewired the well pump back so we now have unlimited water again. All electrical circuits have been checked. I spent the bulk of the morning writing this thread. And just a few minutes ago, at 1:00 PM, the Internet light on the mode turned green; we have Internet again.

I went through 14 hours of facing down one of the most destructive forces we have in this area. We sustained some damage; we avoided much worse. There are entire towns in Alabama which no longer exist. There are entire families lying side by side in the funeral homes. Scottsboro is still dependent on their emergency generator, although I expect their power will be back on soon. My friend and his brother are still without power, but he knows he can ask for anything he needs from us until his local problem is resolved. It took 4 days to return from 14 hours in Hell, but this redneck is back.

I am posting this because as unprepared as I obviously was, I don't think many 'prepared' people would have come through this as good as we did. I saw so many people who simply couldn't turn off that expectation of civilization. My wife suggested several times a course of action, and when I explained I didn't have what was needed, she suggested going to WalMart... even though at the time WalMart was dark and cold. My stepfather was going nuts wanting to get a gallon of milk, to the extent he almost drove to Tennessee, in violation of curfew, even though they were about to lose that generator. These are intelligent, resourceful people most of the time, but when all the comforts and expectations of society are gone... they know not what to do.

Knowledge is power. I was able to maintain communication because I knew how to make a busted inverter work again. I managed to get a little water because I knew how to make a well pump run on what I had available.

I learned that disaster can come swiftly, before you can even know it has hit.

I learned that we are so dependent on power for so many things. We as a society live on the edge of a blade, teetering to keep our balance. Just because we held on for a long time does not mean we are not vulnerable.

And I learned community is essential. My friend needed my help and I needed his. My mother and stepfather could do little for themselves and needed all the help they could get. Sitting around a campfire sipping a cold brew that one night, my friend said it best:

"We survive together, or we go down together."


edit on 5/1/2011 by TheRedneck because: (no reason given)

edit on 5/1/2011 by 12m8keall2c because: removed 'move request' text

posted on May, 1 2011 @ 04:20 PM
Sound like you went through hell, and the are is a disaster. I like your friends quote at the end. I agree, that we just don't realize how much we depend on electricity.

posted on May, 1 2011 @ 04:46 PM
reply to post by TheRedneck

Crazy story man, you must have brass balls for sticking around during that kind of weather

posted on May, 1 2011 @ 04:54 PM
Glad to have you back Redneck, we've been missing your posts down there in the Fukushima thread. Sounds like you had a scary, shocking time of it and you're right in that it's times like this when you realise how important comunity is. Anyways that's a hell of a story you've got there and I know I'm speaking for everyone here that we're all glad you made it out ok. Now after such a report from the edge i need a roll up too !

posted on May, 1 2011 @ 05:07 PM
reply to post by Hopeforeveryone

Thank you, good sir. I doubt I could keep up with the Fukushima thread now, but I will say one thing here:

Brown's Ferry nuclear plant also experienced a SCRAM event when the tornado tore through. It was also disconnected from the grid when the tornado ate the transmission lines. And yet, not one problem was reported. The plant lost power, the diesel generators kicked in, and it shut down automatically without melting down, blowing up, or even getting warm. Everything worked exactly as it was designed to work, and the only problem was that it stopped producing power for the area.

Too many times the public eye is concentrated on the failures and not the successes. Maybe this success deserves a little public recognition too. My compliments to the engineers and tradesmen who designed and built a safe, efficient nuclear power plant.


posted on May, 1 2011 @ 05:26 PM
reply to post by TheRedneck

That's a very interesting point you raise there about how we tend to focus on the disasters and not the successes and thank (insert your favourite diety here) that the systems worked as designed. After all that carnage last thing the area needs is a nuclear leak.

The monster Fukushima thread is still developing but as usual getting solid details out of tepco is rare at best but i understand you've got greater priorites at the moment clearing up your house and land and it does take quite a bit of time and concentration to post there ( well your posts anyway )

posted on May, 1 2011 @ 05:30 PM
Good to hear from you Redneck. So good to hear you and yours, are safe, and very sound of mind. Thank you for sharing your story. Nothing like having someone I know, going through hell, to bring it home for me. Up here on top of the mountain where I live, tornadoes are not common. But, several did form, and touch down within miles of me. It's a wake up call for sure

I'm happy your wife, kid, family, and animals, are all present and accounted for. Blessing on you and yours Red.


posted on May, 1 2011 @ 05:35 PM
Redneck...glad to see you safe and sound. I loved your telling of the story...made me feel I was right there with you guys. It is so true that some of us are now so dependent on what we have "now"...if we lost it we might wander around uselessly. I remember once we had an electrical fire when we first bought our house. The fire dept had to shut down the hydro at our fuse box until an electrician could come and do repairs. I sat there for several hours with my phone in my hand wondering why my husband wasn't calling me back. Stupidly, several hours later I realized I had a cordless phone that doesn't work without power to the base. Just that simple thing that my mind couldn't wrap around until hours later.

Anyhow, glad you and yours are safe and so happy to hear you and your neighbours helped each other out in a time of need


posted on May, 1 2011 @ 05:38 PM
What an amazing story, Redneck...and you tell it so well. If you're not a writer already, you should be. I was on pins and needles during the entire read. I watched the storms that day and night on a few sites that I frequent, namely "Tornado Alley Live" and tuned in to some of the local stations that were reporting severe weather in your area. All I could to was shake my head in disbelief as it was happening and hope and pray that everyone would come out alive. It didn't take long until the death numbers started coming in. All I could be was sad even in my fascination of the power of these storms and the viscousness of the tornadoes. I have often wondered what we would do in the same situation, apart from praying that it never happens. I'm glad that you survived to tell about it. We should all take heed S&F.

posted on May, 1 2011 @ 05:44 PM
Thanks for sharing your story with us TR.
We're all glad you and your family came through fine.
It sounds like tragedy is all around you though, I know you will do what you can for your neighbors.
We take so much for granted but when that power goes out life is a whole new ball game, one that many simply don't know how to play.
Kerosene lamps, a coleman stove and a deck of cards, a few good books and you're set.
We have so much to be thankful for everyday and times like this are a hard reminder.
Keep us posted on the cleanup and fallout.

My sincere sympathies to those who lost loved ones down there.
Glad we still have our Redneck though

posted on May, 1 2011 @ 05:48 PM
Good to see you and your family made it through this disaster. I agree that when it comes down to it knowledge is all you can rely on. Also, I would be very proud of your son. A great machinist will always be employed and have a bright future.
edit on 1-5-2011 by SamSeed because: (no reason given)

posted on May, 1 2011 @ 06:13 PM
A little update already:

I just got back from Scottsboro. Power has been pretty much restored and all stores are open. But people are still scared. The lady who checked me out kept saying power is on, but we don't know for how long, despite my assurances that if it had been on for more than three hours, it was here to stay.

There was a gasoline robbery as well at one of the gas stations, a rare occurrance around here. Gas stations have raised their price about 12 cents a gallon since the storms hit, and the Alabama Attorney General has declared a cap of 5% on such raises.

A few places I know of (one where I know the guy personally and would never have thought it from him) are price gouging... that one guy was selling gasoline for $6 a gallon.

School finals at my college are postponed until further notice; they have no power yet. Their servers are dead in the water.


posted on May, 1 2011 @ 06:36 PM
Wow that is a very intense story. It was like nail biting suspense. I am so glad you and your family made it through okay.

posted on May, 1 2011 @ 07:13 PM
reply to post by TheRedneck

Hey there Redneck,

That was an amazing account and brilliantly written thank-you so much for sharing your firsthand experience ... and I'd like to echo what others have said insomuch as I am really pleased to hear you and yours survived relatively unscathed ... I hope the shock and stress of such intense events have not delayed your wifes recovery


posted on May, 1 2011 @ 07:36 PM
Wow what a story - glad you and family are alright. This is one you won't forget - believe me as I am now a senior and still have nightmares from the tornado that hit the back of our house when I was 12. I stool as still as a rock in the living room as the train roared thru - the worse part was trying find my Mom, after a couple of hours I finally did find her and therefore my experience had a good outcome. There are tornado watches
again tonight in the south - stay prepared and safe.

posted on May, 1 2011 @ 07:37 PM
reply to post by TheRedneck

Glad you are safe, we've missed you in the forums.


posted on May, 1 2011 @ 07:54 PM
This was a very powerful and beautifully written account. You have inspired me to learn a few new things.

Thank you for sharing. I am glad you and your family are safe. Many prayers for those who weren't so lucky.

posted on May, 1 2011 @ 07:56 PM
Glad to see you & family safe. I was woried about you not just from missing you
on the forum but knowing the area where you are in regards to the storms. I hope you wife recovers soon
& your son wins on his project!

posted on May, 1 2011 @ 07:59 PM
I'm glad you and yours and your friends made it through ok. My thoughts and prayers to the families who have lost loved ones and homes.

As a fellow survivor of killer weather, and a rural resident myself where no power = no water, you can't beat having friends and a community that pulls together after all hell has broken loose

posted on May, 1 2011 @ 08:10 PM
reply to post by TheRedneck

Very well written account, Redneck, and I'm right there with ya. But truth be told, you are in the "lucky" zone to have regained power so quickly. I'm in an area close to Huntsville and am still without power. I count myself lucky to be a prepper right now, and am thankful that even without power or a generator, my girl and I have done quite well this week. Still no word on when we might have power but hopefully by tomorrow... I am now low on lamp oil. I spent friday working disaster relief and giving out food to the less prepared. Glad you and your family are ok too.

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